, Volume 41, Issue 4, pp 327–340 | Cite as

A Review of the Elements of Human Well-Being with an Emphasis on the Contribution of Ecosystem Services

  • J. K. Summers
  • L. M. Smith
  • J. L. Case
  • R. A. Linthurst
Review Paper


Natural ecosystems perform fundamental life-support services upon which human civilization depends. However, many people believe that nature provides these services for free and therefore, they are of little or no value. While we do not pay for them, we pay significantly for their loss in terms of wastewater treatment facilities, moratoriums on greenhouse gases, increased illnesses, reduced soil fertility and losses in those images of nature that contribute to our basic happiness. Little is understood about the well-being benefits of the natural environment and its ecosystem services. The interwoven relationship of ecosystems and human well-being is insufficiently acknowledged in the wider philosophical, social, and economic well-being literature. In this article, we discuss an approach to examine human well-being and the interactions of its four primary elements—basic human needs, economic needs, environmental needs, and subjective well-being—and ecosystem services.


Ecosystem services Human well-being Sustainability Ecological economics Subjective happiness 



The information in this document has been funded wholly (or in part) by the US Environmental Protection Agency. It has been subjected to review by the National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory and approved for publication. Approval does not signify that the contents reflect the views of the Agency, nor does mention of trade names or commercial products constitute endorsement or recommendation for use.


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Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. K. Summers
    • 1
  • L. M. Smith
    • 1
  • J. L. Case
    • 1
  • R. A. Linthurst
    • 2
  1. 1.Gulf Ecology Division, National Health and Environmental Effects Research LaboratoryUS Environmental Protection AgencyGulf BreezeUSA
  2. 2.Office of Research and Development, Ecosystems Services Research ProgramUS Environmental Protection AgencyResearch Triangle ParkUSA

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