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Programme Overview

The Wellbeing Programme was founded in 2003 when Richard Layard gave his public lectures on Happiness: Has social science a clue? His book on Happiness then followed which explores the paradox that as societies get richer, they often do not become happier. Research from the programme has been devoted to understanding the causes of wellbeing and how wellbeing affects other outcomes that policymakers care about (such as education and physical health).

One of our priorities is that public policy should increasingly aim at wellbeing. Richard Layard was on the Commission for Wellbeing Policy chaired by Gus O'Donnell, which described how wellbeing policy could actually work (including new forms of cost-benefit analysis, together with some obvious new policy priorities). Its report, Wellbeing and Policy, was launched in 2014. Richard Layard also co-edits the World Happiness Report, with Jeff Sachs and John Helliwell. The Wellbeing programme now acts as the Cross-Cutting Evidence Group in the newly-funded What Works Centre for Wellbeing.

Watch presentations from the "Subjective well-being over the life course: Evidence and policy implications" conference 2016. Why should governments care about people's wellbeing and how would policy change if raising wellbeing was the objective? This landmark conference was organised by the OECD, CEPREMAP, What Works Centre for Wellbeing, and the CEP.

An important strand of our research relates to mental health, following the finding that mental illness (especially depression and chronic anxiety) is the biggest single cause of misery in advanced countries. Yet only one quarter of those who are ill receive treatment. Our programme has helped highlight this problem, including its economic aspects (see The Depression Report: A New Deal for Depression and Anxiety Disorders and How Mental Illness Loses out in the NHS), and to bring about a radical new government policy called Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT). The Programme was described by the journal Nature as "world-beating". It is now being extended to children, based on recommendations of The Good Childhood Report, co-authored by Richard Layard. In 2014, Richard Layard and Professor David M. Clark (of Oxford) published Thrive: The Power of Evidence-Based Psychological Therapies, a book for the general public on the significance of mental illness as a source of social and economic ills and on the scope for cost-effective therapy on a very wide scale.

Watch Richard Layard on our YouTube channel explain why treating mental illness should be high on the public agenda:

A direct way in which the Wellbeing Programme is involved in promoting a happier society is through the movement Action for Happiness, which was co-founded by Richard Layard in 2011. Members from all backgrounds pledge to live so as to create as much happiness as they can and as little misery. To date, the movement has more than 70,000 members from over 170 countries.

The work of the Wellbeing Programme can be grouped into the following themes:

  • The Causes and Effects of Wellbeing: We investigate what causes wellbeing and how wellbeing affects other things that policy-makers care about, like education and physical health

  • Wellbeing Policy: A central aim of the programme is that wellbeing becomes a focus for policy makers; much of our work pursues this aim and deals with issues in its implementation

  • Mental Health: Much of our work focuses on how mental health affects wellbeing, and on effective policies for combatting mental illness