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Measuring Well-being Across Europe: Description of the ESS Well-being Module and Preliminary Findings


It has become customary to judge the success of a society through the use of objective indicators, predominantly economic and social ones. Yet in most developed nations, increases in income, education and health have arguably not produced comparable increases in happiness or life satisfaction. While much has been learned from the introduction of subjective measures of global happiness or life satisfaction into surveys, significant recent progress in the development of high-quality subjective measures of personal and social well-being has not been fully exploited. This article describes the development of a set of well-being indicators which were included in Round 3 of the European Social Survey. This Well-being Module seeks to evaluate the success of European countries in promoting the personal and social well-being of their citizens. In addition to providing a better understanding of domain-specific measures, such as those relating to family, work and income, the design of the Well-being Module recognises that advancement in the field requires us to look beyond measures which focus on how people feel (happiness, pleasure, satisfaction) to measures which are more concerned with how well they function. This also shifts the emphasis from relatively transient states of well-being to measures of more sustainable well-being. The ESS Well-being Module represents one of the first systematic attempts to create a set of policy-relevant national well-being accounts.

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  1. Round 3 fieldwork took place in September–December 2006, and the first data release was in September 2007.

  2. The Day Reconstruction Method (DRM—Kahneman et al. 2004), which provides a detailed evaluation of experiences on the previous day, was piloted, but time constraints prevented its inclusion in the final version of the Well-being Module.

  3. Note that data on low positive affect are not available for Hungary, since one of the positive affect items—you had a lot of energy—was not included in the Hungarian interviews.

  4. Items (a) to (h) comprise the short Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D; Radloff 1977; Steffick 2000).


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We are grateful to Anne Gadermann and Dr. A. C. Plagnol for assistance with data analysis, and to an anonymous referee for useful suggestions. Thanks also to Drs. Rosemary Abbott, Daniel Johnson, Gabrielle Osborne and to Julie Aston for editorial assistance.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Felicia A. Huppert.

Additional information

The first six authors were the members of the Questionnaire Design Team for the ESS Well-being Module, which was led by Felicia Huppert and Nic Marks.



List of Items in the ESS Well-being Module (response codes are shown after each item or group of items)

Personal Feelings

  1. 1.

    I’m always optimistic about my future.

  2. 2.

    In general, I feel very positive about myself.

  3. 3.

    At times I think I am a failure.

  4. 4.

    On the whole my life is close to how I would like it to be.

[Response code: 1 – Agree strongly, to 5 – Disagree strongly]

  1. 5.

    I will now read out a list of the ways you might have felt or behaved in the past week. Please tell me how much of the time during the past week:Footnote 4

  2. (a)

    … you felt depressed

  3. (b)

    … you felt that everything you did was an effort

  4. (c)

    … your sleep was restless

  5. (d)

    … you were happy

  6. (e)

    … you felt lonely

  7. (f)

    … you enjoyed life

  8. (g)

    … you felt sad

  9. (h)

    … you could not get going

  10. (i)

    … you had a lot of energy

  11. (j)

    … you felt anxious

  12. (k)

    … you felt tired

  13. (l)

    … you were absorbed in what you were doing

  14. (m)

    … you felt calm and peaceful

  15. (n)

    … you felt bored

  16. (o)

    … you felt really rested when you woke up in the morning

[Response code: 1 – None or almost none of the time, to 4 – All or almost all of the time]

  1. 6.

    How satisfied are you with how your life has turned out so far?

  2. 7.

    How satisfied are you with your present standard of living?

For Respondents in Paid Work

  1. 8.

    All things considered, how satisfied are you with your present job?

  2. 9.

    How satisfied are you with the balance between the time you spend on your paid work and the time you spend on others aspects of your life?

[Response code: 0 – Extremely dissatisfied, to 10 – Extremely satisfied]

  1. 10.

    How much of the time do you find your job:

…. interesting?

…. stressful?

[Response code: 0 – None of the time, to 6 – All of the time]

Personal Functioning

  1. 1.

    I feel I am free to decide for myself how to live my life.

  2. 2.

    In my daily life I seldom have time to do the things I really enjoy.

  3. 3.

    In my daily life I get very little chance to show how capable I am.

  4. 4.

    I love learning new things.

  5. 5.

    Most days I feel a sense of accomplishment from what I do.

  6. 6.

    I like planning and preparing for the future.

  7. 7.

    When things go wrong in my life, it generally takes me a long time to get back to normal.

  8. 8.

    I generally feel that what I do in my life is valuable and worthwhile.

[Response code: 1 – Agree strongly, to 5 – Disagree strongly]

  1. 9.

    To what extent do you get a chance to learn new things?

Inter-personal Feelings

  1. 1.

    To what extent do you feel that people in your local area help one another?

  2. 2.

    To what extent do you feel that people treat you with respect?

  3. 3.

    To what extent do you feel that people treat you unfairly?

  4. 4.

    To what extent do you feel that you get the recognition you deserve for what you do?

[Response code: 0 – Not at all, to 6 – A great deal]

  1. 5.

    Considering all my efforts and achievements in my job, I feel I get paid appropriately.

  2. 6.

    There are people in my life who really care about me.

  3. 7.

    I feel close to the people in my local area.

  4. 8.

    For most people in [COUNTRY] life is getting worse rather than better.

  5. 9.

    The way things are now, I find it hard to be hopeful about the future of the world.

[Response code: 1 – Agree strongly, to 5 – Disagree strongly]

  1. 10.

    How much of the time spent with your immediate family:

…. is enjoyable?

…. is stressful?

[Response code: 0 – None of the time, to 6 – All of the time]

Inter-personal Functioning

How often, if at all, did you do each of the following in the past 12 months:

  1. 1.

    … got involved in work for voluntary or charitable organisations?

  2. 2.

    … not counting anything you do for your family, in your work, or within voluntary organisations, actively provide help for other people?

  3. 3.

    … help with or attend activities in your local area?

[Response code: 1-At least once a week, 2-At least once a month, 3-At least once every 3 months, 4-At least once every 6 months, 5-Less often, 6-Never]

  1. 4.

    If I help someone, I expect some help in return.

Additional Items

  1. 1.

    My life involves a lot of physical activity.

[Response code: 1 – Agree strongly, to 5 – Disagree strongly]

  1. 2.

    Do you ever feel frustrated by having watched too much television?

[Response code: 1 – Often, to 5 – Never]

  1. 3.

    How likely would you say it is that you will become unemployed in the next 12 months?

[Response code: 1 – Very likely, to 5 – Not at all likely]

  1. 4.

    How important is it to you to compare your income with other people’s incomes?

[Response code: 0 – Not at all important, to 6 – Very important]

  1. 5.

    Whose income would you be most likely to compare your own with? Please choose one of the following groups: work colleagues, family members, friends, others.

[Response code: 1 – Work colleagues, 2 – Family members, 3 – Friends, 4 – Others, 5 – Don’t compare]

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Huppert, F.A., Marks, N., Clark, A. et al. Measuring Well-being Across Europe: Description of the ESS Well-being Module and Preliminary Findings. Soc Indic Res 91, 301–315 (2009).

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  • Well-being
  • Happiness
  • Policy
  • Subjective well-being
  • National accounts
  • Cross national survey