What is wellbeing?

Wellbeing is a concept for which there is no universally accepted definition. Given this, and our commitment to have young people’s views at the centre of everything we do in #BeeWell, a key starting point for us was to find out what wellbeing means to young people in Greater Manchester.

Over the course of 5 months, more than 150 young people were engaged in a range of workshops to understand what wellbeing means to them, what factors influence their wellbeing, and what makes them thrive. These workshops, conducted in #BeeWell Pathfinder schools, were combined with inputs from a Questionnaire Advisory Group (QuAG) of academics, mental health professionals, healthcare representatives, education experts, parents, teachers, and young people, amongst others, to inform our approach to understanding and measuring wellbeing (and what drives wellbeing) in the project.

In collaboration with young people and our QuAG, we arrived at three key domains of wellbeing. In addition to the domains, six key drivers of wellbeing were identified.


  • Meaning, Purpose and Control (e.g. autonomy, life satisfaction, optimism)
  • Understanding Yourself (e.g. psychological wellbeing, self-esteem, stress and coping, and emotion regulation)
  • Emotions (e.g. positive affect, negative affect)


  • Health and Routines (e.g. physical health, sleep, nutrition, physical activity)
  • Hobbies and Entertainment (e.g. free time/time use, use of social media, participation in arts, culture and entertainment)
  • Relationships (e.g. relationships with parents/carers, friendships and social support, bullying, harmful or abusive relationships, interactions and experiences, and loneliness)
  • School (e.g. school connection, attainment, relationships with staff)
  • Environment and Society (e.g. home environment, caregiving responsibilities, material deprivation, local environment)
  • Future (e.g. life readiness)

This framework aligns well different models of wellbeing in the academic literature. For example, the focus on emotions and life satisfaction mirrors the emphasis given to these domains in the hedonic approach to wellbeing. Similarly, the coverage of psychological wellbeing, autonomy and self-esteem maps neatly onto the eudaimonic model of wellbeing. Finally, the balance between positive indicators of wellbeing and negative affect reflects the dual-factor theory of mental health.

These driver domains align well with contemporary approaches to understanding human development and the determinants of health. For example, the emphasis on the different developmental contexts (e.g. school, home, peer group, local environment) and relationships (e.g. with parents/carers, school staff, and peers) fits well with the ecological systems theory of human development.

To read about young people’s experiences of collaborating with the #BeeWell team to develop the above, look back to this blog, written by two members of the Youth Steering Group, here.

Wellbeing outcomes for young people

The wellbeing outcomes of young people in the United Kingdom are well known. Research evidence points to a rise in the prevalence of mental health difficulties (e.g. anxiety, depression), and a concurrent decline in wellbeing over the last two decades. Indeed, a recent OECD study ranked the UK’s young people fourth from bottom across nearly 80 countries in terms of life satisfaction (1). This also represented the sharpest wellbeing decline of any country since the last assessment in 2015. The latest research in the UK reports a significant increase in probable mental health disorders among 5-16 year olds, from 11% (1 in 9) in 2017 to 16% (1 in 6) in 2020. This rise in prevalence is closely tied to the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic. Young people more likely to experience mental health difficulties were those who reported witnessing arguments among adults in their household, sleep problems, lower levels of support from school/college, living in a household that had fallen behind on payments, and/or reporting that lockdown had made life worse.

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