The way individuals feel about their life in general depends on their evaluation about it. This evaluation determines how satisfied a person may be, how positive they feel about themselves, how well they think they can cope with threatening situations, etc., on the whole playing an important role in their quality of life. Such an evaluation is based on current emotions, expectations, and past experiences, and differ from person to person. These subjective elements involved in the evaluation of an individual’s life has been referred to as subjective wellbeing.
Subjective wellbeing involves cognitive evaluation and positive affect, giving emphasis to life satisfaction, relationship quality, meaning, and achievements, which have been found to be significant when making an assessment of how one feels. Thus, subjective wellbeing is about how people evaluate their life in a positive manner.
The idea of subjective wellbeing emerged from utilitarianism or the utilitarian philosophy. Utilitarianism was a British political and ethical movement, and the philosopher Jeremy Bentham was one of its major spokespersons. Bentham disagreed with the metaphysical conceptions of social institutions. He was, instead, influenced by the concept of hedonism – seeking pleasure and avoiding pain – and applied it to his theory of politics and ethics. He defined human happiness completely in terms of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, and suggested that the same idea can be used with respect to ethics and politics.
For ethics, Bentham suggested that calculations can be made in terms of pleasures and pains involved, and thus determine the correct action. In the same way, for politics, Bentham suggested that the best government is the one that brought the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people. Bentham was the first to apply hedonism to the society as a whole. It turned out to be highly influential and led to many social reforms.
The term utility used by Bentham denotes all that “tends to produce benefit, advantage, good, or happiness”. According to Bentham, the presence of pleasure and the absence of pain are the defining characteristics of a good life. For him, happiness is the greatest good, and that each person’s happiness is equal in value to anybody else’s. It was this emphasis on happiness being the greatest good, that makes utilitarianism as the forebearer of the concept of subjective wellbeing, giving a good understanding of the concept.
The evaluation of life with respect to subjective wellbeing gets a better understanding when looking at the three domains of subject wellbeing. These domains are emotional wellbeing, psychological wellbeing, and social wellbeing. This indicates that individuals evaluate their life in terms of whether or not they feel good about it, function well personally, and function well socially. Additionally, emotional wellbeing is referred to as a positive feeling state, and psychological and social wellbeing are referred to as a positive functioning state.
Emotional wellbeing is the emotional quality of an individual’s life. It involves the experience of a wide range of emotions that make a person feel pleasant or unpleasant. It is an evaluation of life with respect to happiness and life satisfaction. It involves cognitive as well as affective aspects.
Emotional wellbeing is a subjective state involving a combination and balance of a wide range of feelings like energy, openness, happiness, confidence, etc. Factors like optimism, self-acceptance, positive relationships, playing to one’s strengths, openness, passion, meaning in life, and being able to grow from adversity, have been found to play a role in emotional wellbeing.
The experience of emotional wellbeing does not mean that the person is always happy. It rather means that the person is able to deal effectively with psychological issues like stress, depression, and anxiety. Emotional wellbeing is, thus, a state of managing feelings in a constructive manner, so that there is not too much of distress, and that there is more of positivity.
The evaluation of life with respect to positive functioning is represented in psychological wellbeing, the second domain of subjective wellbeing. Psychological wellbeing can be said to be the perception of proper psychological functioning. It involves subjective experiences of positive feelings and cognitive appraisals. It is a combination of positive affective states and optimal effective functioning, that is, it is both feeling good and functioning effectively.
Psychological wellbeing is a multifaceted concept. There are six dimensions of psychological wellbeing – self-acceptance, positive relationships, personal growth, purpose in life, environmental mastery, and autonomy – all of which play an important role in psychological functioning and evaluation of life. Self-acceptance involves maintaining the same level of self-esteem during various circumstances when things may seem uncertain, complex, and unpleasant. An individual trying to be positive in varying circumstances displays high self-acceptance. Positive relationships indicate the ability to develop long-lasting, satisfying relationships. Autonomy involves self-determination and being guided by self and internalized standards rather then being guided by conformity and compliance.
Environmental mastery involves actively molding the environment according to one’s needs. The individual must first identify his or her needs and then be able to derive it from within the surroundings. Purpose in life involves having direction, being goal-oriented, despite circumstances being unsatisfactory. Having purpose in life brings about high level of meaning, which makes evaluation of life to be positive. Personal growth involves enhancing skills, leading to personal positive development. It also involves seeking opportunities for growth, and being able to identify and overcome challenges in life. Clearly, on the basis of these dimensions, a high level of psychological wellbeing will lead to more positivity in life.
Along with psychological wellbeing, another aspect of positive functioning of subjective wellbeing is social wellbeing. Social wellbeing can be described with respect to social challenges. It is about evaluation of life more with respect to the societal level rather than personal criteria. Social wellbeing consists of five dimensions – social integration, social contribution, social coherence, social acceptance, and social actualization – all of which contribute significantly to the evaluation of positive social functioning, and life on the whole.
Social integration is the evaluation of life with respect to the relationship that an individual has with the community and society. It is about how well an individual belongs to the society and how well he or she sees others to be similar. Social contribution is about how valuable an individual sees himself or herself within the society, whether or not the individual feels that he or she could make some useful contributions to the society. Social coherence is about how the social world is perceived to be. It is about how the person sees the outside world to be, that is, whether or not the society is organized and meaningful.
Social acceptance is making an evaluation of the society in general, which determines an evaluation of life. It is about how positive or negative does the person view the society. A person high on social acceptance will view the world as a favorable place to live. Social actualization is about an understanding of the potential of the society. It is about the feeling of whether or not the individual views the society as growing and evolving in a positive manner. In general, it can be said that social wellbeing is about where the individual sees himself or herself standing with respect to the society, based on these five dimensions.
Therefore, evaluation of life is done on a wide range of aspects like how good a person feels, how well the person thinks he or she is functioning psychologically, and how well a person thinks he or she is functioning socially. The former being a state of feeling and the latter two being a state of functioning. It is based on a wide range of positive feelings, subjective experiences and cognitive appraisals, and with respect to how the person feels about his or her standing in society.
All of this constitutes to subjective wellbeing. A high subjective wellbeing, that is, positive feeling and functioning, then indicates that the individual evaluates his or her life in a positive and favorable manner. It is this positive evaluation or high subjective wellbeing that makes an individual deal effectively with psychological issues, uncertainties, complexities, and adversities that keep occurring in life.

Saif Farooqi

A PhD in Psychology (from the University of Delhi). I have been blogging about psychological issues for more than ten years. I am extremely passionate about teaching psychology. I'm a writer, podcaster, and TEDx speaker. I also conduct workshops and awareness programs in schools and colleges. Currently, I'm also working as an Assistant Professor at the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, India

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