Directionality of the relationship between social well-being and subjective well-being: evidence from a 20-year longitudinal study



Self-determination theory suggests that psycho-social well-being prospectively predicts subjective well-being. In contrast, the broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions suggests that subjective well-being has a positive impact on subsequent levels of psycho-social well-being. The present study sought to empirically disentangle the directionality of the relationship between subjective well-being and social well-being over time.


The study used three waves of survey data, with intervals of 10 years, from the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) project, a representative longitudinal panel study of American adults (N = 2732). Cross-lagged panel modeling was used for data analysis.


The results revealed that social well-being predicted increases in subsequent subjective well-being, whereas subjective well-being did not prospectively predict social well-being. Social well-being also demonstrated more stability over time than did subjective well-being.


These findings suggest that optimal social functioning is more likely to be an antecedent to subjective well-being, not the other way around. The results are consistent with predictions guided by self-determination theory.

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Correspondence to Mohsen Joshanloo.

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All procedures performed in this study are in accordance with the conventional ethical standards. We used the data from the national survey of midlife development in the United States. For more information about the data collection procedures, see

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Joshanloo, M., Sirgy, M.J. & Park, J. Directionality of the relationship between social well-being and subjective well-being: evidence from a 20-year longitudinal study. Qual Life Res 27, 2137–2145 (2018).

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  • Subjective well-being
  • Social well-being
  • Longitudinal
  • Hedonic well-being
  • Eudaimonic well-being