Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Social Health and Environmental Quality of Life: Their Relationship to Positive Physical Health and Subjective Well-Being in a Population of Urban African Americans

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Social Health and Environmental Quality of Life: Their Relationship to Positive Physical Health and Subjective Well-Being in a Population of Urban African Americans

Article excerpt

Introduction

Subjective well-being is a theoretical and empirical undertaking that seeks to understand how people favorably evaluate and feel with regard to their lives (Diener & Diener, 1995). It is a theory that holds happiness as a subjective matter and what constitutes the good life depends upon the state of the individual (Szymanski, 2000). As a theoretical construct, subjective well-being is delineated into two independent facets: positive affect and life satisfaction (Diener et. al., 1995). The positive affect component is defined as transient emotional experiences and consists of balancing positive and negative feelings. On the other hand, life satisfaction is the cognitive domain and is a global assessment of the positivity that an individual appraises with regard to life (Diener, Emmons, Larsen, & Griffin, 1985). In short, subjective well-being reflects both a person's current emotional and mental states, as an individual is considered happy when he or she feels good and has positive thoughts.

Early research on subjective well-being has stressed that socially ascribed attributes are the psychology behind African Americans' experienced mood and mental state. For example, Taylor, Chatters, Hardison, and Riley, (2001) reviewed a preponderance of the literature and found a negative relationship between income and subjective well-being and a positive relationship between subjective well-being and education. Still, other studies revealed that for African Americans their subjective well-being increases and decreases with age (Tovar-Murray & Munley, 2007). Diener and Scollon, (2003) found a paradoxical effect for gender differences as women tend to report the same level of happiness as men, while at the same time they reporting more negative emotions. Finally, past research has revealed that married African Americans are more content with life than their unmarried counterparts (Ehrlich, 1973; Jackson, Chatters, & Neighbors, 1982). Although there is some evidence that has underscored the importance of socially ascribed attributes to African Americans' subjective well-being outcomes, taking these factors together accounts for less than 20% of the variance in positive affect and life satisfaction (Campbell, Converse, & Rogers, 1976).

In addition to selective socially ascribed attributes, researchers have examined the extent to which subjective well-being is a function of physical health. Past studies have found that living a healthy physical lifestyle aids in the reduction of negative moods and increases an individual's level of life satisfaction (Gauvin, Rejeski, & Reboussin, 2000). Moreover, prior studies have shown that physical health and subjective well-being are two sides of the same coin. In other words, individuals with healthier immune systems tend to have positive emotional states, and individuals who are emotionally distressed tend to be vulnerable to diseases (Heim, Ehlert, & Hellhammer, 2000; Segerstrom & Miller, 2004). Although physical health and subjective well-being outcomes influence each other, a confusing picture emerges regarding the documented association between these variables. That is to say, the evidence that supports the association between physical health and subjective well-being outcomes tends to be moderately low (Diener et. al., 2003), and a compelling argument can be made that social health and environmental quality of life may account for links between African Americans' subjective well-being outcomes (Cummins, 1996; Parker & Calhoun, 1996; Taylor et. al., 2001) and positive physical health (Hill & Peters, 1998).

Social health is defined as the assistance that individuals received through structural (e.g. network size) and functional (e.g., emotional support) relationships, whereas environmental quality of life is defined in terms of one's physical surroundings (World Health Organization, 2009). Although scarce, a number of past empirical studies, conducted exclusively on African Americans, have concluded that quality social relationships with family and friends and living in high quality neighborhoods profoundly impact their positive ratings on measures of subjective well-being (Ball, 1983; Cummins, 1996; Parker et. …

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