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Global well being

01 Jun 2019 / Wellbeing Print

Individual wellbeing is global wellbeing

I would like to dedicate this column to the memory of Scottish barrister Polly Higgins, who advocated that ‘ecocide’ should be recognised by the UN as an international crime.

Polly was an iconic, inspirational figure to many within the ecology movement. Her recent death adds a note of poignancy to the reflections offered here.

An idea gaining traction in some psychological circles is that human health and wellbeing are not separate to, nor distinct from, the health and wellbeing of the rest of life on our beautiful planet.

It is no longer (if it ever was) a choice between caring for ourselves or caring for the planet. Caring for ourselves necessitates caring for our environment.

Global perspective

This global perspective on individual health challenges the dualisms inherent in how workplace well-being is often approached. It recognises that there is no distinction between ‘internal’ and ‘external’ processes. 

While most people understand the everyday meaning of the phrase ‘work/life balance’, when we unpack the term, we see another example of a dualism.

Work and life are not mutually exclusive. We do not stop living when we enter our office, although it might feel like we do! 


When we talk about work/life balance, we are talking about sustainability, or lack of. An individual work/life balance that is unsustainable results in individual burnout and the psychological processes at play parallel the processes underpinning global ecological burnout.

They can be seen as individual psychological microcosms of the collective psychological macrocosm. 

Viewed through this lens, workplace well-being is not just about the benefits to individual lawyers, law firms, or the legal profession.

Workplace wellbeing is wellbeing – full stop. Individual wellbeing is global wellbeing, and vice versa. Maybe the big idea in tackling global sustainability is to start very small, by focusing on our own personal professional sustainability? 

Perhaps a good lawyer is someone who recognises that cultivating individual workplace wellbeing is also cultivating global wellbeing and that failing to care for ourselves is also failing to care for the earth.

Because, adopting Polly’s simple and beautiful sentiment, ‘the earth is in need of a good lawyer’. 

Matthew Henson
Matthew Henson is a member of the Law School Psychological Services Team