Journal of Happiness Studies

, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 17–29 | Cite as

I’m Happy, Hope You’re Happy Too.

Examining the Different Dynamics of Individual Subjective Well-Being and View on Society
  • Marc HoogheEmail author
Research Paper


While most empirical studies show stable and high levels of subjective well-being in Western societies, other studies have documented an apparently contradictory feeling of a loss of sense of community and high levels of discontent with the way society functions. Based on an analysis of the Social Cohesion Indicators survey (SCIF, Belgium), we demonstrate that subjective well-being and one’s view on society are two distinct concepts. Both measurements are related, however, with some spill-over effects from individual well-being toward the assessment of society. Most notably, ethnocentrism does not have an impact on subjective well-being, but it has a strong negative impact on the view on society. Ethnocentrism has a strong effect on the distribution of discontent with society. We hypothesize that ethnocentric actors might still be satisfied with their own living conditions, but that they feel increasingly alienated from the culturally diverse society they live in.


Subjective well-being Belgium Ethnocentrism Alienation SCIF survey 



A first version of this paper was presented at the 17th World Congress of Sociology, Göteborg (Sweden), 11–17 July 2010. We thank the panel participants and the anonymous reviewers of this journal for their constructive comments on the paper. This research received generous funding as part of the ‘Social Cohesion Indicators in Flanders’ network.


  1. Bijl, R., Boelhouwer, J., & Pommer, E. (Eds.). (2007). De sociale staat van Nederland. The Hague: Social and Cultural Planning Office.Google Scholar
  2. Bjørnskov, C., Gupta, N. D., & Pedersen, P. (2008). Analysing trends in subjective well-being in 15 European countries, 1973–2002. Journal of Happiness Studies, 9(2), 317–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Blanchflower, D., & Oswald, A. (2008). Is well-being U-shaped over the life cycle? Social Science and Medicine, 66(8), 1733–1749.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Catterberg, G., & Moreno, A. (2006). The individual bases of political trust: Trends in new and established democracies. International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 18(1), 31–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Dolan, P., Peasgood, T., & White, M. (2008). Do we really know what makes us happy? A review of the economic literature on the factors associated with subjective well-being. Journal of Economic Psychology, 29(1), 94–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Furedi, F. (1997). Culture of Fear. London: Cassell.Google Scholar
  7. Helliwell, J., & Wang, S. (2010). Trust and well-being. Cambridge: NBER (Working papers 15911).Google Scholar
  8. Hooghe, M., Marien, S., & Pauwels, T. (2011). Where do distrusting voters turn to if there is no viable exit or voice option? Government and Opposition, 46(2), 245–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Hooghe, M., & Vanhoutte, B. (2011). Subjective well-being and social capital in Belgium communities. The impact of community characteristics on subjective well-being indicators in Belgium. Social Indicators Research, 100(1), 17–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Hooghe, M., Vanhoutte, B., & Bircan, T. (2009). Technical report of the SCIF Survey 2009. Leuven: Centre for Citizenship and Democracy.Google Scholar
  11. Hudson, J. (2006). Institutional trust and subjective well-being across the EU. Kyklos, 59(1), 43–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Kahneman, D., Diener, E., & Schwarz, N. (Eds.). (2003). Well-being. The foundations of hedonic psychology. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  13. Lane, R. (2001). The loss of happiness in market democracies. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Newton, K. (2007). Social and political trust. In R. Dalton & H.-D. Klingemann (Eds.), Oxford handbook of political behavior (pp. 342–361). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Pettigrew, T. F., & Meertens, R. W. (1995). Subtle and blatant prejudice in western Europe. European Journal of Social Psychology, 25, 57–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Putnam, R. (2000). Bowling alone. New York: Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
  17. Sandel, M. (1996). Democracy’s discontent: America in search of a public philosophy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Scheier, M., & Carver, C. (1992). Effects of optimism on psychological and physical well-being: Theoretical overview and empirical update. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 16(2), 201–228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Taggart, P. (2000). Populism. Buckingham: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Veenhoven, R. (2007). Trend average happiness in nations 1946–2006. Rotterdam: Erasmus University.Google Scholar
  21. Veenhoven, R. (2009). Well-being in nations and well-being of Nations. Is there a conflict between individual and society? Social Indicators Research, 91(1), 5–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Veenhoven, R. (2010). How universal is happiness? In E. Diener, J. F. Helliwell, & D. Kahneman (Eds.), International differences in well-being (pp. 328–350). New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Veenhoven, R., & Hagerty, M. (2006). Rising happiness in nations 1946–2004: A reply to Easterlin. Social Indicators Research, 79(3), 421–436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Winkelmann, R. (2009). Unemployment, social capital, and subjective well-being. Journal of Happiness Studies, 10(4), 421–430.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Wrosch, C., & Scheier, M. F. (2003). Personality and quality of life: The importance of optimism and goal adjustment. Quality of Life Research, 12, 59–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceCatholic University LeuvenLeuvenBelgium

Personalised recommendations