Pondering the idea of whether or not one has lived a fulfilling life is by no means uncommon; rather, it is an essential part of being human.
This is based on the evaluation of one’s own affective reactions and cognitive judgements. As the term suggests, subjective well-being is completely particular to the individual in question: no set guidelines lead to the development of a high or low level of Subjective Well-Being.
That being said, there are indeed certain ways to lead yourself to feeling more positive and satisfied about your life.
This article contains:
As mentioned before, the term Subjective Well-Being (SWB) is defined as an individuals experience of affective reactions and cognitive judgments.
Happiness is sometimes used interchangeably with SWB, but it has a more wide-ranging description to psychologists; although happiness is associated with a sense of SWB. SWB looks at satisfaction generally, as well as a sense of satisfaction to that particular person’s standard.
The affective component is associated with the emotions, feelings, and moods while the cognitive component refers to what the individual feels about her life-satisfaction (in terms of family-life, work, life as a whole, etc.).
A person exhibiting high SWB will have a positive affect; meaning they experience positive emotions (e.g. elation, joy) more often when compared to negative ones. It should be noted that the presence of positive affect does not signify the absence of negative affect, and presence of a negative affect does not indicate absence of positive affect. I
t’s safe to say that everyone in their life at one point has experienced “good” and “bad” emotions but those who have had more “good” than “bad” will display a more positive affect.
When measuring SWB, affective balance and life satisfaction must be calculated individually as they are two separate subjects; most of which are by means of self-report. Examples of affective and life satisfaction measurements are the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) and The Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS) respectively.
These are just two examples of measurement techniques. Both of the aforementioned are examples of self-report methods, which have raised question in the psychological community regarding the validity of such tests.
A concern that may come with self-report measurements include the possibility that participants may not be fully truthful when questioned. Situational factors have also been shown to effect the responses of individuals. These include, but are not limited to, the affect of the person during the assessment, and the way in which the items are presented.
In addition to the previously mentioned, there is also question about which factors are consequences and which are causes of SWB. Although there is question about the reliability of self-report, it should be asserted that you are the most competent source of the expression of your personal well-being.
The Self-Discrepancy Theory states that people tend to compare themselves to an internal standard of some sort.
According to Self-Discrepancy Theory, their are 3 domains of the self: the actual-self, the ought-self, and the ideal-self.
The actual-self represents qualities that you or someone else believes you actually possess.
The-ought self is representative of the characteristics that you or someone else believe you should possess (e.g. obligations).
The last domain of the self is the ideal-self which represents those characteristics that you or someone else would ideally like you to possess (e.g. aspirations).
Take a look here for a more in depth look at the Self-Discrepancy Theory.
Take This Home With You
Everyone of us will be thinking about our well-being many a times from this point on and we are in control of this to a certain extent. By that, I mean that we can put ourselves in environments and situations that will increase our experiences of positive emotions and increase our levels of life satisfaction.
We are not products of our environment, rather we have the power to attain high levels of Subjective Well-Being.
As late psychologist, Carl Jung, put it:
“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”
So I ask you to please, take the necessary steps toward a life of happiness and fulfillment as you are the pilot of your future.
5 Questions on Subjective Well-Being (SWB) Answered
Does everyone have the same definition of subjective well-being (happiness)?
Seeking happiness is a global desire (Suh & Koo, 2003), but research has found cultural differences on the perception of happiness.
In fact, we don’t have a universal definition on happiness. For example in Ancient Rome, happiness came from the word Felicitas (plural-felices), with origins found in the feminine verb: breastfeed.
Happiness was not considered a passive act of joy; instead it was focused on the act of giving (Arnal, 2011).
From another perspective, the buddhist practice of Soka Gakkai defines happiness as, “The robust sense of fulfilment one feels when bravely confronting hardship. It is that elevation of the spirit” (Ikeda, 2015).
How was happiness achieved in the past?
