Measuring a Nation's Wellbeing


  • Siobhan Lennon-Patience University of East London



Psycho-Cultural. Wellbeing. Happiness. Neoliberal. Therapy Culture.


This paper investigates the cultural, social and political contexts of the Prime Minister, David Cameron's proposal to measure the wellbeing of the UK population. I adopt a psycho-cultural approach whereby theories and methods from the disciplines of psychoanalytic and psychosocial studies are combined with those from the fields of media and cultural studies. The paper includes relevant case study material taken from the UK press, television, documents and artefacts within popular culture. From this investigation, I provide a critical cultural analysis and contextualisation of the proposal to measure wellbeing. This comprises an examination of recurring themes and discourses in those texts, linking them with cultural movements and histories. I explore the position of wellbeing measurement in terms of the contemporary psychosocial debates about the nature of 'therapy culture’. The paper draws on Cooper’s (2009) psychodynamic approach to the interrogation of policy processes, which explores that which is absent, suppressed or denied. I suggest that the current exposition of wellbeing measurement, as deployed by David Cameron, is underpinned by a culturally powerful therapeutic discourse, comprised of a version of self-help therapy culture that has an undercurrent of neoliberal pro-market values. This discourse has been strategically applied by the current government as a means of situating the locus of responsibility for personal wellbeing firmly on the individual. This investigation forms a new intervention in contemporary psychosocial debates about the nature and value of ‘therapy culture’ and is a contribution to the development of a psycho-cultural studies approach.

Author Biography

Siobhan Lennon-Patience, University of East London

Doctoral Candidate




How to Cite

Lennon-Patience, S. (2018). Measuring a Nation’s Wellbeing. Free Associations, (64), 14–36.




Most read articles by the same author(s)