Journal of Happiness Studies

, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 757–781 | Cite as

Thinking About One’s Subjective Well-Being: Average Trends and Individual Differences

  • Maike Luhmann
  • Louise C. Hawkley
  • John T. Cacioppo
Research Paper


In two studies, participants reported what they had been thinking about while completing measures of subjective well-being (SWB). These thought reports were analyzed with respect to life domain, valence, and how strongly they were related to actual levels of SWB. Most people focused on their life circumstances (e.g., career) rather than on dispositional predictors (e.g., personality) of SWB. The domains mentioned most frequently (career, family, romantic life) were also the ones that were most strongly related to actual SWB, indicating that most of people think about things that actually contribute to their SWB. Some domains are predominantly mentioned in positive contexts (e.g., family) whereas others are predominantly mentioned in negative contexts (e.g., money). On average, people thought more about positive than about negative things, a result that is magnified for respondents high in extraversion or emotional stability. In sum, these findings provide insight into what people think contributes to their SWB; beliefs that may guide them as they make important decisions.


Subjective well-being Happiness Source confusion Evaluative space model Personality Self-knowledge 



This work was supported by the National Institute on Aging (R01-AG036433, R01-AG033590, and R01-AG034052) and by the Department of the Army, Defense Medical Research and Development Program (Award #W81XWH-11-2-0114).We thank Angela McCoy, Shannon Ehlert, and Sarah Short for their assistance in coding the open responses and Elizabeth Necka for feedback on an earlier draft.

Supplementary material

10902_2013_9448_MOESM1_ESM.docx (17 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 17 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maike Luhmann
    • 1
  • Louise C. Hawkley
    • 2
  • John T. Cacioppo
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Illinois at ChicagoChicagoUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA

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