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Children appearing to experience/exhibit well-being after an art class

Well-being, wellbeing, or wellness is the condition of an individual or group. A higher level of well-being means that in some sense the individual's or group's condition is more positive. According to Naci and Ioannidis, "Wellness refers to diverse and interconnected dimensions of physical, mental, and social well-being that extend beyond the traditional definition of health. It includes choices and activities aimed at achieving physical vitality, mental alacrity, social satisfaction, a sense of accomplishment, and personal fulfillment".[1][2][3]

The Oxford English Dictionary traces the term "well being" to a 16th-century calque of the Italian concept benessere.[4]

Philosophical approaches[edit]

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) entry for "well-being" identifies ways in which terms related to happiness differ. According to the SEP, the terms "happy", "wellness", "satisfaction", "pleasure" or "well-being" can refer to a series of possible states:

  • reflection on past events
  • moment-to-moment evaluations of happiness
  • by oneself, or with another person
  • inferred from neuroimaging
  • inferred from sensory input (pain, pleasure)
  • inferred from cognitive structure (dysfunctional thinking, delusion)
  • inferred from virtue (is prayer inherently instrumental to well-being?)
  • duration of the experience
  • effect on other factors (e.g., personal agency, power)
  • repetitiveness (is pleasure derived from addiction incompatible with happiness?)
  • objectivity (is "healthy eating" or "sex" always pleasurable?)
  • whether the experience is altruistic or egoistic,
  • whether happiness reflects an emotional state (affect-based account)
  • whether happiness reflects a cognitive judgement (life satisfaction account)

The affective and life-satisfaction views of happiness differ meaningfully when it comes to certain topics such as the relationship between income and happiness:

"Surveying large numbers of Americans in one case, and what is claimed to be the first globally representative sample of humanity in the other, these studies found that income does indeed correlate substantially (.44 in the global sample), at all levels, with life satisfaction—strictly speaking, a “life evaluation” measure that asks respondents to rate their lives without saying whether they are satisfied. Yet the correlation of household income with the affect measures is far weaker: globally, .17 for positive affect, –.09 for negative affect; and in the United States, essentially zero above $75,000 (though quite strong at low income levels). If the results hold up, the upshot appears to be that income is pretty strongly related to life satisfaction, but weakly related to emotional well-being, at least above a certain threshold."[5]

There are weaknesses to the self-report method of elicitation for happiness: The lay conception of emotions (affect) is that they are discrete. It is typical, in everyday language, just as in research, to use research protocols that accept answers such as: "I am happy or I am sad, but not both simultaneously", or "I am 7 on a 1-10 scale of happiness (likert)".

Scientific approaches[edit]

Three subdisciplines in psychology are critical for the study of psychological well-being:[6]

  1. Developmental psychology, in which psychological well-being may be analyzed in terms of a pattern of growth across the lifespan.
  2. Personality psychology, in which it is possible to apply Maslow's concept of self-actualization, Rogers' concept of the fully functioning person, Jung's concept of individuation, and Allport's concept of maturity to account for psychological well-being.[7]
  3. Clinical psychology, in which wellbeing consists of biological, psychological and social needs being met.

There are two approaches typically taken to understand psychological well-being:

  1. Distinguishing positive and negative effects, and defining optimal psychological well-being and happiness as a balance between the two.[8]
  2. Emphasizes life satisfaction as the key indicator of psychological well-being.[7]

According to Guttman and Levy (1982) well-being is "...a special case of attitude".[9] This approach serves two purposes in the study of well-being: "developing and testing a [systematic] theory for the structure of [interrelationships] among varieties of well-being, and integration of well-being theory with the ongoing[when?] cumulative theory[clarification needed] development in the fields of attitude of related research".[9]

Models and components of well-being[edit]

Many different models have been developed.[10]

Causal Network Models of Well-being (and Ill-being)[edit]

Philosopher Michael Bishop developed a causal network account of well-being in The Good Life: Unifying The Philosophy And Psychology Of Well-being.[11] The causal network account holds that well-being is the product of many factors—feelings, beliefs, motivations, habits, resources, etc.—that are causally related in ways that explain increases in well-being or ill-being. More recently causal network theories of ill-being have been applied to depression[12] and digital technology.[13] Network approaches have also been applied to mental health more generally.[14]

Diener: tripartite model of subjective well-being[edit]

