Google Answers Logo
View Question
Q: Surveys on subjective well being and happiness ( Answered 4 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: Surveys on subjective well being and happiness
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: qpet-ga
List Price: $60.00
Posted: 05 Mar 2003 14:53 PST
Expires: 04 Apr 2003 14:53 PST
Question ID: 172337
What surveys have been done on "subjective well being" and "happiness"
since World War Two?(Brief summary of results)Who started it and
where? Who are the most notable researchers?(Diener, Lykken,
Veenhoven, Meyers? and others)
Subject: Re: Surveys on subjective well being and happiness
Answered By: pinkfreud-ga on 05 Mar 2003 19:29 PST
Rated:4 out of 5 stars
Greetings, qpet. Thank you for asking a most interesting question that
provided a genuinely educational experience to this Researcher. There
is a large body of academic literature on the subject of well-being
and happiness. I've tried to give an overview here, with a selection
of representative excerpts from a variety of sources.

PART ONE: What surveys have been done on "subjective well being" 
               and "happiness" since World War Two?

According to researchers David G. Myers and Ed Diener, this subject
experienced a boom in the 1980s:

"During the 1980s, the number of Psychological Abstract citations of
'well-being,' 'happiness,' and 'life satisfaction' quintupled, to 780
articles annually."

University of Vermont

Below are links to several online articles about subjective well-being
and happiness. Although the excerpts I have selected here are
concerned primarily with the aspects of surveys and brief summaries of
survey results (as per your question,) in many cases there is a great
deal of interesting and useful material which, for reasons of brevity
and copyright, I could not reproduce here. The Myers/Diener paper "Who
Is Happy" is particularly worth reading in its entirety, and the list
of references at the bottom of the essay contains a wealth of other
sources which provide information on this subject.


From "Recent Findings on Subjective Well-Being," by Ed Diener, Eunkook
Suh, and Shigehiro Oishi:

"The usual method of measuring SWB [subjectice well-being] is through
self-report surveys in which the respondent judges and reports his
life satisfaction, the frequency of her pleasant affect, or the
frequency of his unpleasant emotions. For example, Pavot and Diener
(1993) review evidence on the Satisfaction With Life Scale...

Most people in surveys around the world report predominantly positive
feelings (Diener & C. Diener, 1996), although this varies according to
the wealth of the nation. Because most people are not depressed most
of the time, it makes sense to study positive forms of well-being, not
just the absence of well-being. When we examine the entire range of
well-being, we obtain hints about factors that can increase quality of
life. As people come to meet their basic physical needs, they will
increasingly turn to concerns about quality of life. If psychologists
are to meaningfully contribute to public discussions about quality of
life, they must understand SWB through theory and research in this

University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign


From "Who Is Happy in Young Adulthood?", by Ashley S. Holland:

"Diener, Horwitz, and Emmons (as cited in Myers, 2000) surveyed 49 of
100 wealthiest Americans. The results showed that the wealthiest
individuals were only a little happier than the average individuals.
In fact, the wealthy group of people admitted that being rich can make
you happy or it can make you unhappy, depending on how the money is
used. In addition, a study investigated the happiness levels of
lottery winners (Brickman, Coates, & Janoff-Bulman, 1978)... The
results showed that the winners and the control group did not differ
significantly in their happiness levels in the past, present, or
future. Further, the lottery winners found the everyday activities to
be significantly less pleasant than the controls did."


From David G. Myers' and Ed Diener's essay entitled "Who Is Happy?",
which was originally published in 1995 in "Psychological Science":

"A flood of new studies explores people's subjective well-being (SWB).
Frequent positive affect, infrequent negative affect, and a global
sense of satisfaction with life define high SWB... We present the
elements of an appraisal-based theory of happiness that recognizes the
importance of adaptation, cultural worldview, and personal goals...
Studies (see Diener & Diener, 1994) reveal that happiness is more
abundant than believed by writers from Samuel Johnson ('That man is
never happy for the present is so true'; Boswell, 1776/1973, Vol. 2,
p. 37) to John Powell ("Professionals estimate that only 10 to 15
percent of Americans think of themselves as truly happy'; Powell,
1989, p. 4). Thomas Szasz (quoted by Winokur, 1987) summed up the
assumption of many people: 'Happiness is an imaginary condition,
formerly attributed by the living to the dead, now usually attributed
by adults to children, and by children to adults' (p. 133).

