Advancing Well-Being in an Inequitable World

What We Can Learn from the World

A mother picks vegetables with a baby secured to her back.

Photo credit: FIFTY, Creative Commons

Countries and cities around the world are beginning to define, pursue and track their progress in terms of residents’ well-being, expanding beyond economic indicators alone.

Well-being encompasses people’s physical, mental, and social health, and the opportunities they have to create meaningful futures. It considers basic needs, like food, housing, education, employment, and income. It includes social and emotional needs, like sense of purpose, safety, belonging, social connection, and life satisfaction. And it is tightly linked with the well-being of our communities, our environment, and our planet.

Bhutan was an early leader in taking a well-being approach, measuring the nation’s “gross national happiness.” More recently, New Zealand adopted a well-being budget to ensure all policy, action and spending decisions are made with the goal of advancing well-being. Scotland, Iceland, and other nations are headed in a similar direction. Meanwhile, well-being metrics and reports like the UN’s World Happiness Report and the OECD well-being index are receiving widespread attention.

We’re inspired by and learning from these efforts around the globe, asking questions such as:

  • What is the best way to measure well-being?

  • How have policy and budgeting decisions changed after adopting a well-being approach?

  • Can a well-being approach advance equity?
  • Are these actions helping to change the narrative about what progress means?

Three publications offer early lessons and point to approaches that we can adapt to embed well-being considerations into public policy decisions in the United States.

Explore the Publications

Well-Being: Expanding the Definition of Progress

This book, part of our Culture of Health Series published by Oxford University Press, shares analysis and discussion as well as scientific papers on various well-being approaches. Authored by leading practitioners, researchers and innovators from around the world, it also includes case studies from five countries. Order your copy of the book.

Advancing Well-Being in an Inequitable World: Moving from Measurement to Action

This RWJF learning report, based on the provocative face-to-face dialogue of an international group of thought leaders convened at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center in September 2018, offers insights into how well-being can be advanced through forward-looking policies, programs, and resource allocations. Read the report.

Global Approaches to Well-Being: What We Are Learning

RWJF’s Alonzo L. Plough, PhD, MPH, chief science officer and vice president, Research-Evaluation-Learning, shares four insights from the world that could help deepen efforts to build a Culture of Health and advance well-being in our own country. Read the blog post.


Global Ideas for U.S. Solutions

When it comes to health, good ideas have no borders. To build a Culture of Health, we’ll need the best ideas that the world has to offer. That’s why we are actively learning about what’s working in other countries.

Read more

Blue Marble Quiz

How do you learn from the rest of the world?

Answer 12 short questions to explore where in the world your ideas come from. 

Take the quiz