Diener's tripartite model of subjective well-being is one of the most comprehensive models of well-being in psychology. It was synthesized by Diener in 1984, positing "three distinct but often related components of wellbeing: frequent positive affect, infrequent negative affect, and cognitive evaluations such as life satisfaction".[15]

Cognitive, affective and contextual factors contribute to subjective well-being.[16] According to Diener and Suh, subjective well-being is "...based on the idea that how each person thinks and feels about his or her life is important".[17]

Six-factor Model of Psychological Well-being[edit]

Carol Ryff's multidimensional model of psychological well-being postulated six factors which are key for well-being:[web 1]

  1. Self-acceptance
  2. Personal growth
  3. Purpose in life
  4. Environmental mastery
  5. Autonomy
  6. Positive relations with others

Corey Keyes: flourishing[edit]

According to Corey Keyes, who collaborated with Carol Ryff, mental well-being has three components, namely emotional or subjective well-being (also called hedonic well-being),[18] psychological well-being, and social well-being (together also called eudaimonic well-being).[19] Emotional well-being concerns subjective aspects of well-being, in concreto, feeling well, whereas psychological and social well-being concerns skills, abilities, and psychological and social functioning.[20]

Keyes model of mental well-being has received extensive empirical support across cultures.[20][18][21][22]

Seligman: positive psychology[edit]

Well-being is a central concept in positive psychology. Positive psychology is concerned with eudaimonia, "the good life", reflection about what holds the greatest value in life – the factors that contribute the most to a well-lived and fulfilling life. While not attempting a strict definition of the good life, positive psychologists agree that one must live a happy, engaged, and meaningful life in order to experience "the good life". Martin Seligman referred to "the good life" as "using your signature strengths every day to produce authentic happiness and abundant gratification".[23]


Simple exercise, such as running, is cited as key to feeling happy.[24]

In Flourish (2011) Seligman argued that "meaningful life" can be considered as 3 different categories. The resulting acronym is PERMA: Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and purpose, and Accomplishments. It is a mnemonic for the five elements of Martin Seligman's well-being theory:[25][26]

  • Positive emotions include a wide range of feelings, not just happiness and joy.[27] Included are emotions like excitement, satisfaction, pride and awe, amongst others. These emotions are frequently seen as connected to positive outcomes, such as longer life and healthier social relationships.[28]
  • Engagement refers to involvement in activities that draws and builds upon one's interests. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains true engagement as flow, a feeling of intensity that leads to a sense of ecstasy and clarity.[29] The task being done needs to call upon higher skill and be a bit difficult and challenging yet still possible. Engagement involves passion for and concentration on the task at hand and is assessed subjectively as to whether the person engaged was completely absorbed, losing self-consciousness.[27]
  • Relationships are all important in fueling positive emotions, whether they are work-related, familial, romantic, or platonic. As Dr. Christopher Peterson puts it simply, "Other people matter."[30] Humans receive, share, and spread positivity to others through relationships. They are important not only in bad times, but good times as well. In fact, relationships can be strengthened by reacting to one another positively. It is typical that most positive things take place in the presence of other people.[31]
  • Meaning is also known as purpose, and prompts the question of "why". Discovering and figuring out a clear "why" puts everything into context from work to relationships to other parts of life.[32] Finding meaning is learning that there is something greater than one's self. Despite potential challenges, working with meaning drives people to continue striving for a desirable goal.
  • Accomplishments are the pursuit of success and mastery.[27] Unlike the other parts of PERMA, they are sometimes pursued even when accomplishments do not result in positive emotions, meaning, or relationships. That being noted, accomplishments can activate the other elements of PERMA, such as pride, under positive emotion.[33] Accomplishments can be individual or community-based, fun- or work-based.

Biopsychosocial model of wellbeing[edit]

The biopsychosocial model of wellbeing emphasises the modifiable components needed for an individual to have a sense of wellbeing,.[34][35] These are:

  • healthy environments (physical, social, cultural, and economic)
  • developmental competencies (healthy identity, emotional and behavioural regulation, interpersonal skills, and problem-solving skills)
  • sense of belonging
  • healthy behaviours (sleep, nutrition, exercise, pleasurable and mastery activities)
  • healthy coping
  • resilience (recognition of one's innate resilience)
  • treatment of illness (early evidence-based treatments of physical and psychological illnesses)

UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) definition[edit]

The UK ONS defines wellbeing "as having 10 broad dimensions which have been shown to matter most to people in the UK as identified through a national debate. The dimensions are:

  • the natural environment,
  • personal well-being,
  • our relationships,
  • health,
  • what we do,
  • where we live,
  • personal finance,
  • the economy,
  • education and skills, and
  • governance.

