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Psychological and Subjective Well-being: A Proposal for ...

Psychological and Subjective Well-being: A Proposal for ...

Psychological and Subjective Well-being: A Proposal for

Oxford Development Studies, Vol. 35, No. 4, December 2007 Psychological and Subjective Well-being: A Proposal for Internationally Comparable Indicators EMMA SAMMAN ABSTRACT This article sets out a proposal to measure psychological and subjective states of wellbeing in individual and household surveys. In particular, it proposes a shortlist of seven indicators, and a module containing the relevant questions needed to construct them. The indicators address both eudaimonic and hedonic criteria, and cover four aspects of well-being: (1) meaning in life; (2) relatedness, following self-determination theory; the three “basic psychological needs” of autonomy, competence and relatedness; (3) domain-specific and overall life satisfaction; and (4) happiness. The article recommends that further research explore the connections between these indicators, as well as their relationship with objective measures of disadvantage. While reaffirming that perceptual states should not be treated as aims of government policy, it is argued that they may provide a richer understanding of peoples’ values and behavior—and therefore that further research on the subject could deepen our understanding of capability poverty. 1. Introduction Recent years have witnessed an outpouring on research on subjective well-being, and growing calls for some variant of happiness to be adopted as a policy goal of both developing and developed countries. The now-common finding that income and happiness are not linked above very low income levels has prompted an upsurge of interest in nonmaterial aspects of well-being. As early as 1972, the King of Bhutan announced that the nation’s objective would be to maximize what he termed “Gross National Happiness” in place of gross national product. 1 More recently, policy-makers in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand and the UK have expressed interest in measuring life satisfaction as a component of well-being. 2 Research organizations and media outlets regularly publish happiness rankings; one recent effort concluded, for instance, that the Danes are the happiest people in the world, and inhabitants of Burundi and Zimbabwe the least happy. 3 Scholars too have taken up this call. In an influential book, Happiness: Lessons from a New Science, economist Richard Layard (2005, p. 234) states, “I can think Emma Samman, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK Sabina Alkire, Tania Burchardt, Laura Camfield and Geeta Kingdon provided detailed comments on a draft of this article. I am also grateful for the input of Proochista Ariana, Valery Chirkov, Ed Deci, Ed Diener, Rachel Diprose, Carol Graham, Anna Hiltunen, Ron Inglehart, María Ana Lugo, Michael Steger, Diego Zavaleta and workshop participants on the content of this paper. All errors remain my own. ISSN 1360-0818 print/ISSN 1469-9966 online/07/040459-28 q 2007 International Development Centre, Oxford DOI: 10.1080/13600810701701939

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