LAST UPDATED JULY 2022
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.
Objective & Population Well-Being Measures
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 Measures – Individual
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.
Workplace Well-Being Measures
Numerous scales measuring workplace well-being exist. Some of them focus on individual aspects of worker well-being (e.g., satisfaction) while others focus on aspects of the organizational environment that are likely to promote employee’s well-being. Still other measures bring together an assessment of the organizational climate, organizational practices, and individual mental and physical health.
Resilience is a construct related to, but distinct from, subjective well-being. For more information on resilience, visit our Resilience Resources page.
Note: In the literature, there are a number of resilience measures designed for very specific populations or contexts (e.g., community resilience, family resilience, relationship resilience, workplace resilience, resilience among people living with chronic disease, and resilience among military personnel). However, due to our focus on psychological resilience broadly defined, we have not listed these measures in this repository.
Latest findings on resilience are reviewed regularly by our Center experts and are highlighted in this Resilience Research Digest. Here, we focus on publications aligned with the mission of the Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness, namely exploring links between mental and physical health, and examining social factors that shape psychological resources for resilience and recovery.
Well-Being Dataset Repository
The Center has curated a repository of datasets that include data about well-being.
The Work and Well-Being Initiative
The Work and Well-Being Initiative (WWBI) is a multi-disciplinary research and policy initiative to develop and implement evidence-based workplace changes that will foster worker well-being. Check the WWBI website for resources, including the Employer Toolkit, developed by researchers at the Lee Kum Sheung Center and Happiness with colleagues at Harvard Chan and MIT.
Reviews of Relevant Topics
Below we provide a non-exhaustive list of reviews:
Book: “Measuring Well-Being: Interdisciplinary Perspectives from the Social Sciences and the Humanities” Edited by Center Co-Director Dr. Laura Kubzansky & Drs. Matthew Lee & Tyler VanderWeele from Harvard’s Human Flourishing Program & published April, 2021 by Oxford University Press. This volume is available as an open-access e-book. See Ch. 17 for recommendations on well-being measures.
Perspective 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 subjective 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 subjective 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. In this review, we excluded dimensions of subjective well-being that have not been linked with physical health in existing empirical research.
Worth noting, psychological factors such as subjective 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 subjective well-being. One conclusion that stems from conducting this literature review is that numerous scales measuring well-being exist and have been used in studies considering physical health as an outcome. 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).