Balancing needs: young unemployed Finnish adults’ discourse on well-being and its relation to the sustainability transformation

Tuula Helne, Tuuli Hirvilammi

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Meeting human needs while respecting ecological limits is one of the daunting tasks of the sustainability transformation. To succeed in it, it is vital to discuss, to reconstruct, and to deconstruct the dominant discourse on well-being. How young people understand well-being is a particularly important issue since they are the prospective harbingers of change. However, the public discourse on youth is often problem-oriented, especially regarding youth not in employment or education. In this article, the gaze is directed at one such group. Group-interview data of young unemployed Finnish adults are analyzed to explore how they conceptualize well-being and how this understanding relates to the sustainability transformation. We interpret the data with the help of a need-based theory of sustainable, multidimensional, and relational well-being (the Having-Doing-Loving-Being framework). The study demonstrates that the young adults’ discourse is compatible with the framework, and differs distinctly from the prevailing policy discourse on well-being by giving far less weight to monetary aspects, and by its emphasis on meaningfulness, ethical activities, and connectedness with nature. The article concludes with implications for the sustainability transformation regarding consumption, employment policies, social and health services, biodiversity and conservation, positive sustainability, and the theory of sustainable well-being.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)158-170
Number of pages13
JournalSustainability: Science, Practice, and Policy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2022
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • discourse
  • nature connectedness
  • Needs
  • relationality
  • sustainable well-being
  • young adults

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Environmental Science(all)


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