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Eckersley R. 2005. Well & Good: Morality, meaning and happiness, 2nd ed. Text, Melbourne (first published 2004 as Well & Good: How we feel and why it matters).

Eckersley R, Dixon J, Douglas, B. (Eds) 2001. The Social Origins of Health and Well-being, CambridgeUniversity Press, Cambridge.

Eckersley R, (Ed) 1998. Measuring Progress: Is life getting better? CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne.

Eckersley R, Jeans K. (Eds) 1995. Challenge to Change – Australia in 2020, CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne.

Well & Good

Richard Eckersley. Well & Good: Morality, Meaning and Happiness (2nd Edition). Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2005. (first published 2004).

Book pdf available here:


Note: the book is provided for non-commercial research and education use. It is not to be reproduced, distributed, or used for commercial purposes without permission.

Today, many more people are living much richer, longer lives than ever before. So is all well and good? Not exactly. There is growing evidence that quality of life is not the same as standard of living, and that how well we live is not just a matter of how long we live, especially in rich nations such as Australia.

In this book, I explore what makes a good life. I go beyond the usual objective indicators by which we measure our situation to examine the subjective aspects of life that are so important to our wellbeing: meaning and purpose, identity and belonging, perceptions and expectations. My concern, then, is with how we interpret the world and our place in it, with what it is to be human – in other words, with cultures and values.

The book approaches the question from a range of perspectives – from global economics, equity and sustainability and the characteristics of modern Western culture, through the sources of health and happiness and the disturbing trends in young people’s wellbeing, to the prospects of human transformation or obsolescence. It examines the cultural roles of science, religion, economics, education, politics and the media. And it demonstrates the interconnectedness of all things, the ways in which the social forces that drive global change also shape the most personal of experiences, so that the things we need to do to improve conditions on earth over the long term are things we need to do to improve our individual wellbeing now.

The book shows that the many paradoxes and contradictions of our situation reflect not just its inherent complexity and our incomplete understanding of it, but also parallel processes of cultural decay and renewal, a titanic struggle as old ways of thinking about ourselves fail, and new ways of being human strive for definition and acceptance.

Its cultural perspective reinforces the need to shift from a worldview framed by material progress, which gives priority to economic growth and a rising standard of living, to one based on sustainable development, with its aim of balancing social, economic and environmental goals to create a high, equitable and lasting quality of life. Fundamentally, this conceptual transformation requires a deep shift in values.

The book argues that hope for the future rests on several crucial developments: a potent synergy between scientific and spiritual understandings of the world and life; our unprecedented potential as individuals to make our own moral choices and to accept responsibility for these choices; and the evidence that the necessary cultural change is already under way.


Prologue: What’s it all about?

  1. The ultimate question.
  2. Costs and benefits: global economics, equity and ecology.
  3. Modern western culture and its values..
  4. The social origins of health.
  5. The wellsprings of happiness.
  6. Quality of life.
  7. Media excess.
  8. Being young: never better, getting worse?
  9. Suicide in young people: causal layers and complexities.
  10. Future visions, social realities and personal wellbeing.
  11. Tales of the future: human obsolescence or transformation? Postmodern science, faith and morality.
  12. Beyond growth, or ‘It’s the Weltanschauung, stupid!’
  13. Global change and personal choice.

Measuring Progress

Richard Eckersley (Ed). Measuring Progress: Is Life Getting Better? CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne, 1998.

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This book was the most wide-ranging exploration of national progress undertaken at the time, spanning social, economic and environmental perspectives. It brings together some of Australia’s leading researchers to consider indicators of national performance, what they tell us about the quality and sustainability of life in Australia, and how these measures can be improved. It also includes commentaries by senior bureaucrats, academics and community representatives.

At one level, the debate is about the adequacy of Gross Domestic Product, as the dominant indicator of a nation’s performance, relative to both the past and other nations. However, the debate also reaches far beyond this question to challenge conventional thinking about progress and the relationships between economic activity, quality of life, health and well-being, and ecological sustainability.

  • New measures of progress.
  • Uses and abuses of GDP as a sole measure.
  • Causes and correlations of happiness.
  • What “middle Australia” thinks about the changes reshaping their lives.
  • Income distribution and poverty.
  • Changes in the workplace and the family.
  • Health and well-being.
  • Measuring civic and social trust.
  • The state of the environment.