...Interviews with representative samples of people of all ages reveal
that no time of life is notably happier or unhappier than others
(Latten, 1989; Stock, Okun, Haring, & Witter, 1983). This conclusion
is reinforced by a 1980s survey of 169,776 people representatively
sampled in 16 nations (Inglehart, 1990.)

...Who is happy? Knowing a person's age, sex, race, and income
(assuming the person has enough to afford life's necessities) hardly
gives a clue. Better clues come from knowing a person's traits,
whether the person enjoys a supportive network of close relationships,
whether the person's culture offers positive interpretations for most
daily events, whether the person is engaged by work and leisure, and
whether the person has a faith that entails social support, purpose,
and hope."

University of Vermont


Abstract of "A Measure of Subjective Happiness: Preliminary
Reliability and Construct Validation," by S.  Lyubomirsky and H.S.

"Using a 'subjectivist' approach to the assessment of happiness, a new
4 item measure of global subjective happiness was developed and
validated in 14 studies with a total of 2,732 participants. Data was
collected in the United States from students on two college campuses
and one high school campus, from community adults in two California
cities, and from older adults. Students and community adults in
Moscow, Russia also participated in this research. Results indicated
that the Subjective Happiness Scale has high internal consistency,
which was found to be stable across samples."

University of California, Riverside

Abstract of "Hedonic Consequences of Social Comparison: A Contrast of
Happy and Unhappy People," by S. Lyubomirsky and L. Ross:

Two studies tested the hypothesis that self-rated unhappy individuals
would be more sensitive to social comparison information than would
happy ones. Study 1 showed that whereas unhappy students' affect and
self-assessments were heavily affected by a peer who solved anagrams
either faster or slower, happy students' responses were affected by
the presence of a slower peer only. These between-group differences
proved to be largely independent of two factors associated with
happiness, i.e., self-esteem and optimism. Study 2 showed that whereas
the unhappy group's responses to feedback about their own teaching
performance were heavily influenced by a peer who performed even
better or even worse, happy students' responses again were moderated
only by information about inferior peer performance."

University of California, Riverside


From the abstract of "Well-Being Over Time in Britain and the USA," by
David G. Blanchflower and Andrew J. Oswald:

"This paper addresses that question by examining well-being data on
100,000 randomly sampled Americans and Britons from the early 1970s to
the late 1990s. Reported levels of happiness have declined over the
period in the United States. Life satisfaction has been approximately
flat through time in Great Britain... Well-being equations have a
stable structure: the British equations look almost identical to the
US ones. Money does buy happiness. The paper also calculates the
dollar values of life events like unemployment and divorce. They are
large. A lasting marriage, for example, is calculated to be worth
$100,000 a year."

National Bureau of Economic Research


Abstract of "The Relationship between Happiness, Health and
Socio-economic Factors," by Ulf G. Gerdtham and Magnus Johannesson:

"This paper investigates the relationship between happiness (utility)
and a host of socio-economic variables. The data set consists of a
random sample of over 5,000 individuals from the Swedish adult
population... The results are consistent with the theoretical
predictions and show that happiness increases with income and
education and decreases with unemployment, urbanisation, being single,
and male gender. The relationship between age and happiness is
U-shaped, with happiness being lowest in the age-group 45-64."

