Skip to main content
Log in

Contentment and Affect in the Estimation of Happiness

  • Published:
Social Indicators Research Aims and scope Submit manuscript


How do we assess how happy we are? One theory is that we compare life-as-it-is with standards of how-life-should-be. In this view, happiness emerges from a cognitive evaluation that draws on socially constructed standard of the good life. Another theory holds that we rather infer happiness on the basis of how well we feel most of the time. In that view, happiness is an unreasoned affective experience that roots in the gratification of universal human needs. One question that emerges from this discussion is whether these are really independent ways of evaluating life. If so, a next question is what their relative weight is in the evaluation. These questions are addressed at the nation level using data of the Gallup World Poll over the years 2006–2010. This survey in 127 nations involves not only a question on overall life satisfaction, but also a more cognitively focused question on how close one’s life is to the best possible and a series of questions on yesterday’s mood. Analysis of average scores in nations shows that mood and contentment are much intertwined, but also add to overall life satisfaction independently, the former more than the latter.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Veenhoven (2011c): section H6.2.3.

  2. Four of these studies measured hedonic level using Affect Balance Scales (type A-AB) and contentment using the Cantril ladder (type C-BW). The average correlation is +0.52. Two more studies used an Affect Balance Scale for measuring hedonic level but measured contentment using responses to questions about perceived realization of wants (type C-RW). The average correlation is +0.40 in this case. One more study measured hedonic level using average daily mood over 6 weeks as reported in a dairy (type A-ARE) and measured contentment with the Cantril ladder (type C-BW). The correlation was only +0.26.

  3. Veenhoven (2011c), section H6.1.3.

  4. Veenhoven (2011c), section H61.2.

  5. The full classification of this question in the World Database of Happiness’ collection of ‘Happiness Measures’ is O-SLW/c/sq/n/11/a.

  6. The full classification of this question in the World Database of Happiness’ collection of ‘Happiness Measures’ is C-BW/c/sq/l/11/a.

  7. The full code of this indicator in the World Database of Happiness’ collection of ‘Happiness Measures’ is: A-AB/yd/mq/2/a.

  8. Test for statistical significance inform us about the chance that a pattern observed in a probability sample also exists in the population from which that sample was drawn. This dataset covers almost all countries of the present World and therefore we can take the observed correlations for what they are.

  9. This is not to say that this combination never occurs at the micro level of individuals.

  10. Measure code C-RG/cm/mq/v/4/a in the collection ‘Measures of Happiness’ of the World Database of Happiness.


  • Annas, J. (2004). Happiness as achievement, Deadalus. Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Science, 133, 44–51.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bentham, J. (1789). Introduction to the principles of morals and legislation. London: Payne.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brickman, P., & Campbell, D. T. (1971). Hedonic relativism and planning the good society. In M. H. Appley (Ed.), Adaptation level theory (pp. 287–302). New York, USA: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brulé, G., & Veenhoven, R. Affective and cognitive appraisals of life (submitted).

  • Chekola, M. G. (1974). The concept of happiness. PhD Dissertation, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA.

  • Diener, E., Pavot, W., & Sandvik, E. (1991). Happiness is the frequency, not intensity, of positive versus negative affect. In F. Strack, et al. (Eds.), Subjective well-being. Oxford, UK: Pergamon.

    Google Scholar 

  • Diener, E., Suh, E., & Oishi, S. (1997). Recent findings on subjective well-being. Indian Journal of Clinical Psychology, 24, 25–41.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fordyce, M. W. (1972). Happiness, its daily variation and its relation to values. PhD Dissertation, U.S. International University, San Diego, California, USA.

  • Fredrickson, B. L. (2004). The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. Philosophical Transactions Biological Sciences, 359, 1367–1377.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kahneman, D. (2000). Experienced utility and objective happiness: a moment based approach. In D. Kahneman & A. Tverski (Eds.), Choices values and frames. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kilpatrick, F. P., & Cantril, H. (1960). Self-anchoring scaling: A measure of individuals’ unique reality worlds. Journal of Individual Psychology, 16, 158–173.

    Google Scholar 

  • McDowell, I., & Newell, C. (1987). Measuring health: A guide to rating scales and questionnaires. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Michalos, A. C. (1985). Multiple discrepancies theory (MDT). Social Indicators Research, 16, 347–413.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Oatley, K. (1992). Best laid schemes. The psychology of emotions. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rojas, M. (2005). A conceptual-referent theory of happiness: heterogeneity and its consequences. Social Indicators Research, 74(2), 261–294.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rojas, M. (2007). Heterogeneity in the relationship between income and happiness: A conceptual-referent-theory explanation. Journal of Economic Psychology, 28, 1–14.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rojas, M. & Vitterso, J. (2010). Conceptual referent for happiness: Cross-country comparisons. Journal of Social Research & Policy, 1, 103–116.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schmittz, O. A. (1930). Glück und Lebenskunst (happiness and the art of living). Psychologische Rundschau, 2, 233–238.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schwarz, N., & Strack, F. (1991). Evaluating one’s life: A judgment model of subjective well-being. In F. Strack, et al. (Eds.), Subjective well-being (pp. 27–47). Oxford, UK: Pergamon.

    Google Scholar 

  • Shin, D., & Johnson, D. M. (1978). Avowed happiness as the overall assessment of the quality of life. Social Indicators Research, 5, 475–492.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Suh, M. E., Diener, E., Oishi, S., & Triandis, H. C. (1998). The shifting basis of life satisfaction judgments across cultures: Emotions versus norms. Journal of Personality ans Social Psychology, 74, 482–493.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sumner, L. W. (1996). Welfare, happiness and ethics. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Veenhoven, R. (1984). Conditions of happiness. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Reidel (now Springer).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Veenhoven, R. (1991). Is happiness relative? Social Indicators Research, 24, 1–34.

    Google Scholar 

  • Veenhoven, R. (2009). How do we assess how happy we are? In A. Dutt & B. Radcliff (Eds.), Happiness, economics and politics, Edward Elger Publishers, USA.

  • Veenhoven, R. (2010a). Greater happiness for a greater number: Is that possible and desirable? Journal of Happiness Studies, 11, 605–629.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Veenhoven, R. (2010b). How universal is happiness? In E. Diener, J. F. Helliwell & D. Kahneman (Eds.), International differences in well-being (Chapter 11, pp. 328–350). Oxford University Press, New York.

  • Veenhoven, R. (2011a). World database of happiness: Continuous register of research on subjective enjoyment of life. Rotterdam: Erasmus University. Available at:

  • Veenhoven, R. (2011b). Collection measures of happiness. World database of happiness. Available at:

  • Veenhoven, R. (2011c). Happiness: Correspondence of different measures. World database of happiness, collection of correlational findings, finding report H6. Assessed June, 2011 at:

  • Wessman, A. E., & Ricks, D. F. (1966). Mood and personality. New York, USA: Holt, Rinehart and Wilson.

    Google Scholar 

  • Zajonc, R. B. (1984). On the primacy of affect. American Psychologist, 39, 117–123.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mariano Rojas.



See Table 4.

Table 4 List of 127 countries/autonomous territories

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Rojas, M., Veenhoven, R. Contentment and Affect in the Estimation of Happiness. Soc Indic Res 110, 415–431 (2013).

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: