What Is Subjective Well-Being?

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What Is Subjective Well-Being?

Subjective well-being (SWB), also known as self-reported well-being, refers to how people experience and evaluate different aspects of their lives. It is often used to measure mental health and happiness, and it can be an important predictor of individual health, wellness, and longevity. 

It has become a useful measure of societal health. In addition to providing psychologists a way to assess how people feel about their lives, it also offers insights that can be used to guide public health, economic, and social policies. Policymakers utilize assessments of subjective well-being to gauge the health of societies and measure the impact of social policies.

History of Subjective Well-Being

In 1984, psychologist Ed Diener introduced a model of subjective well-being made up of three components. According to this model, there are three distinct but related aspects of how people perceive their own well-being: 

  • Frequent positive affect: This involves experiencing positive emotions and moods on a frequent basis.
  • Infrequent negative affect: This involves not experiencing negative feelings or moods often.
  • Cognitive evaluations: This aspect of the model relates to how people think about their lives and overall life satisfaction.

According to Diener, these three factors control how people experience the quality of their lives. It also encompasses the emotional reactions people have and the cognitive judgments they make about their own life experiences.

Since its original inception in the mid-1980s, subjective well-being as a measure of overall life satisfaction, happiness, and well-being has become increasingly common. It is frequently used as a measure in psychological research and as a marker of individual health. Data about the subjective well-being of groups is can also be used to measure the efficacy of different public health initiatives.

Recap

Subjective well-being emerged as a measure of happiness and life satisfaction in 1984. It is now widely used today as a way to gauge self-perceived individual and societal health.

Signs of Subjective Well-Being

In his research, Diener found that most people generally report positive feelings about their well-being. In studies of very happy individuals, researchers found that while no single factor determined happiness, those who reported the highest levels of subjective well-being had satisfying social lives and were rarely lonely.

Additional signs of subjective well-being include:

  • Being accepting of other people
  • Being socially engaged
  • Belongingness and being accepted by others
  • Community support and resources
  • Experiencing a sense of meaning and purpose
  • Feeling independent
  • Feeling like your life is close to what you think of as the ideal life
  • Feeling as if the conditions of your life are excellent
  • Feeling satisfied with your life
  • Feeling that you have gotten the things that you want in life
  • Having more positive emotions than negative ones
  • Having opportunities to engage in spiritual practices
  • Mastering areas that are important to you
  • Physical wellness such as feeling like you are getting enough sleep, exercise, and nutritious food
  • Self-acceptance

If you had the opportunity to live your life over again, would you change anything? According to Diener, people who have a high level of subjective well-being would say that they would change almost nothing.

Types of Subjective Well-Being

As it was originally conceived by Diener, subjective well-being primarily focused on affective and cognitive well-being. Other researchers have suggested that another aspect of well-being focused on a sense of purpose and meaning also plays an important role in how people feel about their lives.

Experienced Well-Being

Experienced well-being refers to how often and how strongly people have feelings of happiness and joy. This type of well-being is also often referred to as hedonic well-being. It encompasses both affective and cognitive appraisals of overall well-being.

This type of well-being can also play a powerful role in health. For example, research has found that people who experience positive emotions more frequently tend to have stronger immune systems.

Eudaimonic Well-Being

Subjective well-being primarily focuses on experienced well-being. However, another type of well-being that can contribute to how people appraise their life and happiness is known as eudaimonic well-being. 

Eudaimonic well-being stems from living a meaningful life. Working toward goals, caring for others, finding a sense of purpose, and living up to your own personal ideals are important components of this type of subjective well-being.

Causes of Subjective Well-Being

Subjective well-being is influenced by a number of different factors. These influences can include those that are internal, such as personality, or external, such as the environment or culture in which a person lives.

How you feel about your life often stems from your inborn temperament and overall outlook, but the circumstances in which you live also play an important part in how happy and satisfied you feel. And everyone differs in terms of what brings them happiness, so a factor that is important to one person might carry less weight for somebody else.

