Subjective well-being Ype H. Poortinga Tilburg University, Netherlands & University of Leuven, Belgium
Subjective well-being (SWB), or happiness, refers to a broad category of evaluations about life satisfaction, both in general, and in specific domains, like work, family, health, etc. SWB encompasses both cognitive evaluations of a person’s life and the affective feelings that arise as he or she is living that life
Correlates of SWB across countries (Diener & Diener, 1995; in readings) Predictions were made on variations in levels of life satisfaction, as a function of self-esteem, family satisfaction, financial satisfaction, cultural homogeneity (correlates of life satisfaction, and variations in these correlates) [[Also considered was the question whether Life satisfaction = Satisfaction with self = Self-esteem?]] Levels of satisfaction (absolute) across countries were analysed. Subjects from 49 universities in 31 countries (5 continents). Ratings of satisfaction by subjects on 12 life domains (family, finance, friends, self) + life as a whole
cont. Nation data, GNP, Ind-Coll ratings by Triandis (r = .72 with Hofstede for 19 countries); heterogeneity ratings by Estes (linguistic, religious, and ethnic homogeneity) Life satisfaction was predicted by family, finance, friends, and self (substantial correlations) Individualism correlated with r(life satisfaction, self-esteem) = .53, for both women and men and Individualism correlated with r(life satisfaction, friendship satisfaction) (- .53 / .59). Thus, life satisfaction is a less likely to be salient concept for the collectivist
cont. GNP predicted r(life satisfaction and financial satisfaction) (r = appr -.35), indicating stronger covariation of financial satisfaction with life satisfaction in poorer societies Self-esteem was predicted by friends, family and finance (fairly small correlations) Ratings for satisfaction were almost all positive for life satisfaction, and more varied for financial satisfaction
SWB and national wealth (Diener, Diener, & Diener, 1995) National wealth was strongly correlated with SWB, and also with individualism, human rights, and social equality The authors concluded, "efficacy in terms of meeting one's needs, and an ability to pursue one's goals may be important factors in achieving SWB" (p. 863) In this study individualism predicted SWB even when effects of economic wealth were controlled, suggesting that feelings of autonomy may vary in important ways across societies
Summary of findings on money and SWB (Diener & Biswas-Diener, 2002) 1. SWB correlates strongly with national wealth 2. Within nations correlations between income and SWB are low (somewhat larger correlations in poorer nations) 3. Economic growth in wealthy countries has not led to much higher SWB 4. People valuing money tend to be more unhappy, unless they are rich Diener and Oishi (in press) showed that participants from 28 nations consistently ranked happiness as more important than wealth, attractiveness, health, love and affection, and even going to heaven!
Correlates of SWB Income: The correlation between individual income and happiness tends to fall between .17 and .21. This accounts for at most 4% of the variance in SWB measures (money does not buy happiness!) Health: In a meta-analysis of over 200 studies correlations around .30 were found Personality: neuroticism is strongly related to negative affect and extraversion is strongly related to positive affect Social relationships: “social relationships have a powerful effect on happiness and other aspects of well-being, and are perhaps its greatest single cause” (Argyle, 2001, p. 71). (E.g., married people live longer)
Is national level SWB valid? Kahneman and Riis (2005) National levels of happiness may not reflect the true happiness, but between-nation variance may reflect something akin to a response set First, differences between nations are often too large, considering what we know about the within-nation effects of important life circumstances For example, the French tend to be less happy than Americans. In the 1981, 1990, and 1999 World Values surveys, this sample reported average life satisfaction scores of 6.71, 6.78 and 7.01. By comparison, the US sample reported much higher averages: 7.66, 7.73 and 7.66 This is as large as the within-nation difference between employed and unemployed individuals. Thus, an employed French person is as happy as an unemployed American, a finding that seems rather implausible
cont. Second, aggregated levels of life satisfaction correlate too strongly with other suspect self-report ratings. Among 18 wealthy Western nations, life satisfaction and self-reports of health correlate .85. Is health such an important determinant or are self-reports of health themselves “reality free”? Note: among these 18 nations, self-reports of health were completely unrelated to “the most widely used objective measure of national health, adult life expectancy” (p. 10) Thus, if aggregated levels of self-reported health are unrelated to an objective measure of national health and aggregated levels of self-reported health are strongly correlated with aggregated levels of life satisfaction, then this suggests that aggregated levels of life satisfaction may also be “reality free”
Conclusion The literature on SWB, or happiness, and income indicates that you are better off if you are not poor and do not live in a poor country. Beyond that wealth is not going to make you happy, unless you find it important to be rich
References Diener, E., Diener, M., & Diener, C. (1995). Factors predicting subjective well-being of nations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 851-864. Diener, E., & Biswas-Diner, R. (2002). Will money increase subjective well-being? Social Indicators Research, 57, 119-169. Kahneman, D. and Riis, J. (2005). Living and thinking about it: Two perspectives on life. In F. Huppert, N. Baylis & B. Kaverne, (Eds.). The Science of Well being: Integrating Neurobiology, Psychology, and Social Science. Oxford University Press.