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Subjective wellbeing is the overall subjective evaluation of life and experiences related to it. It is the individual's perception of their general quality of life. Thus, subjective wellbeing is defined as the ways in which people evaluate their life in a positive manner. The more positive their evaluation of life the higher will be their subjective wellbeing. High subjective wellbeing has been found to be associated with better physical and mental health, productivity, creativity, positive and fulfilling relationships, prosocial behavior, lesser risky behaviors, meaning in life, and a high sense of subjective happiness.

Since high subjective wellbeing indicates the evaluation of life in a positive manner, it is obvious that people who experience loneliness (especially, prolonged loneliness) - the inability to develop satisfying interpersonal relationships and an unfulfilled need for intimacy - will also experience low subjective wellbeing. However, looking at the specific domains of subjective wellbeing and relating it with loneliness helps give a better understanding of loneliness. Further, it helps in understanding how loneliness can have a negative impact on subjective wellbeing.

The psychologist Ed Diener, known to be one of the most prominent researchers of happiness, suggests that subjective wellbeing comprises cognitive evaluations and affective appraisals. Cognitive evaluations include global life satisfaction as well as satisfaction with specific aspects of life. Affective appraisals are the emotional reactions that people may have.

Diener proposed the tripartite model of subjective wellbeing. According to Diener, subjective wellbeing has three components - life satisfaction (LS), frequent positive affect (PA), and infrequent negative affect (NA). These three components are distinct but related to each other.

Loneliness is said to be a highly unpleasant experience. Individuals experiencing loneliness feel unwanted and worthless. They have a high level of inferiority complex, are depressed, and may even have suicidality. They also have feelings of hopelessness, directionlessness, and a sense of meaninglessness. 

In this sense, with respect to Diener’s components of subjective wellbeing, people who feel lonely are likely to experience positive affect less frequently and negative affect more frequently. On the whole, it is more likely that they will be experiencing a low level of life satisfaction. Life satisfaction is the conscious cognitive appraisal of quality of life. Loneliness being associated with worthlessness, depression, and other related psychological difficulties, lonely individuals are unlikely to evaluate their life as satisfying. Therefore, people who experience prolonged loneliness are more likely to have a negative evaluation of their quality of life, and thus, experience low levels of subjective wellbeing.

Apart from Diener, the psychologist and sociologist Corey Keyes has suggested three domains of subjective wellbeing. Keyes proposed that the three domains of subjective wellbeing are emotional wellbeing, psychological wellbeing, and social wellbeing

Emotional wellbeing is the overall emotional quality of an individual’s life. It involves experiencing a wide range of feelings and emotions such as happiness, confidence, energy, etc. A number of factors like positive relationships, openness, meaning in life have been found to play an important role in determining high emotional wellbeing. A person who experiences loneliness lacks in many of such factors, especially positive relationships and meaning in life. The continuous feelings of stress and depression do not allow the individual to experience positive emotions too often.

The second domain of psychological wellbeing, according to Keyes, psychological wellbeing is the individual’s perception of proper psychological functioning. It is a combination of positive affective states and optimal effective functioning. 

Psychological wellbeing involves self-acceptance, ability to develop satisfying, long-lasting relationships, self-determination, actively molding the environment according to one’s needs, and having purpose in life. The experience of loneliness does not really allow self-acceptance, leads to a lack of self-determination and purpose in life, and of course, involves an inability to develop satisfying relationships. Therefore, experiencing loneliness is associated with low psychological wellbeing.

Social wellbeing, the third domain of subjective wellbeing, is the evaluation of functioning with respect to the societal level. Social wellbeing involves the feeling of belongingness in society, being able to make useful contributions to the society, finding the society a favorable place to live in, and a general feeling that the society is growing in a positive manner.

Individuals who feel lonely generally experience a sense of disconnect with their immediate surroundings and the larger society. Such individuals constantly feel alienated and experience a lack of belongingness. In this sense, loneliness will lead to a negative evaluation of functioning with respect to the society. Therefore, loneliness is associated with low social wellbeing.

Loneliness when viewed with respect to subjective wellbeing helps in a better understanding of it. Trying to understand how loneliness can influence the different components of subjective wellbeing sheds greater light on it. It provides another way of understanding the complexity of loneliness

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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