Well-Being Measurement

The World Health Organization’s definition of health clearly underscores the importance of well-being: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Well-being is a broad construct that encompasses multiple dimensions, which can essentially be divided into two large domains: objective and subjective well-being. As a result, various scales and indices have been developed to measure both domains. For a non-exhaustive list of relevant articles on well-being, click here.

Objective well-being

Many countries and private institutions are interested in knowing the well-being of their member constituents. Higher levels of objective well-being are usually characterized by higher educational attainment, safe neighborhoods, as well as economic sufficiency and stability, for instance.

Thus, objective well-being is often assessed using indicators that measure aspects of education, physical and built environment, community, and economy. This approach tends to capture a societal rather than an individual perspective on well-being that is based on material, tangible and quantitative indicators.

For a non-exhaustive list of examples measuring objective well-being, click here.

Subjective well-being

Subjective well-being is characterized by the individual’s internal subjective assessment, based on cognitive judgments and affective reactions, of their own life as a whole.  There are various sub-dimensions that investigators consider within the domain of subjective well-being. These include psychological, social, and spiritual aspects of well-being. Many scales have been developed for use in scientific studies to assess individuals’ subjective well-being across the life course. For a non-exhaustive list of reviews that identify and evaluate such existing scales, click here.

Resilience is a construct related to, but distinct from, subjective well-being. For more information on resilience and examples of relevant measures, visit the Center’s page for Resilience Resources.


Laura Kubzansky speaking at podiumPerspective of the Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness

As part of the Center’s mission, one goal is to examine the relationship between psychological well-being and physical health. Although the measures of objective well-being described above are informative, they are not optimally tailored for scientific research that seeks to understand the complex interplay between psychosocial determinants and physical health/decline. Therefore, we are interested in identifying which aspects of subjective well-being may serve as health assets and contribute to attaining and maintaining physical health. Distinct theoretical dimensions have been proposed to characterize psychological well-being research thus far: eudaimonic well-being (e.g., finding meaning in life, experiencing a sense of personal growth, being autonomous in one’s own decisions and behaviors), hedonic well-being (e.g., feeling happy, being satisfied with its own life), as well as others (e.g., optimism).

We have conducted a review of the scales that have been used in the scientific research to determine whether psychological well-being is associated with future physical health outcomes, including health behaviors, biological markers and development of chronic diseases over time, among individuals who are initially disease-free. Worth noting, psychological factors such as positive psychological well-being are likely to affect health differently among healthy population versus individuals with a medical condition. In general, the available measures either focus on one or several dimension(s) of psychological well-being. One conclusion that stems from conducting this literature review is that numerous scales measuring well-being exist. Consequently, one of the challenges researchers working in this domain face pertains to whether some scales are more theoretically grounded than others, and which one(s) should be favored in which contexts (e.g., as a determinant of health behaviors, chronic disease or mortality).

Below, the Center provides (1) a repository of selected self-reported scales commonly used for this research, with detailed descriptions and examples of studies that have used them; and (2) a non-exhaustive list of reviews that summarizes studies on the relationship between psychological well-being and physical health.

Please note: The Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness cannot grant permission to utilize these scales. We have compiled all information into a repository for ease of use. If you do not have access to the scale and/or publication, please contact the author(s) of the scale for permission and any questions related to its utilization.

Prepared March 2017