How is well-being measured?
Because well-being is subjective, it is typically measured with self-reports. The use of self-reported measures is fundamentally different from using objective measures (e.g., household income, unemployment levels, neighborhood crime) often used to assess well-being. The use of both objective and subjective measures, when available, are desirable for public policy purposes.
There are many well-being instruments available that measure self-reported well-being in different ways, depending on whether one measures well-being as a clinical outcome, a population health outcome, for cost-effectiveness studies, or for other purposes. For example, well-being measures can be psychometrically-based or utility-based. Psychometrically-based measures are based on the relationship between, and strength among, multiple items that are intended to measure one or more domains of well-being. Utility-based measures are based on an individual or group’s preference for a particular state, and are typically anchored between 0 (death) to 1 (optimum health). Some studies support use of single items (e.g., global life satisfaction) to measure well-being parsimoniously. Peer reports, observational methods, physiological methods, experience sampling methods, ecological momentary assessment, and other methods are used by psychologists to measure different aspects of well-being.42
- Physical well-being.
- Economic well-being.
- Social well-being.
- Development and activity.
- Emotional well-being.
- Psychological well-being.
- Life satisfaction.
- Domain specific satisfaction.
- Engaging activities and work.
- Based on 2008 Porter Novelli HealthStyles data.55
- 11% of adults felt cheerful all of the time in the past 30 days.
- 15% of adults felt calm and peaceful all of the time in the past 30 days.
- 13% of adults felt full of life all of the time in the past 30 days.
- 9.8% of adults strongly agree that their life is close to their ideal.
- 19% of adults strongly agree that they are satisfied with their life.
- 21% of adults strongly agree that their life has a clear sense of purpose.
- 30% of adults strongly agree that on most days they feel a sense of accomplishment from what they do.
- CDC Healthy Living
- CDC Physical Activity Basics
Some researchers suggest that many of the terms are synonymous, whereas others note that there are major differences based on which dimensions are independent and contribute most to well-being.37, 71 This is an evolving science, with contributions from multiple disciplines. Traditionally, health-related quality of life has been linked to patient outcomes, and has generally focused on deficits in functioning (e.g., pain, negative affect). In contrast, well-being focuses on assets in functioning, including positive emotions and psychological resources (e.g., positive affect, autonomy, mastery) as key components. Some researchers have drawn from both perspectives to measure physical and mental well-being for clinical and economic studies.
Subjective well-being typically refers to self-reports contrasted with objective indicators of well-being. The term, “positive mental health” calls attention to the psychological components that comprise well-being from the perspective of individuals interested primarily in the mental health domain. From this perspective, positive mental health is a resource, broadly inclusive of psychological assets and skills essential for well-being.24, 25
But, the latter generally excludes the physical component of well-being. “Hedonic” well-being focuses on the “feeling” component of well-being (e.g., happiness) in contrast to “eudaimonic” well-being which focuses on the “thinking” component of well-being (e.g., fulfillment).35 People with high levels of positive emotions, and those who are functioning well psychologically and socially are described by some as having complete mental health, or as “flourishing.” 46
There are many well-being instruments available that measure self-reported well-being in different ways, depending on whether one measures well-being as a clinical outcome, a population health outcome, for cost-effectiveness studies, or for other purposes.
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