Introduction: Wellbeing in an Aspirational World

  • Kevin MooreEmail author


Moore introduces the main argument of the book by first observing that there is a paradox at the heart of wellbeing in the modern world. While life is objectively better than it has ever been, the evidence is building that people are suffering. He first focuses on the claims of a ‘new optimism’ that life has never been better. Then he considers the disturbing findings on mental health and wellbeing, especially amongst young people. The argument is made that understanding this paradox requires two changes to how wellbeing is theorised: the notion of the ‘person’ needs to be included in theories of individual wellbeing; the current culture of aspiration needs to be understood as the context that today generates both the difficulties involved in sustaining wellbeing and the persons whose wellbeing is of concern.


  1. Barkow, J. H., Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (Eds.). (1992). The adapted mind: Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Cantor, N., Norem, J. K., Langston, C. A., Zirkel, S., Fleeson, W., & Cook-Flannagan, C. (1991). Life tasks and daily life experience. Journal of Personality, 59(3), 425–451.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Cantor, N., Norem, J. K., Niedenthal, P. M., Langston, C. A., & Brower, A. M. (1987). Life tasks, self-concept ideals, and cognitive strategies in a life transition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53(6), 1178–1191. Scholar
  4. Cederström, C., & Spicer, A. (2015). The wellness syndrome. Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar
  5. Davies, W. (2015). The happiness industry: How the government and big business sold us well-being. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  6. Depression and other common mental disorders: Global health estimates. (2017). (p. 22). Geneva: World Health Organization.Google Scholar
  7. Diener, E., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Beyond money: Toward an economy of well-being. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 5(1), 1–31. Scholar
  8. Easterbrook, G. (2004). The progress paradox: How life gets better while people feel worse. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  9. Easterlin, R., Wang, F., & Wang, S. (2017). Growth and happiness in China, 1990–2015, ch. 3. In J. Helliwell, R. Layard, & J. Sachs (Eds.), World happiness report (pp. 48–83). New York, NY: Sustainable Development Solutions Network.Google Scholar
  10. Eckersley, R. (2004). Separate selves, tribal ties, and other stories: Making sense of different accounts of youth. Family Matters, 68(Winter), 36–42.Google Scholar
  11. Harré, R. (1983). Personal being: A theory for individual psychology. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  12. Haybron, D. M. (2008). The pursuit of unhappiness: The elusive psychology of well-being. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Helliwell, J. F., Layard, R., & Sachs, J. D. (2018). World happiness report. New York: Sustainable Development Solutions Network.Google Scholar
  14. Heyes, C. (2012). New thinking: The evolution of human cognition. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences, 367, 2091–2096. Scholar
  15. Heyes, C. (2018). Cultural gadgets: The cultural evolution of thinking. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Holmes, S. (1996). The anatomy of antiliberalism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Keverne, E. B. (2004, September 29). Understanding well-being in the evolutionary context of brain development. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B. Biological Sciences, 359(1449), 1349–1358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Lamblin, M., Murawski, C., Whittle, S., & Fornito, A. (2017). Social connectedness, mental health and the adolescent brain. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Review, 80, 57–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lomborg, B. (2001). The skeptical environmentalist: Measuring the real state of the world. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Moffitt, T. E., Caspi, A., Taylor, A., Kokaua, J., Milne, B. J., Polanczyk, G., et al. (2010). How common are common mental disorders? Evidence that lifetime prevalence rates are doubled by prospective versus retrospective ascertainment. Psychological Medicine, 40(6), 899–909.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Moore, S., & Simon, J. L. (2000). It’s getting better all the time: 100 greatest trends of the last 100 years. Washington, DC: Cato Institute.Google Scholar
  22. Norberg, J. (2016). Progress: Ten reasons to look forward to the future. London: Oneworld Publications.Google Scholar
  23. Parker, G., Cheah, Y. C., & Roy, K. (2001). Do the Chinese somatize depression? A cross-cultural study. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 36(6), 287–293. Scholar
  24. Pettigrew, T. F. (2018). The emergence of contextual social psychology. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 44(7), 963–971. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Pinker, S. (2011). The better angels of our nature: The decline of violence in history and its causes. London: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  26. Pinker, S. (2018). Enlightenment now: The case for reason, science, humanism, and progress. New York: Viking.Google Scholar
  27. Postrel, V. (1999). The future and its enemies: The growing conflict over creativity, enterprise, and progress. New York: Touchstone.Google Scholar
  28. Pratt, L. A., Brody, D. J., & Gu, Q. (2011). Antidepressant use in persons aged 12 and over: United States, 2005–2008. In NCHS Data Brief (Vol. 76). Hyattsville, MD: National Centre for Health Statistics.Google Scholar
  29. Ridley, M. (2010). The rational optimist: How prosperity evolves. New York: HarperCollins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Rosling, H., Rosling, O., & Rönnlund, R. (2018). Factfulness: Ten reasons we’re wrong about the world—And why things are better than you think. New York: Flatiron Books.Google Scholar
  31. Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2017). Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motvation, development, and wellness. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  32. Sachs, J. D. (2018). America’s health crisis and the Easterlin paradox. In J. F. Helliwell, R. Layard, & J. D. Sachs (Eds.), World happiness report (pp. 146–159). New York: United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network.Google Scholar
  33. Shermer, M. (2015). The moral arc: How science and reason lead humanity toward truth, justice, and freedom. New York: Henry Holt and Company.Google Scholar
  34. Slovic, P. (1987). Perception of risk. Science, 236(4799), 280–285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Stone, D. M., Simon, T. R., Fowler, K. A., Kegler, S. R., Yuan, K., Holland, K. M., et al. (2018). Vital signs: Trends in state suicide rates—United States, 1999–2016 an circumstances contributing to suicide—27 States, 2015 (N. C. f. I. P. a. C. Division of Violence Prevention, Trans.). Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 67, 617–624.Google Scholar
  36. Strawson, P. F. (1959). Individuals: An essay in descriptive metaphysics. London: Methuen.Google Scholar
  37. Twenge, J. M. (2000). The age of anxiety? Birth cohort change in anxiety and neuroticism, 1952–1993. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79(6), 1007–1021. Scholar
  38. Twenge, J. M., Gentile, B., DeWall, C. N., Ma, D., Lacefield, K., & Schurtz, D. R. (2010). Birth cohort increases in psychopathology among young Americans, 1938–2007: A cross-temporal meta-analysis of the MMPI. Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 145–154. Scholar
  39. Twenge, J. M., Zhang, L., & Im, C. (2004). It’s beyond my control: A cross-temporal meta-analysis of increasing externality in Locus of Control, 1960–2002. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 8(3), 308–319.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Environment, Society and DesignLincoln UniversityLincolnNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations