Over the last 30 years, there has been a considerable growth in academic research on the causes of well-being.

In general, this literature gives a fairly consistent picture of which factors have associations with subjective well-being.

However, it is only in the last few years that there has been the corresponding level of interest from policymakers at national level. This is seen, for example, by the start of a programme of work at the UK Office for National Statistics, commissioned by the Prime Minister, on Measuring National Well-being. This document aims to provide the tools necessary to transfer this academic knowledge into a practical format for policymakers.

It does this by reviewing the current evidence (up to the end of 2011) – providing an introduction to the state of current knowledge. The policy areas which have been identified include: the economy, social relationships and community, health, the local environment, education and care. There is also a section on personal characteristics, which, although often not amenable to direct policy changes, play an important part in the understanding of the factors that are important to an individual’s well-being.

It should be noted, however, that this is an overview of the evidence only – it is not comprehensive and no attempt has been made to assess the quality of all the research included. As it is a glimpse of current knowledge in a continually expanding field, it will be updated regularly to keep policymakers abreast of the academic development of well-being research.