Happiness and Subjective Well-being

Happiness and Subjective Well-being

September 23, 2018 Happiness 0
History of Happiness

Happiness has been a topic of interest for many centuries, starting with ancient Greek philosophy, through post-Enlightenment Western-European moral philosophy (especially Utilitarianism) to current quality-of-life and well-being research in social, political and economic sciences (Veenhoven, 1991a). Today, happiness as a concept seems to be readily embraced by most people and appears to be more valued than the pursuit of money, moral goodness or going to heaven (King & Napa,, 1998). Not surprisingly, during the past thirty years and especially since the creation of positive psychology, psychology too has turned its attention towards the study of happiness and well-being.

There are several reasons why the field of well-being is flourishing at the moment:

  • First, Western countries have achieved a sufficient level of affluence, so that survival is no longer a central factor in peoples lives. Quality of life is becoming more important than matters of economic prosperity.
  • Personal happiness is becoming more important because of growing, trends towards individualism.
  • Finally, a number of valid and reliable measures have been developed, which have allowed the study of well-being to establish itself as a serious and recognized discipline (Diener et a., 2001)


What happiness really is, or the science of subjective well-being

There is a big debate in psychology about whether happiness can and should be measured objectively or subjectively. Some argue that it cannot possibly be measured objectively because none of the obvious behaviors can be linked to happiness in a reliable manner. Even an outgoing and friendly appearance, which is seen frequently among happy people, can be used as a mask by those who are unhappy. Others, however, including Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, believe in averaged out multiple assessments of people’s moods over a period of time. This way, a happiness assessment would not need to be tied to memory and retrospective accounts (Kahneman, 1999).


The first, cognitive part of subjective well-being is expressed by life satisfaction. Life satisfaction represents one’s assessment of one’s own life. One is satisfied when there is little or no discrepancy between the present and what is thought to be an ideal or deserved situation.

On the other hand, dissatisfaction is a result of a substantial discrepancy between present conditions and the ideal standard. Dissatisfaction can also be a result of comparing oneself with others. Affect represents the emotional side of SWB. The notion of affect comprises both positive and negative moods and emotions that are associated with our everyday experiences.

What is important for happiness and what is not?

Which of the following would you say are important for happiness: money, friends, having children, getting married, looks, health, moving to a better climate? Is Your age important? What about your level of education? The safety of your community? Common sense predicts that the most likely source of satisfaction with life is objective circumstances, but often this is nor the case. There is a weak relationship between happiness and many life circumstances we consider so important that we would sacrifice years of our lives to have them.

Interesting Facts about Well-being
  • Real income has risen dramatically in the prosperous nations over the last 50 years, but levels of SWB have remained flat (Easterlin et al., 2010)
  • People in wealthy nations appear to be much happier than in poorer ones but this finding does not hold true for some nations (e.g. Brazil) (Diener et al., 1995)
  • Denmark and Costa Rica keep competing for the title of the happiest country on Earth (Hefferon & Boniwell, 2011).
  • Desiring wealth leaves one less happy (Kasser, 2002 ).
  • Making an extra $10,000 per year would increase your happiness only by about 2 per cent (Christakis & Fowler, 2009).
  • Spending money on others increases your happiness (Dunn et al., 2008)
  • Having children does not make you happier and having under-fives and teenagers actually makes you less happy. Saying that, having children can make your life more meaningful, and also parents tend to live longer (Kobrin & Hendershot, 1977).
  • Children genetically predisposed to unhappiness can benefit from early positive environmental influences better than their more generically contented peers (Belsky & Pluess, 2008).
  • Hanging out with happy people will increase your level of happiness ( Christakis & Fowler, 2009).

Shawn Achor:

We’ve been taught that if we work hard, we will be successful, and then we’ll be happy. If we can just find that great job, get a raise, lose those five pounds, happiness will follow. But recent discoveries in the field of positive psychology have shown that this formula is actually backward: happiness fuels success, not the other way around.

When we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient, and productive. This discovery has been repeatedly supported by research in psychology and neuroscience, management studies, and the bottom lines of organizations around the world.

Achor spent over a decade living, researching, and lecturing at Harvard University, based on his own research—including one of the largest studies of happiness and potential at Harvard and at large companies like UBS and KPMG—developed strategies for how to fix this broken formula with what he calls the Happiness Advantage.

Using case studies from his work with thousands of Fortune 500 executives in 42 countries, Achor definded 7 principals how we can reprogram our brains to become more positive, and ultimately more successful at work.

Isolating seven practical, actionable principles that have been tried and tested everywhere from classrooms to boardrooms, stretching from Argentina to Zimbabwe, he shows us how we can capitalize on the Happiness Advantage to improve our performance and maximize our potential.

Dr. Martin Seligman:

Are you in the pursuit of happiness?

Most of us think we know what happiness is, but what are the actual elements that promote happiness within each of us?

Dr. Seligman’s theoretical model of happiness (PERMA) helps us understand these elements and what we can do to maximize each element to reach a life full of happiness.

Seligman’s PERMA Model

A scientific theory to happiness – PERMA model

The PERMA model was designed by Martin Seligman with five core elements of psychological well-being and happiness. Seligman believes that these five elements can help people reach a life of fulfillment, happiness, and meaning. This model can also be applied to institutions to develop programs to help people develop new cognitive and emotional tools.

Further reading:

Chrisrakis, N., & Fowler, J. ( 2009). Connected: The surprising power of our social networks and how they shape our lives. New York: Little, Brown. 

Resource: Positive Psychology in a Nutshell