Subjective Well-Being

Subjective well-being (SWB) is the scientific term for happiness and life satisfaction —thinking and feeling that your life is going well, rather than badly. Levels of subjective well-being are influenced by both internal factors, such as personality and outlook, and external factors, such as the society in which they live. Some of the major determinants of SWB are a person’s inborn temperament, the quality of their social relationships, the societies they live in, and their ability to meet their basic needs. Although there are additional forms of SWB, the three in the table below have been studied extensively. The table also shows that the causes of the different types of happiness can be somewhat different.

There are different causes of happiness, and that these causes are not identical for the various types of SWB and high SWB is achieved by combining several different important elements (Diener & Biswas-Diener, 2008). People who promise to know the key to happiness are oversimplifying.

Some people experience all three elements of happiness and are very satisfied, enjoy life, and have only a few worries or other unpleasant emotions. Other unfortunate people are missing all three. For example, imagine an elderly person who is completely satisfied with her life—she has done most everything she ever wanted—but is not currently enjoying life that much because of the infirmities of age. There are others who show a different pattern who are having fun, but who are dissatisfied and believe they are wasting their lives.

Importantly, researchers have also studied the outcomes of SWB and have found that people you report being happier are more likely to be healthier and live longer, to have better social relationships, and to be more productive at work (Diener & Tay, 2012; Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005). In other words, people high in SWB seem to be healthier and function more effectively compared to people who are chronically stressed, depressed, or angry. Happiness does not just feel good in the moment, but it is good for people over time and for those around them.

Money and Happiness

A certain level of income is needed to meet our needs, and very poor people are frequently dissatisfied with life (Diener & Seligman, 2004); however, having more and more money has diminishing returns. This means that higher and higher incomes make less and less difference to happiness. Wealthy nations tend to have higher average life satisfaction than poor nations, but the United States has not experienced a rise in life satisfaction over the past decades, even as income has doubled. The goal is to find a level of income that you can live with and earn.

You should not let your aspirations continue to rise so that you always feel poor, no matter how much money you have. Research shows that materialistic people often tend to be less happy, and putting your emphasis on relationships and other areas of life besides just money is a wise strategy. Money can help life satisfaction, but when too many other valuable things are sacrificed to earn a lot of money—such as relationships or taking a less enjoyable job—the pursuit of money can harm happiness.

Self – Examination

Although it is beneficial generally to be happy and satisfied, this does not mean that people should be in a constant state of euphoria. In fact, it is appropriate and helpful sometimes to be sad or to worry. At times a bit of worry mixed with positive feelings makes people more creative. Most successful people in the workplace seem to be those who are mostly positive but sometimes a bit negative. You do not need to be happiness superstar in order to be a superstar in life. What is not helpful is to be chronically unhappy. If you feel mostly positive and satisfied, and yet occasionally worry and feel stressed, this is probably fine as long as you feel comfortable with this level of happiness. If you are a person who is chronically unhappy much of the time, changes are needed, which may include some professional support.


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Culture and Psychology Copyright © 2020 by L D Worthy; T Lavigne; and F Romero is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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