Wellbeing and survival

It’s the season of mists, mellow fruitfulness and wellbeing. In the last month there’s been the launch of the APPG report on wellbeing economics in the House of Lords, which was encouragingly sensible, the launch of the What Works Centre for Wellbeing – a new addition to the government’s What Works Network. Now there’s some What Works Wellbeing research money, channeled through the ESRC.

Each of these linked initiatives includes an art and culture strand. Yet you can feel in the language of those who live in the serious world, big spending decision makers, policy gurus and academics, that art is lightweight compared to heavy issues like health, housing and work. It’s fun, a refuge, somewhere they go when they are off duty.

Nancy Hey, who is leading development of the What Works Wellbeing Centre, said an interesting thing at yesterday’s research funding workshop in Birmingham. She described wellbeing as about flourishing beyond mere survival.

Back to mists and mellow fruitfulness. It’s a beautiful day. There’s the smell of smouldering bonfire in the air. I remember when my children were little. I miss them. Beauty, the senses, memory, loss, the core business of art, culture and heritage. Not to be conflated with happiness, nor even flourishing, but necessary for survival?

The symptoms of profound depression include the disappearance of sensory pleasure, inability to concentrate, a feeling of absolute loss, the absence of things that we can get to through the bit of government spending called Culture. Depression like this is a state of near death where survival is in doubt.

The connection between mental wellbeing and culture is indisputable and serious. The fact that cultural experience is largely pleasurable does not preclude it from being essential to life.

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