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Objectivizing the Subjective: Measuring Subjective Wellbeing

Pillai N., Vijayamohanan and B. P., Asalatha (2013): Objectivizing the Subjective: Measuring Subjective Wellbeing.

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Wellbeing has always eluded definition, and the elusive definition, in turn, has denuded the concept of an objective measure. Attempts at an objective measure have brought out two basic methodological alternatives. The first, objective, measure has come out as the famous Physical Quality of Life Index, developed by the sociologist Morris David Morris in the 1970s, based on the indicators of basic literacy, infant mortality, and life expectancy, and supplanted now by the Human Development Index. The second one, dealing with subjective wellbeing, focuses upon self-reported levels of happiness, pleasure, fulfillment etc. The present paper, in five sections, seeks to review the available objective measures of subjective wellbeing. In particular, section 2 discusses some of the important attempts at measuring wellbeing, especially objective wellbeing in terms of objective indicators. Section 3 details the subjective approach to wellbeing in terms of life satisfaction, represented by measures of global life-satisfaction, affect balance, average domain satisfaction and income. Section 4 presents a list of variables which are correlated with global reports of life satisfaction and happiness, such as smiling frequency, sociability and extraversion, sleep quality, high income, and high income rank in a reference group, active involvement in religion, self-reported health, age, sex, education, etc. Section 5 then reports on the surveys of subjective wellbeing, such as the World Values Survey, the General Social Survey, the Eurobarometer Survey, the Cantril Self-Anchoring Scale, and the Gallup World Poll, and seeks to interpret the scores received. The next section turns to a major concern of researchers in the field, which is whether self-report instruments are valid, whether there are cases wherein people might report that they are happy yet not truly experience high subjective well-being. The section also discusses briefly the recent attempts to mesaure individual welfare in terms of moment-to-moment affect in such approaches as Experience Sampling or the Day Reconstruction Method.

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