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One World Week

3 December 2008

“Yes, but how do you feel?” Wellbeing for the 21st century


Professor Nick Tyler (UCL Civil & Environmental Engineering)

Wellbeing is a term used in the late twentieth century to denote a sense of a person’s general good feeling about their existence. This is more than just their health or their economic circumstances – although both are involved – and includes their happiness, contentment with their lot, sense that they can achieve as much or as little as they wish and much more. However, it is also a kind of chimera, who defines “well” and what are their terms of reference? And isn’t there a sense of paternalism about it – wellbeing in ‘my’ terms rather than ‘yours’ – that makes it difficult to see it as a term that could work across cultures, ages, places or times?

This lecture sets out to match an engineering revolution, which started quite close to UCL 200 years ago, with the consequent questions about contentment and wellbeing. This revolution started when Richard Trevithick showed that it was possible to transform motion from the limits afforded by muscle power to the opportunities presented by mechanical power, by showing that a steam locomotive could pull a wagon full of people around a circular track. Although it took another 20 years for the first passenger-carrying railway to emerge, Trevithick unwittingly sparked a change in perceptions about time and space.

How does the way we perceive the space around us affect our ability to take advantage of the opportunity to exercise our sense of wellbeing – whether that involves travelling or staying where we are? How does that perception affect the way we design the environment around us? How can we define environmental objectives which could help to maintain the good side of wellbeing while avoiding the paternalism so that we can inspire a truly intercultural approach to feeling better about the world?

Page last modified on 03 dec 08 13:08


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