Luigino Bruni and Pier Luigi Porta
Ed Diener and Louis Tay
National accounts of subjective well-being survey citizens about their subjective well-being, including life satisfaction, positive feelings and negative feelings. The results of these surveys are meant to inform policy discussions by revealing who is flourishing and who is suffering, and understanding the circumstances associated with this. The results can help policy discussions in several ways. First, they provide metrics for assessing the value of non-market variables, such as clean air and social support. Second, the subjective well-being surveys can pinpoint which groups and regions are suffering, and help point to the potential causes of this. Third, the national accounts of well-being provide a metric for assessing subjective well-being, which is of value in itself as citizens highly value ‘happiness’. Fourth, high subjective well-being is known to have a beneficial influence on health, social relationships and work productivity. Finally, the results of subjective well-being surveys can give a broad assessment of the quality of life of societies, and point to policies that might raise well-being.
Carol D. Ryff and Jennifer Morozink Boylan
This chapter reviews the philosophical and conceptual foundations of two types of happiness: hedonic well-being and eudaimonic well-being. Both are increasingly the focus of scientific research, including studies of health. We summarize extant evidence linking both types of well-being to health, broadly defined to include self-reported health, disease states and severity, functional capacities and biological risk factors. For eudaimonic well-being, links to brain-based assessments have also been conducted. The overarching message from this literature is that well-being, whether framed as life contentment or life engagement, appears to be protective of good health, and further that health problems appear to compromise well-being. More research is needed, particularly longitudinal studies that can more clearly delineate the direction of causal influences as well as the biological and brain-based mechanisms that account for connections between well-being and health. We conclude with consideration of how studies of well-being might fruitfully intersect with studies of quality of life. A further priority for future work pertains to interventions designed to promote greater experiences of life contentment and life engagement for greater segments of society, which may also be beneficial for health.
Antonella Delle Fave
During the last three decades, a growing amount of studies have explored indicators of subjective well-being, and their relationship with objective ones in determining the quality of life of individuals and populations across a variety of domains. The conceptualization and empirical operationalization of these indicators, however, represent a major challenge for researchers, due to their psychological nature that implies the use of self-reports to identify and measure them. Despite these difficulties, researchers’ effort led to the identification and rigorous measurement of a well-defined set of subjective indicators of well-being, grouped into hedonic indicators (comprising positive emotions and satisfaction with life) and eudaimonic indicators (including personal growth, meaning construction and resource development). The impact of these indicators on objective dimensions such as health, academic and work performance, and social functioning has been repeatedly highlighted. At the same time, advancements in the study of objective indicators of well-being brought forth the need for integrating these two approaches into a more comprehensive and less discipline-bound view, that can combine the attention to basic human rights and cultural diversity with the emphasis on the human tendency towards inner coherence and balance at the individual level and interconnectedness at the social one.
Borja L—pez Noval
In the present chapter the idea of quality of life is traced back to Aristotle, whose analysis of the good life is remarkably comprehensive and still nowadays constitutes one of the main approaches to the issue. Aristotle’s account of the good life is objective – and actually quite constringent, as many individuals are excluded from the happy life – and multidimensional. Other lasting features are its subtle understanding of the nature and role of individuals’ agency and intrinsic motivation, and its stress on the importance of institutional conditions, particularly education, aiming at perfecting human beings’ nature. Thomas More, in line with previous Christian thought, democratizes the idea of the good life. In addition, he reinforced the importance attributed to the institutional framework as external control at the expense of both individuals’ agency and intrinsic motivation because he does not agree with the thesis of the perfectible nature of human beings. Tommaso Campanella recovered this thesis, although not completely, as he asserts the need for eugenic policies. Other contributions of Campanella to the idea of quality of life are his comprehensive understanding of health; his intuition as regards the importance of erecting a universal community of human beings to avoid war; and the role attributed, anticipating Francis Bacon, to techno-scientific development. Bacon’s New Atlantis supposed a Copernican shift in the idea of the good life because the focus is set on the utility of individuals, instead of on their agency. As a consequence, as regards health, Bacon seems to weight treatment more than life style. In the Enlightenment the new focus on utility would lead economists to consider social relationships instrumentally. Otherwise, moral philosophers of the Enlightenment recovered the Aristotelian idea of the good life completely, now excluding only women. The utilitarian approach was developed systematically by Jeremy Bentham, who took pleasure as the basic element of happiness and does not distinguish among its sources. Besides, material well-being is definitively considered the fundamental component of happiness by him, to the point that he proposed money as its measurement unit. Arthur Pigou develops this thesis further. Thus, although Pigou distinguishes between economic and non-economic well-being and considers possible trade-offs between them, and even is sensitive to non-utilitarian aspects, he finally states that for the time being economic growth is a good proxy of total well-being. Richard Easterlin tested this thesis based on subjective measures of well-being, thus adopting a substantive utilitarian approach, and found that it was not the case. He used psychological measures of well-being that are now widely accepted and have given rise to the happiness approach to quality of life. Otherwise, Amartya Sen has developed the capability approach in line with that of Aristotle and the moral philosophers of the Enlightenment. Finally, current developments in quality of life research as regards possible connections between the happiness and capability approaches are mentioned.
Mario Lucchini, Sara Della Bella and Luca Crivelli
In recent decades a great deal of research about the nature and causes of subjective well-being (SWB) has emerged. Economists, psychologists and sociologists have unravelled the socioeconomic and psychological determinants of SWB, often forgetting or underestimating the role of genetic factors in accounting for the relative stability in SWB over the life span. This chapter offers a contribution to the research in this field by providing a robust estimate of the role of genetic endowment in the explanation of the self-reported level of life satisfaction. The empirical analysis is performed by applying a model of variance decomposition (ACE multilevel model) to a large dataset that entails family data coming from waves 2010, 2011 and 2012 of the ISTAT-Multipurpose Survey on Households. The heritability estimate for satisfaction with life (that’s to say, the proportion of the phenotypic variance ‘explained’ by the additive genetic factors) is equal to 45 per cent, an estimate that appears to be in line with those obtained by studies on twins. The specificity component, which captures a combination of measurement error and unique environmental influences, is around 41 per cent, while the influence exerted by the shared environment is rather small but not marginal (14 per cent), in contrast to other studies that give zero weight to this component. These robust estimates suggest that informative genetic designs derived from behavioural genetics can support social sciences in their attempt to develop a more systematic understanding of SWB.
In order to proceed with exploring the methodological issues related to the measurement (indicators of happiness) and evaluation (quality of happiness), it is important to clarify what we mean by the term ‘happiness’. The debate around the definition of a new approach of measuring well-being of nations has put ‘happiness’ at the centre of concerns by highlighting, among others, two aspects to be considered: the individual observation and the subjective dimension. The necessity to consider the individual perspective, completely ignored by the traditional GDP approach, in measuring countries’ well-being is broadly urged and accepted. Many point out that the most important dimension of the individual perspective is represented by the subjective perception, defined in terms of happiness. However, focusing on the individual perspective, especially if that is done exclusively on a subjective perception, is affected by some risk. This contribution aims at exploring the conceptual issues related to those risks, which refer to some dualisms around well-being (subjective vs. objective, happiness vs. subjective experience, individual vs. community, present vs. future). These issues are important in order to define the indicators able to monitor happiness and to support its quality assessment.