University of Connecticut: Research Papers in Economics


Abstract of "Subjective Well-Being: Are You Busy Enough to be Happy?"
by Amie R. McKibban and Shawn Nelson:

"This study attempted to determine if a relation exists between
happiness and certain lifestyle habits (i.e., life structure) and
personality traits (i.e., Type A achievement striving personality). We
predicted there would be a positive correlation between (a) happiness
and life structure, and (b) happiness and the achievement striving
subset of the Type A personality scale. Eighty-six undergraduate
student volunteers completed a battery of surveys. The achievement
striving subset of the Type A personality scale and 3 measures of
happiness were positively correlated. Life structure and positive
affect also were positively correlated. These results suggest that
achievement striving persons who perceive their life as structured
report greater levels of happiness, or subjective well-being."

Psi Chi


From "More Than Money," by Robert M. Worcester, in DEMOS Publication
"The Good Life":

"According to a MORI [Market & Opinion Research International] survey
carried out in 1981 and repeated again in 1991 and 1997 however, the
prime consideration of subjective happiness for most people is their
state of health. When asked to judge which several factors among a
list of ten or so things that are 'most important for you personally
in determining how happy or unhappy you are in general these days',
most people said 'health' (59%), followed by 'family life' (41%) and
then 'marriage/partner' (35%) and then 'job/employment of you/your
family' (31%). These factors stood well above education received (7%),
housing conditions (9%) or even financial condition/money (25%). One
person in four in Britain effectively said that money can indeed buy
happiness, or perhaps felt that lack of it brought misery."

Market & Opinion Research International


Here are additional references that you may find useful:

Samuel Brittan: "Happiness Is Not Enough"

Global Ideas Bank: The Psychology of Happiness

GSS 2000 Datafile (United States General Social Survey)

University of Illinois New Directions  in Urbana-Champaign: Subjective
Well-Being Research

University of Pennsylvania: Study of Subjective Well-Being

University of Warwick: Does Money Buy Happiness? A Longitudinal Study
Using Data on Windfalls

Blackwell Publishers: Income and Happiness: Towards a Unified Theory

PART TWO: Who started it and where? 

The concept of conducting research into self-reported happiness is not
the creation of any one person. Richard Easterlin, an economic
historian with the University of Southern California in Los Angeles,
is often mentioned as having "pioneered" the scientific study of
subjective well-being and happiness. Easterlin's 1974 paper entitled
"Does Economic Growth Improve the Human Lot? Some Empirical Evidence"
is often cited as one of the seminal sources in the field:

"The classic study of the link between well-being and income is
Easterlin (1974). His main findings are that income and self-reported
well-being are uncorrelated with income in time series data; that is
there is no evidence that the increased per capita income in the rich
world during the last decades has made any contribution to life
satisfaction. At the same time, income is correlated with stated
well-being in cross section data. That is, the richer households
within a nation are in general more happy than the poor. Income is by
far not the most important determinant of happiness, however."

World Bank Research

One of the most prolific and influential writers on this subject has
been Ed Diener, of the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign:

"Dr. Diener became a faculty member of Department of Psychology at the
University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign in 1974, and has been in
that department ever since. In 1981 Professor Diener changed the focus
of his research to the study of subjective well-being, and has been
active in that field until the present. His laboratory focuses on the
understanding of subjective well-being (including topics such as life
satisfaction, 'happiness,' and positive emotions)."

Social Psychology Network

PART THREE: Who are the most notable researchers? 

Below are names of some researchers who have published studies about
subjective well-being and happiness:

David G. Branchflower
Ed Diener
Richard Easterlin
Bruce Headey 
Magnus Johannesson
David T. Lykken
Sonja Lyubomirsky
David G. Myers
Shigehiro Oishi 
Andrew J. Oswald
William G. Pavot
John Powell
Ed Sandvik
Larry Seidlitz
Liang Shao
Eunkook Suh
Ruut Veenhoven 
Alex Wearing
George Winokur
Robert M. Worcester

If desired, I can search for further information on the work and
publications of any of the researchers listed above.


