Eudaimonia

In addition to life evaluations and affect, which focus on a person’s experiences (current or recalled), some definitions of subjective well-being found in the psychological literature include other aspects of a person’s psychological processes as well. In particular, there is a substantial literature focused on the concept of good psychological functioning, sometimes also referred to as “flourishing” or “eudaimonic” well-being (Huppert et al., 2009; NEF, 2009; Clark and Senik, 2011; Deci and Ryan, 2006). Eudaimonic well-being goes beyond the respondent’s reflective evaluation and emotional states to focus on functioning and the realisation of the person’s potential. In developing the questionnaire on psychological well-being for the European Social Survey, for example, Huppert et al. (2009) characterise the “functioning” element of well-being as comprising autonomy, competence, interest in learning, goal orientation, sense of purpose, resilience, social engagement, caring and altruism. Eudaimonic conceptions of subjective well-being thus differ significantly from the evaluative and affective components in that they are concerned with capabilities as much as with final outcomes and thus have a more instrumental focus. Because measuring eudaimonia draws on both psychological and humanist literature, which identifies key universal “needs” or “goals”, the approach represents a useful response to the criticism that the measurement of subjective well-being is “happiology”, or built purely on hedonistic philosophy, and also aligns itself with many people’s perceptions of what it is important to value in life.

While there is now a general consensus on the distinction between life evaluations and affect, the conceptual structure of eudaimonic well-being is less well fleshed out. It is not clear, for example, whether eudaimonic well-being describes a uni-dimensional concept in the sense of life evaluation, or whether the term is used to cover a range of different concepts. It is, however, clear that eudaimonic measures of well-being capture important aspects of people’s subjective perceptions about their own well-being that are not covered by either life evaluations or affect. For example, having children has a negligible (or even mildly negative) correlation with average levels of life evaluation (Dolan, Peasgood and White, 2008), while child care (even of one’s own children) is associated with relatively low levels of positive affect (Kahneman et al., 2004). This conflicts with the intuitive assumption that children, at least for those who choose to have them, contribute in some way to their parent’s well-being. Indeed, people with children report much higher average levels of meaning or purpose in their lives than other respondents (Thompson and Marks, 2008).

 
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