This article reconsiders the value of leisure studies to well-being evidence for policy-making. It presents secondary analyses of Office for National Statistics data from the Measuring National Well-being (MNW) debate (2010). It finds that leisure is more important to the nation than accounted for in official reports. Using Raymond Williams’ framework of ‘lived culture’ and ‘recorded culture’, the article interprets this analytical discrepancy as demonstrating the culture of ‘the selective tradition’.
Raymond Williams’ work is used to understand the side-lining of leisure in the MNW programme in two ways. Firstly, the article addresses survey design and analysis. It finds a methodological bias against free text data as evidence, affecting which aspects of cultural and social life appear central to well-being. Secondly, the article takes a discourse approach to cultural sector advocacy, which, in arguing the value of arts-related activity, relegates aspects of ‘culture as ordinary’ by default. These two selective traditions mean that ‘everyday participation’ is not valued in discussions of well-being evidence, advocacy or in the final MNW measures, despite their value to the public. This article prioritises everyday understandings of well-being over those of experts, offering an ethical and practical contribution to leisure studies and policy-making for well-being.