Search terms used:



Please request clarification if further information is needed; I'll be
glad to focus my research toward a specific area, author, or
population group.

Best regards,

Request for Answer Clarification by qpet-ga on 06 Mar 2003 06:51 PST
Hi Pinkfreud,
Good start!I would like to have more informantion (and summary)on
earlier surveys(I think some were done in the 50's) and more info on
Ruut Veenhoven, who has collected data from all over the world for a
long time.
Thanks for your effort,

Clarification of Answer by pinkfreud-ga on 06 Mar 2003 10:59 PST

I will see what I can find on earlier surveys and on Ruut Veenhoven,
and will post the results for you.

This may take some time. Thanks for your patience.


Clarification of Answer by pinkfreud-ga on 06 Mar 2003 14:12 PST
Several hours of online searches have produced no hard data regarding
1950s studies of subjective well-being, but I did find this additional
material that may be useful:


"Although measures of SWB [subjective well-being] are available other
than the self-report responses of survey respondents, this methodology
is the source of data for most researchers. Starting in 1946,
probability sample measurement of SWB in nations was begun. Since that
time, there have been several studies that obtained probability
samples in many nations (e.g., Cantril, 1965; the World Values Value
Survey II, 1994; the Eurobarometer studies). In addition, there are
studies based on narrower samples, such as college students (e.g.,
Suh, Diener, Oishi, & Triandis, in press; Michalos, 1991). Finally,
the results of surveys conducted within nations can be compared across
countries when comparable measures are used. A summary of the results
of 916 national surveys is available in Veenhoven (1993)."

University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign


Here is an excellent discussion of modern research on this subject. Of
particular interest may be the division of studies into two views of
well-being, which the author calls the hedonic view and the eudaimonic

From "Annual Review of Psychology"

"One early study by [Abraham] Maslow and [N.L.] Mintz (1956) found
that the aesthetic quality of the office in which a task is
administered influenced participants' attitudes.
This study found that participants recorded higher energy and
well-being ratings when viewing images of human faces in an
aesthetically pleasant, as opposed to an aesthetically unpleasant,
office. The study also found that the test administrators (who were
themselves unknowing participants) developed hostile attitudes in the
unpleasant office environment, as opposed to the altitudes developed
in the pleasant office environment."

Homepage of Larissa Larsen

"Stage 1 Research on SWB: The Early Work

SWB research has progressed through two stages in the last 50 years,
and is now entering the third and most sophisticated phase. By
reviewing these stages, we hope to give readers an idea of what
research is needed at each level, and how they might, if resources are
available, conduct research of the most sophisticated type.

In the earliest studies in this field, researchers obtained simple
happiness and satisfaction measures from various groups of respondents
and then described the average levels of SWB of these groups. This
work was descriptive, and did not shed light on the psychological
processes that control SWB. The happiness level of various groups was
simply described as an average score on a simple one-item measure, and
sometimes hypotheses were advanced after the study for why groups
scored as they did.

In 1967 Wilson wrote the first broad review of the area of SWB, and
summarized the descriptive research up to that point. He wrote that
the happy person is a "young, healthy, well-educated, well-paid,
extroverted, optimistic, worry-free, religious, married person with
high self-esteem, job morale, modest aspirations, of either sex and of
a wide range of intelligence." (p. 294). Similarly, Pavot and Diener
(1993) listed the life satisfaction scores of various groups such as
nuns, mental patients, prisoners, students, and senior citizens. In
addition, Stage 1 research was based on simple satisfaction and
happiness measures with unknown validity and reliability. For this
reason, Wilson referred to his conclusions in terms of avowed
happiness rather than actual subjective well-being."

