Health, Aging & Society

A New Way of Understanding Wellbeing

A New Way of Understanding Wellbeing

Through non-representational theory, wellbeing is understood as an immediate, less-than-fully conscious, physio-environmental process that emerges as we move through the world. With this perspective, we can begin to understand where and when wellbeing arises as a feeling in everyday moments and events.

What is this research about?

Wellbeing is commonly thought of and researched as a conscious, meaningful, and measureable ‘state of life’, which we spend a reasonable length of time reaching for. Instead, the purpose of this research is to provide observational evidence to support an argument for a different approach to understanding wellbeing.


Specifically, it is argued that non-representational theory helps us think about how wellbeing occurs in the moment and as a momentary ‘feeling state’. As an approach, non-representational theory is concerned with life’s ‘taking place’; the many wordless, unreflective, automatic and accidental physical practices in life, and how these are registered and sensed by and affect humans.

What is the researcher doing?

Between summer and early autumn of 2012, each of the three researchers recorded the details of when and where he or she experienced a wellbeing event in his or her daily life. In their notes the researchers described the events and the physical sensations they experienced and provided relevant contextual information. Additionally, when and where possible, the researchers used photography and video to capture visual recordings of those events.

What the researchers found

The researchers compiled their data and categorized them into a number of sub-themes that help demonstrate how non-representational theory can be used to understand wellbeing:

  • From atomic to full bodies. Observations under this theme show that wellbeing can be experienced through ‘affect’, which is the fundamental, physical response – an energetic boost – our body experiences as it interacts with all the bodies and particles that form its surroundings, and which we  register somatically as a prevailing atmosphere.
  • From affects to emotions. Observations under this theme show that through a 3-step process, wellbeing can transition from being experienced as physical and affective to a fully conscious emotion.
  • Affective possibilities for wellbeing. Observations under this theme show that we seek out certain spaces, whether natural or engineered, that provide us with particular affective wellbeing experiences and atmospheres.

How can this research be used?

This research is useful to various disciplines that explore wellbeing, including geography and the social and health sciences, as it sparks conversation on how wellbeing can be understood in a more immediate sense. Research that builds on wellbeing and non-representational theory might have particular implications in the health field, as we begin to understand where and when wellbeing arises in our everyday lives. Alternatively, it might help us design public and private spaces – including health care spaces – with the promotion of wellbeing in mind and as a prime objective.


Andrews G.J., Chen S., & Myers S., ” The ‘taking place’ of health and wellbeing: Towards non-representational theory,” Social Science & Medicine, 108, (2014).


Gavin Andrews

Gavin Andrews PhD

Professor, Health, Aging & Society

(905) 525-9140 ext. 26390

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