Defining Well-Being

Well-being is a relatively new term, still finding its feet within common vernacular. Even amongst academics it is a contentious concept, and has been the subject of numerous (and often contardictary) definitions. The question of how well-being should be defined still remains largely unresolved, which has given rise to blurred and overly broad definitions of wellbeing”. (Forgeard, Jayawickreme, Kern, & Seligman 2011, p. 81). Consequently, the diversity of definitions has created a confusing research base.  Ryff and Keyes (1995) identified that “the absence of theory-based formulations of well-being is puzzling”. (p. 719).  Supporting this, Thomas (2009) argued that wellbeing is “intangible, difficult to define and even harder to measure”. (p. 11).  

An early attempt to define well-being was Bradburn’s (1969) research on psychological well-being.  His work involved the study of psychological reactions of people in their daily lives.  Bradburn highlighted how psychological well-being (which he also referred to as happiness) was the variable that “stands out as being of primary importance”. (p. 6).  Bradburn linked this to Aristotle’s idea of eudaimonia, which is what we would now commonly define as well-being.  Aristotle believed that ‘eudaimonia’ (or ‘well-being’) to be the over-arching goal of all human behaviour.  Bradburn’s model specified that: an individual will be high in psychological well-being in the degree to which he has an excess of positive over negative affect and will be low in well-being in the degree to which negative affect predominates over positive.” (Bradburn, 1969, p. 9).  

Similarly to Bradburn, Diener and Suh (1997) believed that “subjective well-being consists of three interrelated components: life satisfaction, pleasant affect, and unpleasant affect”. (p. 200).  Again, it seems that this definition of well-being relates to the capacity of one’s ability to live a pleasant existence, where positivity (generally) outweighs negativity.  Comparatively, Ryff (1989a) listed autonomy; environmental mastery; positive relationships with others; purpose in life; realisation of potential and self-acceptence as the key elements of well-being.  Interestingly, in this particular definition of well-being control and self-actualisation takes precedence over experiential positivity.  Shin and Johnson (1978) appears to support Ryff’s viewpoint when they defined well-being as, “a global assessment of a person’s quality of life according to his own chosen criteria” (p. 478).  Autonomy, independence and personal freedoms are paramount to well-being in this set of definitions.

Expanding on these definitions, there are further examples of definitive disparity in the research.  Pollard and Lee (2003) places importance on happiness in their definition of well-being and Seligman (2002a) emphasises the importance of life-satisfaction. What appears to be ubiquitously accepted is that well-being is a multi-dimensional construct related to health, however, it is also clear that we have not yet established a consensus on defining the term.  As interest in well-being grows, it is becoming increasingly necessary to have clarity in terms of how we measure well-being.  If we are ever going to be able to undertakvalid well-being assessments, any new definition must go beyond simply describing what it is ‘to be well’; we must strive to make a clear and definite statement of the exact meaning of ‘well-being’. 

Nothing but ❤️

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