University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign


In addition, you may be interested in these papers (as far as I can
determine, the full text of these is not available for free online):

"How's Life? Combining Individual and National Variables to Explain
Subjective Well-Being

John F. Helliwell

NBER Working Paper No. w9065
Issued in July 2002 

---- Abstract -----

This paper attempts to explain international and inter-personal
differences in subjective well-being over the final fifth of the
twentieth century. The empirical work makes use of data from three
waves of the World Values survey covering about fifty different
countries. The analysis proceeds in stages. First there is a brief
review of some reasons for giving a key role to subjective measures of
well-being. This is followed by a survey of earlier empirical studies,
a description of the main variables used, a report of results and
tests, and discussion of the links among social capital, education,
income and well-being. The main innovation of the paper, relative to
earlier studies of subjective well-being, lies in its use of large
international samples of data combining individual and societal level
variables, thus permitting the simultaneous identification of
individual-level and societal-level determinants of well-being. This
is particularly useful in identifying the direct and indirect linkages
between social capital and well-being."

National Bureau of Economic Research

Diener, Suh, Lucas & Smith (1999). Subjective well being: three
decades of progress. Psychological Bulletin, 125, 276-303

Larson. R. (1978). Thirty years of research on the subjective
well-being of older Americans. The Journal of Gerontology, 33,


Ruut Veenhoven, of Erasmus University in Rotterdam, is the director of
the World Database of Happiness:

"The World Database of Happiness is an ongoing register of scientific
research on subjective appreciation of life. It brings together
findings that are scattered throughout many studies and provides a
basis for meta-analytical studies."
Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam

"A very extensive analysis of these correlates has been carried out by
the sociologist Ruut Veenhoven (1991, 1994, 1995, 1996a,b, 1997) and
his co-workers at the University of Rotterdam. They have compiled a
comprehensive World Database of Happiness (Veenhoven, 1994, 1995),
which contains the data from hundreds of surveys testing for something
akin to global SWB."

Principia Cybernetica Web 

Veenhoven is the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Happiness Studies:

Kluwer Online

He is a member of the Board of Directors of The International Society
for Quality-of-Life Studies (ISQOLS):

Pamplin College of Business

Pamplin College of Business


My brother-in-law is a faculty associate in Sociology at Duke
University. I have discussed with him the matter of accessing early
studies of subjective well-being, and he directed me to the
Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research, based
at the University of Michigan. The archives are not available to the
general public (nor, unfortunately, to researchers like myself,) but
if you have access to a local university which maintains a membership
with ICPSR, this may be a fruitful source for hard data from SWB

Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research


If anything further comes to light, I will post it here.


Clarification of Answer by pinkfreud-ga on 06 Mar 2003 15:14 PST

Here's an email I just received from my brother-in-law, regarding the
Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research archives
mentioned earlier:

"Did a quick look through the archive. The following studies looked
to possibly be on topic, although some are a bit outside the

 Americans View Their Mental Health, 1957

 Quality of American Life, 1971

 Economic Incentives, Values and Subjective Well-Being, 1971-1974

 Development and Measurement of Social Indicators, 1972-1973

 Productive Americans: Working and Planning, 1965

 Human Aging: A Biological and Behavioral Longitudinal Study of
Aged Males, 1957-1968"

Clarification of Answer by pinkfreud-ga on 13 May 2003 14:10 PDT
Hi, qpet!

While researching a question for another customer, I came across this
excellent article on "Subjective Well-Being Across Cultures" that I
thought might be useful to you:

Western Washington University

qpet-ga rated this answer:4 out of 5 stars
Thank you for your time and effort!

There are no comments at this time.

Important Disclaimer: Answers and comments provided on Google Answers are general information, and are not intended to substitute for informed professional medical, psychiatric, psychological, tax, legal, investment, accounting, or other professional advice. Google does not endorse, and expressly disclaims liability for any product, manufacturer, distributor, service or service provider mentioned or any opinion expressed in answers or comments. Please read carefully the Google Answers Terms of Service.

If you feel that you have found inappropriate content, please let us know by emailing us at with the question ID listed above. Thank you.
Search Google Answers for
Google Answers  

Google Home - Answers FAQ - Terms of Service - Privacy Policy