What is Subjective Wellbeing?

by | Mar 24, 2021

subjective wellbeing

How do you feel? Your answer to that question is likely to be different from mine or someone else’s response. Each of us evaluates our cognitive and emotional health differently. This variance is known as subjective wellbeing (SWB). In other words, your sense of wellbeing is unique to you. 

Each of us has a unique lens through which we evaluate our lives. My sense of happiness may be different than yours. What feels bad to you may not feel bad to me. Knowing this will help you make adjustments to your wellbeing that are most impactful for you. 

In general, two elements are at play when you evaluate your subjective wellbeing – cognitive appraisal and affective appraisal. Cognitive appraisal is the assessment you make about your overall life satisfaction and includes how you feel about family and career. Affective appraisal is about your emotional state and includes your evaluation of strongly positive emotions and the absence of negative ones. These two broad elements culminate in your uniquely subjective wellbeing experience and evaluation. 

While happiness is part of the subjective wellbeing experience, it’s more than that because SWB is influenced by both external and internal factors. To some degree people adapt to their external environment and grow internally over time, and these shifts impact your subjective wellbeing from day to day and year to year. 

Some of the most notable influences on subjective wellbeing are:

  • Inborn temperament
  • Quality of social relationships
  • Societies they live in
  • Ability to meet their basic needs

Whether consciously or not, you consider all of these when you self-report your level of happiness and contentment in life. Research has found “that ‘happy’ people are more likely to be healthier and live longer, to have better social relationships, and to be more productive at work. In other words, people high in subjective wellbeing seem to be healthier and function more effectively compared to people who are chronically stressed, depressed, or angry.” 

Your personal happiness and subjective wellbeing is influenced by three basic components:  (1) Life satisfaction, (2) Positive emotions, and (3) Lack of negative emotions. It’s important to note that none of these elements lives in isolation, however, and there are many external and internal factors within these three buckets. Your subjective wellbeing assessment falls on a continuum that ebbs and flows. Each area can be measured individually and as a whole. Because of this, no specific formula or recommendation for feeling happier or moving the scale is appropriate for all. 

You may feel “well” in one area and not-so-well in another. You may feel great one day and not so great the next. Or great one season and then struggle in another. Your subjective wellbeing might even shift during the course of a single day.  

All in all, subjective wellbeing is a measure to be conscious of if you’re evaluating your mental, physical, or relational health. Know that your experience is unique to you and what works for one person to improve their health or happiness may not work for another. 

Take care not to blindly adopt someone else’s recommendation to happiness as your own because you are you. Feel free to experiment and see what elevates your wellbeing and what works for you!

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