Once upon a time, a caveman felt a great sense of accomplishment when he succeeded at achieving goals related to survival, like hunting. That sense of achievement made him return each day to hunt, the ones who never felt the sense of necessity to hunt for food didn’t survive (Carr, 2007).
Taking evolutionary lessons from our ancestors, I wonder if our natural tendency to equate “the hunt of achievement” with happiness is tied up with survival.This could be the reason why people believe happiness comes by obtaining things and why once we obtain them, we are never permanently satisfied.
It seems that people today have an expectation of subjective well-being with hunting the latest car model, a beautiful house, a perfect wedding, or a good job position. People tend to spend a lot of energy, money, and effort on that even though the effect is always short.
So then, where does subjective well-being lead us? What are the correlations?
Eid and Larsen (2008), created a marvelous compilation of scientific research related to the effects subjective well-being.
They found that people increased their productivity and performance at work, had more of an effective leadership, increased in creativity and life expectancy, had more satisfying social relationships, a higher self-esteem, and more appreciation of others, as well as a reduction to mental illness.
Furthermore, people who try to have a more internal locus of control and optimism also tend to find ways to happiness faster (Diener, et al 1999).
Research conducted in the United Kingdom showed that health and wellbeing can nourish each other, as health influences well-being and vice versa.
The most significant correlation found was with a “stronger immune system response, higher pain tolerance, increased longevity, cardiovascular health, slower disease progression and reproductive health” (Steptoe et al, 2012).
Okay, so what does neuroscience say about this?
Important steps had been taken to understand the functional neuroanatomy of happiness. Brain regions important to the brain’s hedonic networks (related to pleasure or positive emotions) have been identified.
There is also some speculation that these regions are related to eudaimonic networks (cognitive appraisals of the meaning of life and life satisfaction). Studies have also confirmed that happiness activates brain regions associated with pleasure, positive appraisals of life satisfaction and meaning, and social connectedness (Kringelbach& Berridge, 2010).
Research on positive neuroscience is increasing. One example is the Templeton Positive Neuroscience Award, a project part of the University of Pennsylvania and the John Templeton Foundation. On Positive Neuroscience Dr. Martin Seligman (2010) stated:
“Research has shown that positive emotions and interventions can bolster health, achievement, and resilience, and can buffer against depression and anxiety. While considerable research in neuroscience has focused on disease, dysfunction, and the harmful effects of stress and trauma, very little is known about the neural mechanisms of human flourishing. Creating this network of future leaders in positive neuroscience will change that.”
How can I increase my subjective well-being?
Again, there are no set guidelines to experience a higher sense of subjective well-being, but there are factors that generally contribute to it.
Surrounding yourself with positivity may seem like an obvious solution, but is often times overlooked because of it’s obviousness. This article points out just five of many ways to make you feel more satisfied about your life; you can take a look at these here.
Feeling positive emotions is undeniably something we all strive for. When we do experience positive emotions, whatever they may be, we should try to focus on what brought about these emotions.
By identifying the source of our emotions, we can regulate them to a certain extent. Setting goals for yourself is a sure-fire way of experiencing more positivity. Short term goals that you can personally achieve and long term aspirations can increase positive affectivity.
The great thing about positive emotions is that they lead to more positive emotions. This blog points out achievable ways of attaining them: creating positive emotions.
One other popular method is to follow is the PERMA model, created by Seligman. I have created some practical exercises that you can put to use to increase your subjective well-being.
- Find gratitude for what happened in your day today. Take what didn’t work out as an opportunity to fix it tomorrow.
- Have a personal journal and write the things are grateful for.
- Observe your language. Try to switch every negative description or opinion with something positive. If you find yourself having a particularly bad day and can’t help but say something negative, end the sentence with “But I am grateful for…”.
- Being positive can be contagious. Try rephrasing negative comments or complaints around friends or family. Let them see the process of feeling positive. They will want to try it, too.
- Before you get out of bed, take a moment to program your day: Why is it going to be an awesome day?
- Try new activities until you find the one that you want to stick to regularly.