However, researchers have identified some key causes that play an important role in overall subjective well-being:

  • Basic resources: Having what you need in life, whether it is money, housing, or healthcare, is an important part of your subjective sense of well-being.
  • Personality and temperament: Your inborn temperament can affect your happiness levels throughout life. Your personality is another key component. Traits such as extroversion tend to be linked to more positive feelings about life, while neuroticism tends to be connected to a more negative outlook.
  • Mindset and resilience: People who maintain a positive mindset and who possess a strong sense of resilience tend to feel more optimistic even when facing difficult life events.
  • Social support: Research has shown that having social support has a powerful impact on both physical and mental well-being. 
  • Societal factors: Characteristics of the society in which you live, including whether it is affected by problems such as crime, war, poverty, or conflict, can also influence how you feel about your life.

Recap

Many different factors impact your subjective well-being. Personality, temperament, and social support can affect how you feel about your life, but so can characteristics about your society, including your access to basic resources.

Impact of Subjective Well-Being

Subjective well-being doesn't just help you feel good about your life; it also has a powerful impact on your wellness in both the short and long term. In fact, subjective well-being may be one of the most powerful predictors of overall health and happiness. 

Health Benefits

Research suggests that people who have a more positive subjective well-being tend to be healthier and live longer. 

  • One 2017 study found that subjective well-being may play a protective role in health. It was associated with decreased mortality and increased longevity.
  • Research has also shown that positive emotions and well-being are also linked to stronger immunity and reduced inflammation.
  • While stress and negative emotions can take a toll on your health, researchers have found that subjective well-being can provide a buffer against these effects and may even undo some of the damage. Because positive emotions lower stress and promote healing, you may be better able to recover after coping with a stress-inducing situation.

Researchers also suggest that subjective well-being is linked to a decreased risk of heart disease and stroke, faster recovery after illness, and increased practice of health-promoting behaviors.

Other Benefits

Studies have also shown that people who experience positive emotions frequently are more likely to be productive and creative. They tend to earn more money, cooperate more with others, and engage in fewer risky behaviors. They also have better social relationships and engage in more prosocial behaviors.

Recap

Having high levels of subjective well-being means that you are generally happy and satisfied with your life. This can have a positive impact on your physical and mental health, including your overall longevity.

How to Improve Subject Well-Being

So if you're looking for a way to improve your life, start by working on your subjective well-being. Because subjective well-being has such profound effects on both individual and societal health, there has been considerable interest devoted to ways to help people become happier and more satisfied with their lives.

Some specific strategies that have been shown to be effective include mindfulness and cognitive behavioral interventions.

  • Mindfulness is a practice that involves learning how to focus on and appreciate the present. Instead of worrying about the past or future, people learn how to live in the moment and pay attention to the things that bring them joy and peace in the here and now.
  • Cognitive behavioral approaches focus on helping people recognize negative thought patterns that interfere with happiness. Replacing these automatic ways of thinking with more positive, helpful patterns can lead to greater optimism and happiness.

Strategies That Can Help

Improving subjective well-being is a personal process that will be different for everyone. Other strategies that can help include:

  • Building positive relationships
  • Getting regular physical exercise
  • Practicing gratitude
  • Setting goals that are meaningful to you

Summary

Subjective well-being refers to how you feel about your life and is often used as a measure of happiness. The concept emerged in the 1980s and is characterized by frequent positive emotions, infrequent negative emotions, and positive thoughts about life. Factors that contribute to how people feel about their lives include access to resources, personality, and social support. Higher levels of subjective well-being are linked to better health, lower stress levels, and longer life. 

A Word From Verywell

It is important to remember that while subjective well-being is influenced by your environment and your circumstances, it is also about how you respond and feel. Happiness isn’t passive, and there are steps that you can take to feel better about your life. 

This includes making sure that you are doing things that help bring you happiness and joy. Subjective well-being is all about finding what works for you and making happiness a priority.

11 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.