This article offers a critique of the dominant ways in which well-being has been conceptualized and researched within social policy, focusing in particular on the significance of this for policy relating to older people. It conceptualizes well-being as relational and generative rather than an individual outcome. We critically explore normative notions of independence, autonomy and consumerism at the heart of policy on well-being and ageing and suggest that indexes of older people’s happiness conceal more than they reveal. We illustrate this theoretical approach with empirical material from a participatory study in which older people were co-producers of knowledge about what well-being means and how it can be produced. Working with older people as co-researchers we found that keeping well in old age involves demanding emotional and organizational labour both for older people and for family and friends. We suggest the need for ethical and relational sensibilities at the heart of policy on well-being and ageing.