Ill, but well: A phenomenology of well-being in chronic illness

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book


This chapter explores two dimensions of chronic illness: its global and fluctuating nature, in order to reveal the completeness of illness as a form of life. I use the phenomenological approach, which focuses on first-person experiences in the aim of discerning and ordering these experiences, whilst refusing to subsume any experience under a prescriptive formulation. Section One will outline a phenomenological approach to illness. Section Two focuses on two important questions about ill health. (1) does illness affect one's well-being, and if so, in what ways? I will explore some of the empirical evidence on the relationship between health and happiness in order to suggest that, surprisingly, the answer to the question is 'no' and offer several explanations for this. I do this by examining first-person reports of ill people, to see what they say about their own happiness and lives. This will demonstrate the usefulness of phenomenology which, in this case, helps us understand how it is possible for ill health not to affect one's well-being. (2) given that illness does not make us less happy, why do we conceive of it as one of the most terrifying evils that can befall a person? I will turn to recent work in empirical psychology to suggest some answers to this question. In the final section I suggest that happiness is an achievement that requires thought, planning and work, and that this view of happiness contributes to our understanding of why illness does not significantly affect long-term well-being.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDisability and the good life
EditorsJerome Bickenbach, F. Felder, B. Schmitz
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages27
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Structured keywords

  • Centre for Humanities Health and Science


  • Illness, Phenomenology, Experience of illness, somatic illness, disability, wellbeing, happiness within illness

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