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Subjective well-being: Institute of subjective well-being

Subjective well-being: Institute of subjective well-being, science of happiness. Well-being distance learning, well-being books

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If you are interested in methods to measure Subjective Wellbeing, you will find this Summary Review of SWB research very useful:

The following paper provides an overview of the growing literature on subjective wellbeing or more commonly known as “happiness”. Traditionally, wellbeing has been identified with a single objective dimension: material progress measured by income or GDP. However, it is now widely accepted that the concept of wellbeing cannot be captured solely by GDP: wellbeing is multidimensional encompassing all aspects of human life. One approach to measure multidimensional wellbeing is to use objective indicators to complement, supplement or replace GDP. Another approach is through subjective measures: asking people to report on their happiness and life satisfaction. The paper presents the main findings from the literature on the economic and non-economic determinants of happiness. Although happiness is important in terms of economic theory and policymaking, the paper also shows that happiness indicators possess some limitations as measures of wellbeing. First, should happiness be the ultimate human goal? Second, are happiness indicators a good guide for policymaking? Finally, are happiness measures considered good quality indicators?

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Subjective well-being is not the same as happiness, even if such terms are often used as synonymous. A definition of subjective well being: “a broad category of phenomena that includes people’s emotional responses, domain satisfactions, and global judgements of life satisfaction. Subjective well-being consists of two distinctive components: an affective part (evaluation guided by emotions and feeling), which refers to both the presence of positive affect (PA) and the absence of negative affect (NA), and a cognitive part (information-based appraisal of one’s life, evaluated using expectations and “ideal life” as benchmark)” (Dr. Ed Diener). It is commonly abbreviated as SWB.

The usage of the term “subjective well-being”, or even the term “joy”, is much less widespread then the one “happiness”. While we use happiness in the title of this Book because that is what people search for and it is widely mentioned in the field of positive psychology, a suitable way to rephrase it is, in our opinion, “living joyfully” (when referred to the ordinary meaning of the word), and to use the already mentioned “subjective well-being” which is the accepted standard when it comes to scientific research.

Measuring subjective well-being: an opportunity for National Statistical Offices?” was the tile of a seminar organised, among others, by Istat. Before subjective well-being going mainstream in France and UK, Italians already understood its importance. Unfortunately, such vision didn’t get implemented in practical terms.

Enhancing societal progress needs timely and reliable data that allow policy makers and the public at large to understand and interpret the dynamics of social change. While this task has traditionally relied on objective measures, subjective measures of people’s attitudes, experiences and feelings are playing an increasingly important role in recent discussions among economists, psychologists and policy makers. These discussions have highlighted the potential of subjective measures to inform about both the level of quality of life (i.e. how it compares across countries and evolves over time) and its underlying determinants.

The idea that people’s reports of their own experiences could be part of the toolkit used by statisticians and policy analysts for assessing societal progress would have appeared far-fetched only a few years ago. Today, however, it is considered more positively, thanks to the extensive research work done on available data. Indeed many “subjective” measures are already widely used by policy-makers and collected by several National statistical offices because they offer information that objective measures cannot: examples include businesses’ and consumers’ confidence, self-assessed health status and the fear of crime. In conclusion, there is a growing consensus that measuring societal progress and quality of life requires a combination of objective and subjective measures for a large range of economic, social and environmental phenomena.

The issue is being addressed by the Commission on the “Measurement of economic performance and social progress” established by the French President Sarkozy and chaired by Prof. J. Stiglitz. In particular, one of the working groups is analysing new measures of quality of life, including subjective ones (the report of the Commission is scheduled to be published after the summer). The OECD is also working on the relevance of subjective measures of well-being for policy making, in the context of a joint project with the European Commission.

National statistical offices play a key role in the measurement of a large range of dimensions of quality of life, and these measures rely on a range of statistical sources (e.g. administrative files, survey data). Indeed, some of these dimensions (e.g. unemployment, poverty, inequalities) are routinely measured through self-reports of people on their living conditions and behaviours. Various public administrations also rely on surveys of their own staff and of users of the services that they provide to assess how best to respond to the assessment and expectations of workers and clients. However, some National statistical offices have played only a limited role in the collection of subjective data concerning people’s attitudes, values and expectations, while others have taken a much more proactive attitude, introducing questions about feelings and evaluations in their on-going surveys. Indeed, the main surveys measuring subjective well-being and comparing countries’ performance in this field are undertaken by commercial (e.g. the Gallup World Poll) and academic providers (e.g. the World Values Survey).

In their “Developments in the Measurement of Subjective Well-Being”, Daniel Kahneman and Alan B. Krueger “discuss research on how individuals’ responses to subjective well-being questions vary with their circumstances and other factors. We will argue that it is fruitful to distinguish among different conceptions of utility rather than presume to measure a single, unifying concept that motivates all human choices and registers all relevant feelings and experiences. While various measures of well-being are useful for some purposes, it is important to recognize that subjective well-being measures features of individuals’ perceptions of their experiences, not their utility as economists typically conceive of it. Those perceptions are a more accurate gauge of actual feelings if they are reported closer to the time of, and in direct reference to, the actual experience. We conclude by proposing the U-index, a misery index of sorts, which measures the proportion of time that people spend in an unpleasant state, and has the virtue of not requiring a cardinal conception of individuals’ feelings”.

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Welcome to “Subjective well-being 101”, our first podcast about subjective well-being 101! We look forward to hearing your comments, inputs, etc.! Thanks,