Undergraduate Modules: POL3107 - Politics of Happiness/Wellbeing

Module Code


Module Title

Politics of Happiness/Wellbeing


Level 3


Semester 1


20 credits

Taught by:

Professor Ian Bache

Module Description:

Concern with quality of life and wellbeing has accelerated up the academic and political agendas in the past decade or so. The published output includes influential books such as Happiness (Richard Layard), The Spirit Level (Richard Wilkinson and Katy Pickett) and Britain on the Couch / Affluenza (Oliver James), while quality of life and wellbeing priorities have been increasingly incorporated into national and EU policy documents. Key politicians and policy-makers have moved towards embracing quality of life as a more comprehensive, inclusive and appropriate goal of public policies than the traditionally narrow focus on indicators of economic prosperity. In the UK, this has culminated in David Cameron’s instruction to the Office for National Statistics to develop wider measures of progress than GDP.

This module explores conceptual, empirical and policy-related aspects of quality of life. It examines competing definitions, understandings and measurements of quality of life and related notions, such as wellbeing. It includes consideration of established themes such as equality, poverty, social exclusion and sustainability.

Module Aims:

The module aims to provide students with an understanding of contemporary political debates on quality of life and to situate these within different political and theoretical traditions. It looks at the distribution of quality of life nationally and internationally, considers the strengths and weaknesses of contemporary policies aimed at enhancing quality of life and examines accounts of inequalities of quality of life among different groups, communities and societies. Students will be encouraged to pursue their own interests in relation to quality of life issues and may write essays on topics of their choice. By the end of the module, students will be able to:

  • Understand how and why quality of life and wellbeing have risen up political agendas in the UK, EU and elsewhere.
  • Display an understanding of contemporary political debates on quality of life issues and how these relate to different political and theoretical traditions.
  • Explain the main theoretical and conceptual perspectives in relation to contemporary debates on quality of life.
  • Explain different understandings and definitions of the quality of life and their relationship to related concepts (poverty, social exclusion, sustainability etc.).
  • Display an understanding of the policy implications of different understandings of and approaches to quality of life issues.
  • Display an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of different policies aimed at enhancing quality of life.

This module also equips students with a range of important transferable skills that will be important after graduating. These include: working independently and as part of a group; managing a varied workload and keeping to deadlines; assimilating and synthesising multiple data sources; constructing and presenting coherent arguments, both orally and in writing.

Module Schedule:

1 Introductory session. Politics and the quality of life
2 Understanding quality of life
3 Measuring quality of life
4 Expectations and social comparisons
5 Social exclusion and social capital
6 Inequality
7 Government and politics
8 Public policy
9 Developments in Britain
10 Beyond the UK
11 Group choice

Teaching Methods:

  • 11 * 2 hour seminars


  • 2 * 2500 word essays

Resources Available:

  • Individual feedback and guidance sessions with module tutors.
  • Detailed 20-30 page module handbook
  • Dedicated module intranet site.
  • Extensive library materials, including a wide variety of electronic and digitised resources.

Indicative Reading:

Bache, I. (2013) ‘Measuring quality of life for public policy: an idea whose time has come? Agenda-setting dynamics in the European Union’, Journal of European Public Policy, 20 (1), pp. 21-38.

Doyal, K. and Gough, I. (1991) A Theory of Human Need. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

James, O. (1997) Britain on the Couch: why we’re unhappier than we were in the 1950s – despite being richer. London: Century.

Layard, R. (2005) Happiness: lessons from a new science. London: Penguin.

Phillips, D. (2006) Quality of Life: concept, policy and practice. Abingdon: Routledge.

Wilkinson, R. and Pickett, K. (2009) The Spirit Level: why equality is better for everyone. London: Penguin.

What our Students Say:

‘I have really enjoyed this module. It is a new and different subject which has been a pleasure. The set-up of seminars has proved great for facilitating discussion and I have ended up wanting to research more into almost all areas of the module. Ian is an excellent module leader and seminar tutor who is very approachable and positive.’

‘Having taken this module based on the recommendation of a friend and the module outline, I am extremely pleased that I did so. The seminars were always very well structured, the tutor ensured that a positive classroom atmosphere was created and the content of the course was very stimulating. I'm looking forward to working on the project!’

‘Really enjoyed this module and the new concepts which were looked at. Module tutor very approachable.’

‘I only chose the module because the one I wanted to do got cancelled, but really enjoyed it. Seminars were great - very good group discussions which Ian allowed to flow freely.’