Assessing Well-Being

Volume 39 of the series Social Indicators Research Series pp 67-100

The Evolving Concept of Subjective Well-Being: The Multifaceted Nature of Happiness

  • Ed DienerAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Illinois, Urbana-champaign Email author 
  • , Christie Napa ScollonAffiliated withSchool of Social Sciences, Singapore Management University
  • , Richard E. LucasAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Michigan State University

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Subjective well-being, or what is popularly often called “happiness,” has been of intense interest throughout human history. We review research showing that it is not a single factor, but that subjective well-being is composed of a number of separable although somewhat related variables. For example, positive feelings, negative feelings, and life satisfaction are clearly separable. In understanding the various types of subjective well-being, it is important to remember that appraisals move from immediate situations to a later recall of feelings, and then to global evaluations of life. At each stage, from momentary feelings to large global life eval-uations, somewhat different processes are involved in what is called “happiness.” In order to understand how to measure subjective well-being, one must understand the time course and components of the phenomenon in question, and be clear about what is most important to assess. On-line feelings are very different from global evaluations of life, although both have been studied under the rubric of subjective well-being. Although debate has focused on which type of subjective well-being should be called “true happiness,” the goal of scientists is to understand each type, their relations with each other, and their causes. The future of the field depends on understanding the differences between various types of well-being, and the different and similar causes of each.