Personal well-being is a particularly important dimension which we define as how satisfied we are with our lives, our sense that what we do in life is worthwhile, our day to day emotional experiences (happiness and anxiety) and our wider mental wellbeing."[36]

The ONS then introduced four questions pertaining to wellbeing in their 2011 national survey of the UK population, relating to evaluative well-being, eudemonic well-being, and positive and negative affect. They later switched to referring to the construct being measured as "personal well-being".[37]

Global studies[edit]

Eudaimonic well-being in 166 nations based on Gallup World Poll data

Research on positive psychology, well-being, eudaimonia and happiness, and the theories of Diener, Ryff, Keyes and Seligmann covers a broad range of levels and topics, including "the biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural, and global dimensions of life".[38] The World Happiness Report series provide annual updates on the global status of subjective well-being.[39] A global study using data from 166 nations, provided a country ranking of psycho-social well-being.[40] The latter study showed that subjective well-being and psycho-social well-being (i.e. eudaimonia) measures capture distinct constructs and are both needed for a comprehensive understanding of mental well-being.37

Well-being as a political goal[edit]

Both the UK[41] and New Zealand[42] have begun to focus on population wellbeing within their political aims.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Carol Ryff's Model of Psychological Well-being". Living Meanings. December 4, 2014. Archived from the original on June 16, 2017.