- Do an activity that you love, an activity that feels like time stops when you are doing it. Repeat that activity frequently.
- Develop your personal strengths and recognize your own value. Share your experience with someone.
- Don’t get too used to routines, even the ones at work. Switch it up from time-to-time to keep you engaged.
- Call or mail a friend you haven’t spoken to in a long time. Don’t forget to send your best wishes to them.
- Write a gratitude letter to someone that helped you or taught you a great life lesson, even when you didn’t ask for it. Read it to him or her.
- Try to establish new friendships, start conversations with new people with some interesting topics already in mind. Be courageous!
- Family is very important, tell them you appreciate them and love them. Try expressing physical emotions to them (give them hugs, for example).
- Ask for help when you need it and offer your help too if you think someone would appreciate it.
- Be attached to something larger than just yourself. Think about how you can help others in the long-term.
- What has been difficult in life to go through? How did it help you in becoming who you are now? Share it with someone.
- When was the last time you couldn’t sleep because you were so excited? Try to find the reason why that exciting moment had meaning for you.
- How would you like to be remembered?
- Lets imagine that you have just a year left to live. What would you like to do?
- Write a list of personal goals focusing on the short and long-term. Think of steps in achieving them.
- Aim to learn something new every day.
- Become good at something you like and try sharing your knowledge with loved ones.
- Try doing simples thing you have wanted to do in the past, but never had the time to. These could be things such as books you have always wanted to read.
But we are not done yet! We can enhance the PERMA model with a few other important practices.
The Wellbeing and Resilience Centre & Mind and Brain at the South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) believe that it is also possible to achieve a PERMA PLUS model with the following:
Exercising improves your mental health, increases happiness, and gives you a sense of accomplishment each time.
Eating healthy is important for mental health, too. Research shows that a healthy diet lowers depression and diets high in fresh fruit and leafy greens increases self-control and emotion regulation.
Rest is important. Sleep deprivation reduces your ability to learn, immune function, metabolism, and memory.
Ryff’s Six-factor model
Two well accepted and readily applied theories of well-being are Martin Seligman’s PERMA model discussed above and Carol Ryff’s six-factor model. Before we dive into the specifics, it is important to note two underlying notions that these models share:
Well-being and happiness are not synonymous
Both of these models distinguish between these two ideas and conceptually treat happiness as having to do with one’s emotional state or satisfaction with life. They conceive well-being to be a broader term, more along the lines of positive psychological functioning.
2. Well-being is a multifaceted construct
Both models describe well-being as a function of multiple elements, each of which can be individually measured and then holistically applied with one another to achieve overall well-being.
Ryff’s Model of Psychological Well-Being
Carol Ryff, a psychologist and professor at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, developed her six-factor model of well-being in the late 1980s and 90s. Since then, the model has gained tremendous attention and is still being used extensively. Her research has settled on the following six dimensions, the major components of well-being:
Self-acceptance, whether in the past or present, entails awareness of one’s good qualities and acknowledgement and forgiveness of the bad.
2. Positive relations with others
This component is the health of one’s interpersonal life. The ability to love and empathise is essential for this component.
Autonomy refers to the degree of independence in one’s decision-making and how one acts in the face of social and cultural norms.
4. Environmental mastery
Environmental mastery is the extent to which one can choose their environments and adapt them to match their needs and desires.
5. Purpose in life
One’s purpose is found in goals and avenues through which one can effect change. This purpose should not only be present but adaptable to time and changing conditions.
6. Personal growth
Ryff describes this as an elevating life trajectory and continual development. Success in this dimension requires that one constantly seeks new challenges and experiences to catalyse their growth.
While the exact nature of well-being is still a matter of debate, there are many steps you can take in finding well-being in your own life. And by no means do we need to wait for the psychology community to settle on a single conception of well-being. The trick to improving your well-being to find what gives your life meaning and makes you happy, whether it is helping your family with Christmas preparations or going skydiving, do more of what gives you joy.
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