The History of Well-Being Project

Halloran Philanthropies

Supported by the Halloran Philanthropies

Buckminster Fuller Institute

Fiscally Sponsored by the Buckminster Fuller Institute

Management Institute for Quality-of-Life Studies

Logistically Managed by the Management Institute for Quality-of-Life Studies


The Halloran Philanthropies is undertaking a study focused on the history of well-being, and this document serves as a memorandum capturing the mandate, remit and expectations of this work as it has been agreed to be undertaken by Professors M. Joseph Sirgy (Virginia Tech) and Richard Estes (University of Pennsylvania).

The Halloran Philanthropies is keen to include within this research exercise a documenting of (1) the family of concepts that comprise wellbeing (i.e., happiness, life satisfaction, overall quality of life), (2) what data have been collected historically (using cross‐sectional or longitudinal surveys) to measure well‐being as defined and how, and (3) a notion of well‐being embedded in a multi‐levelled cultural context (i.e., individuals nested in families, nested in neighbourhoods, nested in cities, etc.). The end goal is to develop a more holistic, dynamic and current definition (and model) capturing the essence of “human wellbeing” that serves the basis of future work in this area.


The overall objective of this research is to perform a comprehensive, scholarly and practical documentation of the history of human well‐being that provides the basis for a better understanding of the current well‐being indicator systems and supports a reference point for future work and projections.

The final deliverable should appeal to a wide mass audience of educated adults including quality-of-life/well-being researchers, university educators teaching courses involving the concept of well-being and students enrolling in these courses, public policy officials whose interest is to develop metrics and policies to enhance the well-being of target populations or geographic regions, other foundations that have an interest in well-being related to specific populations or geographic regions, the lay public, and the media. This expansive target set is likely to require a deliverable that is versatile, accessible and that can take various forms, modes or versions.

Here is the planned table of content of the edited book:

PART I: Well Being in Historical Context

Part 1 would be focused on the concept of well-being in a historical context. Specifically, this part is likely to have three chapters.

  • Chapter 1 Western Conceptions of Well Being
  • Chapter 2 Eastern Conceptions of Well Being
  • Chapter 3 Well Being in the Cosmology of “First Peoples”

PART II: The Domains of Contemporary Well Being

Part 2 would be devoted to the history of well-being from the point of view of diverse domains of life (i.e., one chapter devoted to the definition and conceptualization of life domains and indicators capturing domain wellbeing: of health well-being, economic well-being, science and technology, environmental well-being, spiritual well-being, and social welfare).

  • Chapter 4 Definition and Conceptualization of Life Domains and Indicators of Well-Being (e.g., Health, Economic, Environmental, and Social Well-Being)

PART III: The State of Well Being in the World

Part 3 would capture the state of well-being in the world and may contain possibly 10 chapters providing an empirical assessment of the current state of well-being by major world continents (Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, North America, and Oceania). Each of these chapters would also include an assessment of well-being using the six domain framework just identified as well as a focus on specific population groups that, often, are excluded from their conceptualizations of life quality and wellbeing (e.g., children, the elderly, the poor, the disabled, women, among others). The remaining chapters would concentrate on special groupings of countries (successor states of the former Soviet Union, rapidly developing countries such as China and Brazil, countries of the Middle East and North Africa, and failed and failing states).

  • Chapter 5 Well-Being in North America
  • Chapter 6 Well-Being in Latin America
  • Chapter 7 Well-Being in Europe
  • Chapter 8 Well-Being in Asia
  • Chapter 9 Well-Being in Africa
  • Chapter 10 Well-Being in Oceania
  • Chapter 11 Well-Being in the former Soviet Union
  • Chapter 12 Well-Being in Rapidly Developing Countries
  • Chapter 13 Well-Being in the Middle East and North Africa
  • Chapter 14 Well-Being in Failed and Failing States

The 10 chapters proposed are only a rough approximation at this time of the precise structure of the deliverable, which will be formed and perfected over time with the input of the advisory board. A rough outline of the structure of the core product is available in the attached Appendix.

PART IV: Conclusion

Part 4 is essentially the conclusion part containing lessons learned.