  1. ^ Huseyin Naci; John P. A. Ioannidis (June 11, 2015). "Evaluation of Wellness Determinants and Interventions by Citizen Scientists". JAMA. 314 (2): 121–2. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.6160. PMID 26068643.
  2. ^ Scott Barry Kaufman sees well-being as influenced by happiness and meaning.
  3. ^ Kaufman, Scott Barry. "The Differences between Happiness and Meaning in Life". Scientific American Blog Network. A wealth of research in positive psychology suggests that happiness and meaning are, in fact, essential elements of well-being. [...] While this study focused on the differences between happiness and meaning, it should be noted that optimal well-being often consists of both.
  4. ^ "well-being". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  5. ^ Haybron, Dan (25 March 2019). Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University – via Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  6. ^ Ryff, Carol D. (1 January 1989). "Happiness is everything, or is it? Explorations on the meaning of psychological well-being". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 57 (6): 1069–1081. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.57.6.1069. S2CID 29135711.
  7. ^ a b Ryff, C. D., & Keyes, C. M. (1995). The structure of psychological well-being revisited. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69(4), 719–727.
  8. ^ Yang, Haiyang; Ma, Jingjing (2020-07-01). "How an Epidemic Outbreak Impacts Happiness: Factors that Worsen (vs. Protect) Emotional Well-being during the Coronavirus Pandemic". Psychiatry Research. 289: 113045. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2020.113045. ISSN 0165-1781. PMID 32388418.
  9. ^ a b Guttman, Levy, Louis, Shlomit (February 1982). "On the definition and varieties of attitude and wellbeing". Social Indicators Research. 10 (2): 159–174. doi:10.1007/bf00302508. S2CID 144090877.
  10. ^ "Measuring what matters: the role of well-being methods in development policy and practice". ODI.
  11. ^ Bishop, M. (2015). The Good Life: Unifying The Philosophy and Psychology of Well-being. Oxford University Press.
  12. ^ Hakulinen, C., Fried, E. I., Pulkki-Råback, L., Virtanen, M., Suvisaari, J., & Elovainio, M. (2020). Network structure of depression symptomology in participants with and without depressive disorder: The population-based Health 2000–2011 study. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-020-01843-7
  13. ^ Byrd, N. (2020). Causal Network Accounts of Ill-Being: Depression & Digital Well-Being. In C. Burr & L. Floridi (Eds.), Ethics of Digital Well-Being: A Multidisciplinary Approach (pp. 221–245). Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-50585-1_11
  14. ^ Fried, E. I., Borkulo, C. D. van, Cramer, A. O. J., Boschloo, L., Schoevers, R. A., & Borsboom, D. (2016). Mental disorders as networks of problems: A review of recent insights. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-016-1319-z
  15. ^ Tov, William; Diener, Ed. Subjective Well-Being. Research Collection School of Social Sciences. Paper 1395. Archived from the original on 2017-06-05. Retrieved 2017-06-14.
  16. ^ Iolanda Costa Galinha & José Luís Pais-Ribeiro (2011), Cognitive, affective and contextual predictors of subjective wellbeing. International Journal of Wellbeing, 2(1), 34–53. doi:10.5502/ijw.v2i1.3
  17. ^ Diener, Suh, Ed, Eunkook (2000). Culture and Subjective Well-being. A Bradford Book. p. 4.
  18. ^ a b Robitschek, Christine; Keyes, Corey L. M. (2009). "Keyes's model of mental health with personal growth initiative as a parsimonious predictor". Journal of Counseling Psychology. 56 (2): 321–329. doi:10.1037/a0013954.
  19. ^ Keyes, Corey L. M. (2002-01-01). "The Mental Health Continuum: From Languishing to Flourishing in Life". Journal of Health and Social Behavior. 43 (2): 207–222. doi:10.2307/3090197. JSTOR 3090197. PMID 12096700. S2CID 2961978.
  20. ^ a b Joshanloo 2015.
  21. ^ Joshanloo, Mohsen; Lamers, Sanne M. A. (2016-07-01). "Reinvestigation of the factor structure of the MHC-SF in the Netherlands: Contributions of exploratory structural equation modeling". Personality and Individual Differences. 97: 8–12. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2016.02.089.
  22. ^ Gallagher, Matthew W.; Lopez, Shane J.; Preacher, Kristopher J. (August 2009). "The Hierarchical Structure of Well-Being". Journal of Personality. 77 (4): 1025–1050. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.2009.00573.x. PMC 3865980. PMID 19558444.
  23. ^ Seligman, M.E.P. (2009). Authentic Happiness. New York: Free Press.
  24. ^ Best Benefit of Exercise? Happiness Archived 2012-06-26 at the Wayback Machine, Robin Loyd, Fox News, May 30, 2006.
  25. ^ David Sze (2015), The Father of Positive Psychology and His Two Theories of Happiness Archived 2017-06-25 at the Wayback Machine
  26. ^ "The World Question Center 2011". Edge.org. p. 2. Archived from the original on 2011-02-10. Retrieved 2011-02-07.
  27. ^ a b c Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. New York: Free Press. Ch 1
  28. ^ "The Pursuit of Happiness". Archived from the original on 2015-01-09.
  29. ^ "Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi TED talk". Archived from the original on 2014-12-08.
  30. ^ "Other People Matter". Psychology Today.
  31. ^ "Using Positive Psychology in Your Relationships". Archived from the original on 2014-02-06.
  32. ^ "Why do You do What You Do?". 2013-09-06. Archived from the original on 2014-10-13.
  33. ^ "The Science of a Happy Startup". Archived from the original on 2014-12-06.
  34. ^ Stallman, H. M. (2020).Suicide following hospitalisation: Systemic treatment failure needs to be the focus rather than risk factors. The Lancet Psychiatry, 7(4), 303. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(19)30528-0
  35. ^ Stallman, H. M. (2018). Coping Planning: A patient- and strengths-focused approach to suicide prevention training. Australasian Psychiatry, 26(2), 141–144. doi :http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1039856217732471
  36. ^ "What is wellbeing? | What Works Centre for Wellbeing".
  37. ^ Benson T, Sladen J, Liles A, Potts HWW. "Personal Wellbeing Score (PWS)—a short version of ONS4: development and validation in social prescribing". BMJ Open Qual 2019; 8:e000394. doi:10.1136/bmjoq-2018-000394
  38. ^ Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi 2000.
  39. ^ "World Happiness Report". World Happiness Report.
  40. ^ Joshanloo, Mohsen (2018). "Optimal human functioning around the world: A new index of eudaimonic well-being in 166 nations". British Journal of Psychology. 109 (4): 637–655. doi:10.1111/bjop.12316. PMID 29846018. S2CID 44158777.
  41. ^ "Well-being - Office for National Statistics".
  42. ^ Roy, Eleanor Ainge (2019-05-14). "New Zealand's world-first 'wellbeing' budget to focus on poverty and mental health". The Guardian.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Media related to Well-being at Wikimedia Commons