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“What does well-being mean to me?” Conceptualisations of well-being in Irish primary schooling

Emma Farrell (University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland)
Jennifer Symonds (University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland)
Dympna Devine (University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland)
Seaneen Sloan (University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland)
Mags Crean (Maynooth University, Maynooth, Ireland)
Abbie Cahoon (Ulster University, Coleraine, UK)
Julie Hogan (University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland)

Health Education

ISSN: 0965-4283

Article publication date: 3 April 2024




The purpose of this study is to understand the meaning of the term well-being as conceptualised by parents, grandparents, principals and teachers in the Irish primary education system.


A hermeneutic phenomenological approach was adopted to understand the nature and meaning of the phenomenon of well-being. Interviews were carried out with 54 principals, teachers, parents and grandparents from a representative sample of primary schools in Ireland. Each participant was asked the same, open, question: “What does well-being mean to you?” Responses were transcribed verbatim and analysed using a combination of the principles of the hermeneutic circle and Braun and Clarke’s framework for thematic analysis.


Three conceptualisations of well-being were identified (1) well-being is about being happy, (2) well-being is about being healthy and safe and (3) well-being is something you “do”.


To the best of our knowledge this paper is the first of its kind to describe how well-being is conceptualised by adults in Irish primary school contexts. In particular it highlights how neoliberal conceptualisations of well-being as a “thing”, a commodity exchanged on assumptions of individualism, moralism and bio-economism, have crept into the education of our youngest citizens.



Farrell, E., Symonds, J., Devine, D., Sloan, S., Crean, M., Cahoon, A. and Hogan, J. (2024), "“What does well-being mean to me?” Conceptualisations of well-being in Irish primary schooling", Health Education, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.



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