Well-being is a very broad construct. Any good measure of well-being is likely to be multi-dimensional and consist of many factors or scales. A recent review of well-being measures grouped the well-being measures into four broad groups of Hedonic, Eudiamonic, Quality of Life and Wellness measures.
However, a better conceptualization of well-being is to consider it made of emotional/hedonic well-being, psychological well-being, social well being and vocational/economic well-being.
Emotional well-being is typically measured by presence of positive emotions, absence of negative emotions and life satisfaction. While the first two aspects may be measured by PANAS , a popular measure of life satisfaction is Satisfaction with life scale. I have proposed elsewhere that Life outlook also be measured as art of this emotional well-being.
A good measure of Psychological well-being is the one developed by Ryff. It measures psychological well-being on six axes or scales. As defined here, the scales measure the following:
Holds positive attitudes toward oneself and past life and concedes and accepts varied aspects of self (self-acceptance)
Shows insight into own potential, sense of development, and open to new and challenging experiences (personal growth)
Holds goals and beliefs that affirm sense of direction in life and feels that life has a purpose and meaning (purpose in life)
Exhibits capability to manage complex environment, and can choose or manage and mold environments to suit needs (environmental mastery)
Exhibits self-direction that is often guided by his or her own socially accepted and conventional internal standards and resists unsavory social pressures (autonomy)
Has warm, satisfying, trusting personal relationships and is capable of empathy and intimacy (positive relations with others)
As can be seen above, psychological well-being is very much tied to the basic human needs fulfillment. Whether they be needs for autonomy, mastery and relatedness as delineated in Self-determination theory; or the need for purpose as popularized by Daniel Pink along with autonomy and mastery; or the Alderfer’s ERG theory emphasizing needs of Growth and Relatedness, all of these need satisfactions lead to psychological well-being. Nico at Mappalicious has a good write-up on the same with traits of low and high scorers on each dimension mentioned.
English: A diagram depicting the three elements of self-determination theory. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A good measure of social well being is one proposed by Keyes. This measures social well-being along five dimensions.
Has positive attitude toward others while acknowledging and accepting people’s differences and complexity ( social acceptance)
Believes that people, social groups, and society have potential and can evolve or grow positively ( social actualization)
Feels that one’s life is useful to society and the output of his or her own activities are valued by or valuable to others ( social contribution)
Interested in society or social life; feels society and culture are intelligible, somewhat logical, predictable, and meaningful (social coherence)
Has a sense of belonging to a community and derives comfort and support from community (social integration)
I still have to find a good measure of vocational/economic well-being.
While there are a plethora of well-being measures and equally diverse theoretical stances, it would serve all of us well if more comprehensive measures of well-being were used and also if all researchers used such a comprehensive measure to report their findings. Well-being has important correlates and causation with respect to many valued life outcomes and many interventions to increase well-being are also gaining ground. Unless we measure well-being correctly, we may be getting onlya partial picture.
Jeff Woloson in Thailand. The birds atop Jeff’s head and left arm are Brahminy Kites; the larger bird on his right arm is a young White-bellied Sea-eagle. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There is a well known finding in psychology that experiential purchases, or experiences, are better for your happiness than material purchases, or possessions.
However, the picture, as always, is more nuanced and complicated. For starters, happiness means all things to all people, and is likely to be multi- dimensional. Secondly, a sole focus on material or experiential ‘purchases’ detracts from other useful ways of thinking about happiness, say in thinking that happiness can also arise from gifting or helping others.
Before we go further, I would like to break down happiness into its components. Happiness/ well-being, has been traditionally conceived as made up of three components that are measured separately. The first is an absence of negative emotions; the second is a presence of positive emotions and finally the third is satisfaction with life.
Now some of you may be wondering why we need to differentiate between a lack of negative emotions and a presence of positive emotions; if that’s you go back to positive psychology 101 tenet no. 1: negative emotions and positive emotions are separate constructs and an absence of one doesn’t guarantee the presence of the other.
It has also been found that for e.g. money has a different relationship to these; if your income is below a certain level you are likely to have a lot of struggle and negative emotions; beyond a certain income you don’t derive as much positive emotions as you should with increasing income and the line flattens, and finally measures of life satisfaction are more closely correlated with accumulated wealth than are measures of positive/ negative emotions.
The components are also measured differently; while life satisfaction can be reliably gauged from self report survey, a better measure of positive/ negative emotions are achieved by the experience sampling method.
To me, this break-up of well-being into negative emotions, positive emotions and life satisfaction seems incomplete and I propose adding another component to the mix: life outlook.
Life outlook, is how excited you are about the possibilities of the future, and in your ability to make your dreams come true; it is future oriented, unlike life satisfaction which is past oriented; though like life satisfaction, I believe, it can be reliably measured by self-report method. This involves an attitude of looking forward to whatever life has to offer; to be truly considered ‘happy’ one should be hopeful and optimistic, rather than resigned or pessimistic.
So well-being= ‘presence of +ve emotions’ + ‘lack of -ve emotions’ + ‘life satisfaction’ + ‘+ve life outlook’
I now want to return to the experiential vs materialistic purchases. In my opinion, materialistic purchases are about our (extrinsic / socially conditioned) ‘wants’ while experiential purchases are about our (intrinsic) ‘needs’.
And that leads me to posit that perhaps there are different selves involved when we undergo an experiential consumption vs a materialistic consumption. I’ll call these experiential (or experiencing) self and materialistic (or material) self.
Materialistic self: focused on fulfilling one’s wants; if wants are thwarted discomfort ensues, but if they are met, at best, you are in a state of hedonistic pleasure. So you have a pleasure-discomfort polarity. And this is what perhaps would be the ‘negative’ or unhelpful emotions axis. If you want to be happy you want to ensure that you are as less governed by this materialistic self as possible, because whether they be emotion of discomfort or emotions of lazy pleasure, they really serve no good. Acquiring material goods does help well being on this dimension and this self as a ‘to have’ attitude.
