Subjective Well-being: Hedonic basis of happiness.

Subjective well-being refers to one’s appraisal of one’s own level of life satisfaction and positive emotional experience. Subjective well-being shares a common core of meaning with the more everyday term happiness.

From a subjective well-being perspective, economic and social indicators are incomplete because they do not directly asses how happy or satisfied people are with their life. Subjective well-being and happiness in everyday terms, reflects an individual’s own judgement about the quality of his or her life.

The term subjective means, from the point of view of the individual. That is, it refers to a person’s own assessment of her or his life. Rather than assessment by an external observer or evaluator, or as might be inferred from more objective measures of factors such as physical health, job status, or income.

Personal, subjective evaluation are important for several reasons,

  • First, different individuals may react to the same circumstances in very different ways  because of differences in their expectations, values, and personal histories. Subjective evaluation helps us interpret the “facts” from an individual’s point of view.
  • Second, happiness and life satisfaction are important goals in their own right. Happiness is the central component of people’s conception of a good life and a good society.

A person’s level of happiness depends on many factors that are not measured in economic or social statistics. For example, the amount of money a person makes is only marginally related to  measures of happiness.


Subjective well-being- Hedonic basis of Happiness.

Diener describes SWB as follows:

  • SWB refers to people’s evaluations of their lives- evaluations that are both affective and cognitive.
  • People experience and abundance of SWB when they feel many pleasant and few unpleasant emotions, when they engage in interesting activities, when they experience many pleasures and few pains, when they are satisfied with their lives. In short, a person with high SWB has a pervasive sense that life is “good“.
  • We can use Subjective well-being and happiness interchangeably.
  • Diener (1984) argued that subjective wellbeing (SWB), defined by ratings of life satisfaction and positive emotional experience, was a critical component of well-being that was missing from the equation.
  • Subjective well-being, or happiness, in everyday terms, reflects an individual’s own judgment about the quality of his or her life.
  •  From a subjective well-being (SWB) perspective, economic and social indicators are incomplete because they do not directly assess how happy or satisfied people are with their lives.

In self-report measures of subjective well-being, researcher examined two components:.

  • One’s affective well being, which refers to the presence of pleasant affect (e.g., feelings of happiness). Versus the absence of unpleasant affect (e.g., depressed mood).
  • And one’s cognitive well-being, which refers to one’s evaluation of life overall (i.e., global life satisfaction) and of specific life experiences (e.g., job satisfaction).

Happiness and well-being, refer to both positive feelings such as joy or serenity. And to positive states such as those involving flow or absorption.

Factor analytic studies of measures of happiness and subjective well-being (SWB) show that happiness has at least two aspects. Such studies consistently yield affective and cognitive factors.

These factors represents the emotional experience of joy, elation, contentment and other positive emotions on one hand, and the cognitive evaluation of satisfaction with various life domains on the other.

Hedonic well-being.

  • Hedonic well-being refers to the type of happiness or contentment bring about when experience pleasure and avoid the pain.
  • As for quality of life, happiness might be number one on our list. Most people would likely hope for a happy and  satisfying life, in which good things and pleasant experiences outnumber bad ones.
  • Defining a good life in terms of personal happiness is the general thrust of hedonic view of well-being.
  • Hedonic psychology parallels aspects of the philosophy of hedonism. A general version of the hedonism holds that the chief goal of life is the pursuit of happiness and pleasure.

Measuring subjective well-being

  • Early survey researchers assessed people’s sense of well-being directly.
  • In national surveys, tens of thousands of people responded to questions that asked for an overall global judgment about happiness, life satisfaction, and feelings (see Andrews & Withey, 1976; Campbell et al., 1976, for reviews).

Survey researchers asked questions like the following:

  • “Taking all things together, how would you say things are these days… Would you say you are very happy, pretty happy or not too happy?”
  • “How satisfied are you with your life as a whole?”
  • “Are you very satisfied? Satisfied? Not very satisfied? Not at all satisfied?”.
  • Other researchers asked people to choose from a series of faces to indicate their degree of happiness.

  • Participants are simply asked to indicate which face comes closest to expressing how they feel about their life as a whole.
  • SWB is widely considered to have three primary components that are assessed by multi-item scales and inventories. These three components are
    1.  Life satisfaction
    2. Positive affect
    3. Negative affect
  • Life satisfaction is a cognitive judgment concerning how satisfied a person is with his or her life.
  • The emotional components––positive and negative affect––refer to peoples’ feelings about their lives.
  • Positive affect refers to the frequency and intensity of pleasant emotions such as happiness and joy.
  • Negative affect refers to the frequency and intensity of unpleasant emotions such as sadness and worry.

Life Satisfaction

  • Single-item measures of life satisfaction have given way to multi-item scales with greater reliability and validity.
  • As a matter of fact, One of the more widely used measures of life satisfaction is the Satisfaction with Life Scale.
  •  For instance, You may be interested in completing the items yourself. In addition, to fill out the scale, simply indicate your degree of agreement or disagreement with each of the five statements using the 1–7 ratings described below:

7 Strongly agree
6 Agree
5 Slightly agree
4 Neither agree nor disagree
3 Slightly disagree
2 Disagree
1 Strongly disagree
______ In most ways my life is close to my ideal.
______ The conditions of my life are excellent.
______ I am satisfied with my life.
______ So far I have gotten the important things in life.
______ If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing.

To score your responses accordingly, add up your ratings across all five items.

Diener(2002) suggests the following interpretations. Furthermore, Scores below 20 indicate a degree of dissatisfaction  with one’s life, which can range from extremely dissatisfied (scores of 5 through 9), through very dissatisfied (10 through 14), to slightly dissatisfied (15 through 19). A score of 20 is the neutral point (i.e., not particularly satisfied or dissatisfied).

Levels of satisfaction can indeed vary from somewhat satisfied (21 through 25), through very satisfied (26 through 30), to extremely satisfied (31 through 35). Consequently, data from large-scale surveys show that most Americans are somewhat satisfied with their lives (scoring between 21 and 25).

Positive Affect, Negative Affect, and Happiness

A variety of scales are used to measure people’s emotional experiences. Some scales ask only about positive emotions, like happiness or joy, while others assess both positive and negative feelings. For example, Bradburn (1969) asked people to indicate the percentage of time they had experienced different positive and negative feelings, using questions like the following:

Within the last few weeks have you ever felt . . .
. . . particularly excited about something?
. . . pleased about having accomplished something?
. . . proud because someone complimented you on something you did?
. . . that things were going your way?
. . . on top of the world?
. . . very lonely or remote from people?
. . . so restless you couldn’t sit long in a chair?
. . . very depressed or very unhappy?

The descriptors for positive affect were happy, pleased, joyful, and enjoyment/fun. Whereas the adjectives for negative or unpleasant affect were worried/anxious; frustrated; angry/hostile; unhappy; and depressed/blue.

Furthermore, to score your responses, add up separately your ratings for the 10 positive affect items (PA) and your ratings for the 10 negative affect items (NA). Not to mention, each score can range from 10 to 50, indicating the degree of positive and negative affect. You can also see from this scale which emotions had the greatest impact on your current mood.


Positive Psychology. Baumgardner and Crothers. 2015. Pearson India Education.

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