1. Consideration of how to secure the wellbeing of humanity for the future presents a major
challenge for society. For humans to flourish fully, it is not sufficient simply to live: we must live
2. The UCL Grand Challenge of Human Wellbeing (GCHW) seeks to consider both the nature of
being human and the nature of wellbeing. It will harness UCL’s research expertise from across our
academic community to provide new, multifaceted, multidisciplinary considerations of human
3. GCHW will combine scholarship and research to help define how UCL can make a unique
contribution to exploring, articulating and improving wellbeing.
Context: Why does human wellbeing matter?
4. In recent years, wellbeing has been an increasing focus of both academic research and of
consideration by government and policymakers. Recognition that increased wealth has not
resulted in increased quality of life and that wellbeing cannot be measured through measuring
economic wealth alone, has led to a re-thinking of wellbeing. This is in a context of global inequity
in wellbeing, with a substantial proportion of the world’s population still living in poverty. Wellbeing
for all humans remains a pressing challenge.
5. GCHW seeks therefore to:
articulate the importance of wellbeing in a variety of different contexts and cultures
recognise the complexity and variation in concepts of wellbeing
define different aspects of wellbeing and their value without necessarily assigning
objective prioritisation
consider wellbeing holistically and take into account its global significance, implications
and impact.
Defining wellbeing
6. One of the great challenges faced in any consideration of wellbeing is how to define wellbeing in
the first place. An initial focus for GCHW will be to strike a balance between defining constituent
elements of wellbeing and maintaining a flexible approach that embraces wellbeing as a
multifaceted, multi-dimensional concept. GCHW aims to provide insights into different concepts of
wellbeing, rather than providing a definitive characterisation or explanation of wellbeing. Wellbeing
is perhaps best seen as an aggregate of different dimensions, which manifests itself as a trade-off
between pluralities. GCHW seeks a way for forward through identifying commonality and
exploring differences between measures, dimensions and concepts of wellbeing.
Measuring wellbeing
7. The measurement of wellbeing is becoming an increasing priority for policymakers, although no
framework for measurement currently exists and information on wellbeing is not collected in a way
that can be used to inform policymaking and decisions. Although attempts at measurement are
becoming increasingly sophisticated, they remain partial almost by definition (in their prioritisation
of certain indicators of wellbeing) and unable to capture the multiple dimensions of wellbeing. The
re-conceptualisation of economic growth as a means to wellbeing, rather than an end in itself may
help to develop a conception of ‘progress’ which is defined according to social, environmental and
other quality of life measures, rather than GDP.
Governing for wellbeing
8. Governmental efforts to improve wellbeing will require a joined-up approach to policymaking and a
recognition that action in one area will have implications elsewhere to be embedded across
Government. The role of Government can perhaps best be said to create the broad framework
and conditions in which outcomes of social wellbeing can be delivered and individual wellbeing
can be achieved.
9. Consideration should also be given to the role of other actors in enhancing wellbeing, in particular
that of individuals, and how this intersects with the role of Government. In particular, there are
questions as to how wellbeing can be achieved for society as a whole when it is likely to mean
different things for different individuals and groups. GCHW will seek to provide the insights that
will enable individuals, organisations, and policymakers to act effectively to improve wellbeing.
Achieving wellbeing
Wellbeing at an individual level can perhaps best be seen as a description of a “life situation”.
Key considerations in achieving wellbeing include: physical and mental health, which are
necessary to live well and have a fulfilling life experience; the relations between subjective and
objective wellbeing – wellbeing being an inherently subjective state which is nevertheless
underpinned by objective factors; social wellbeing and its relation to individual wellbeing; and the
relation between sustainability and wellbeing.
UCL’s Grand Challenge of Human Wellbeing
In GCHW, we have identified a global challenge, encompassing human wellbeing across the
world. GCHW must consider both how to increase the basic conditions for wellbeing for all and
explore what constitutes wellbeing beyond those basic measures. It must also investigate the
distribution of wellbeing across populations and inequity in states of wellbeing, as well as the
apparent contradictions and tensions in wellbeing. GCHW will also explore what it means to be
human to develop a greater understanding of what we require to live our lives well.
GCHW recognises that there is no single approach to understanding wellbeing, and indeed that
the answer to many of the pressing questions we face will come in many different parts from
different disciplines – from psychology and neuroscience to personalised medicine, and from
history and economics to anthropology and sociology. UCL’s multidisciplinary expertise allows us
to an approach to wellbeing that is flexible and responsive.
We believe that, as a world-leading research institution in an advanced industrialised nation,
UCL has a responsibility to work to help achieve human wellbeing across the world and to ensure
that our wellbeing is not achieved at the expense of others. We must disseminate insights from
science and research into wellbeing, explore the nature of wellbeing, and inform public policy and
governments on the policies which will promote the wellbeing of national and international
populations and a society in which individual wellbeing flourishes.
Our challenge is manifold:
to tackle the complexity of wellbeing through our multidisciplinary expertise
to explore how wellbeing can be measured
to address pressing questions about how to enhance wellbeing
to embrace curiosity about what it is to be human, and our place in the world.
GCHW will seek to harness the expertise of UCL’s research community and of external
partnerships to provide insights into human wellbeing. GCHW will work in partnership with the
other UCL Grand Challenges – Global Health, Sustainable Cities and Intercultural Interaction – as
well as with initiatives in the emerging UCL Research Frontiers. We hope to make novel and
insightful contributions to the question of how to enhance human wellbeing in a truly global context
that will help, inform and guide policymakers around the world.