Experiential/ experienced self: focused on fulfilling one’s needs; if needs are not met, pain ensues (and that makes us focus on how we can meet the needs), while if needs are being met one is joyous and on cloud 9. So you have a joy-pain polarity. And this is what perhaps would be the ‘positive’ or helpful emotions axis. If you want to be happy you want to ensure that you are as much governed by this experiential self as possible, because whether they be emotion of pain or joy they really are serving immense good (pain for survival; joy for thriving via broaden and build) . Acquiring experiences does help well being on this dimension and this self as a ‘to do’ attitude.
Remembered self: focused on creating a coherent narrative about the self, if narrative is coherent and as per the image one wants to have of oneself, then contentment happens; else their is a sense of regret. The polarity is contentment-regret. And this is what perhaps would be the life satisfaction axis. It entails a ‘to be’ attitude.
Prospective/ Anticipatory self: focused on creating new futures and possibilities, this is the prospective self. If the ideal self seems reachable and we are confident about attaining it, hope ensues; otherwise there is resignation to fate. So the polarity is hope-resignation and the axis is the life outlook axis. It entails a ‘to become’ attitude.
So whats the answer? Should we do or be, become or have; I think we need to indulge in all of these, in moderation, but ‘to become’ seems to be the best bet for your well being and flourishing!
Lastly, we know that material purchases impact our unhelpful emotions axis as well as our life satisfaction axis; while I guess experiential purchases will help our prospective self too in addition to our experienced self as its only via accumulated experiences that we become. But I have a feeling that there may be other ways to increase life satisfaction and life outlook and would love to hear your thoughts on the same.
We all want to excel in life and various psychological constructs have been proposed that can help us in this mission. These range from grit(mostly used in academic domain) to PsyCap (mostly used in work domain) to the concept of deliberate practice (mostly used in niche domains).
That’s My Goal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Grit has been proposed to be made up of passion and perseverance; passion itself being made up of investment of time and effort regularly in activities that one finds important, loved and self-defining (i.e. one identifies one’s self with the passionate activity).
PsyCap is made up of Confidence (self-efficacy), Hope, Resilience and Optimism; Hope itself being made up of Agency (goal directed energy) and Pathways (planning to meet goals).
So with so many constructs floating around which ones are basic and which ones derivative?
I propose the following eight basic psychological constructs, which if focused upon can lead to well-being and success in life:
Purpose: Everyone should start with defining their life purpose. Once defined, it provides a general direction and decision-pulse for all your decisions, actions etc. It is the super-ordinate goal of your life and all other goals should be subordinate and aligned to this. A firm commitment to this purpose provides the motivation/ drive to achieve and flourish. This acts as the ‘narrow’ polarity of the fundamental four ABCD model by restricting our choices, once purpose is determined and defined. This is the end goal.
Pathways : If purpose is the end goal, pathways are the means or subordinate goals and strategies to achieve that super-ordinate goal. It enables one to flexibly take stock of the progress towards the end goal and adjust or change the means goal to continue momentum towards the end goal. As Angela Duckworth says ‘ “Go, go, go until you can’t go anymore…then turn left.” This acts as the ‘broad’ polarity of the fundamental four ABCD model by expanding our repertoire of responses.
Positive narratives: We all tell stories to ourselves and our view of past is not objective but actively constructed. And its better to tell positive stories to ourselves than otherwise. This is related to learned optimism. As per Seligman, one should make stable, internal and pervasive/ generic attributions about positive events and temporary, external and specific attributions about negative events. This eventually enables us to have a positive image of our abilities in the past and leads to hope and self confidence that we will be able to achieve in future too. This is related to ‘other’ polarity: how we interpret what happens to us via others .
Positive self-belief: Call it confidence, call it self-efficacy or call it even agency ; this is belief in one’s own ability and efforts to lead to positive outcomes. This is obviously related to ‘self’ and is cognitive in nature.
Perseverance: This is being in for the long haul. When set upon achieving a goal, time is not a constraint, and one would continue investing time into the pursuit; if setbacks happen, one rebounds or emerges more determined. One does not change one’s goal or strategy easily. This is also related to resilience. This is ‘passive ‘ polarity as one reacts to setbacks / obstacle when they happen, but otherwise just continues investing time and energy. This is behavioral in nature.
Practice: This is ensuring that efforts are not a constraint when it comes to achieving the goal. One is willing to work hard to archive ones goals and one actively and regularly and diligently puts in that effort. This again is ‘active’ and behavioral in nature. The willingness to put in hard work can again be developed like other constructs.
Passion: This is not the regular definition of passion; by passion here I mean a consistency of interests and a fascination with a subject. It includes things like not getting distracted or waylaid by competing interests and also not letting you interest wane or fade over the time. It is obviously related to emotions and is the ‘pain’ polarity as an obsessive passion may sometime lead to pain.
Playfulness: This is about having a playful attitude when working towards your goals; it includes things like enthusiasm towards the goal, enjoying the journey by having flow experiences and being engaged and curious. This too is emotional in nature and is related to ‘pleasure’ polarity.
Some other construct are a composite of these; hope is a composite and so is deliberate practice or resilience.
Similarly, there are other constructs like task commitment ( like perseverance, endurance, hard work, but also self-confidence, perceptiveness and a special fascination with a special subject) which cover almost all of these.
I believe the above has great utility and can be a good framework for studying non-ability , non-personality factors that lead to exceptional performance. I am excited and look forward to other people adopting this model for their research and conceptualizations.