Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Overestimated Relationships with Subjective Well-Being

Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Overestimated Relationships with Subjective Well-Being

Article excerpt

This article is about relationships between subjective well-being (SWB) and variables such as demographics, intentional activities, personality traits, and personal characteristics. Causal interpretation of these relationships is usually asymmetric from the variable to SWB, although the literature also contains interpretations of reverse or bidirectional causality. Evidence reviewed here suggests that heritable personality traits may underlie some of these relationships. A consequence is that covariance may be lower than lower than indicated by phenotypic (within individual) correlations. The article discusses some implications for positive psychology.

Keywords: subjective well-being, happiness, satisfaction, heritability, general factor of personality

This article discusses models of probabilistic causation that encompass well-being measures and their correlates. Causal models contain a set of variables overlaid by two mathematical structures: a graph indicating causal direction in relationships between variables, and probabilistic estimates related to such relationships. Received opinion influences the former while methodological considerations affect overall confidence in a model (e.g., type of data, statistical power). Lyubomirsky, King, and Diener (2005) comment on an established bias in causal attribution even with data from one-time assessment: "associations between desirable life outcomes and happiness have led most investigators to assume that success makes people happy." (p. 803). A focus of the article is on comparison this assumption with alternative propositions.

The article begins with a brief discussion of definitions and well-being measures used in positive psychology, followed by a description of causal assumptions that may pertain to relationships involving these measures. The next two sections respectively discuss correlates of well-being and the relevance of higher-order dispositions to these relationships. The final section considers some implications for positive psychology. Throughout the article, we highlight contributions by Canadian researchers.

Definitions and Measures

Definitions of well-being include the following. Subjective wellbeing (SWB) is an "evaluation of life in terms of satisfaction and the balance between positive and negative affect" (Keyes, Shmotkin, & Ryff, 2002, p. 1007). Psychological well-being (PWB) refers to "perception of engagement with existential challenges of life" (p. 1007). Eudaimonic well-being (EWB) includes "feelings of personal expressiveness" associated with the "pursuit of excellence, virtue, and self-realisation" (p. 42; Waterman et al., 2010). Canadian proponents of existential and eudaimonic conceptions of wellbeing include O'Brien (2008), Ryan, Huta, and Deci (2008), and Wong (1998).

The most common names of SWB measures are satisfaction and happiness scales, with comparable measures known as affect, morale, or self-reported depression scales (Kozma, Stones, & McNeil, 1991). A Canadian measure used frequently in North America, Europe, and Asia is the Memorial University of Newfoundland Scale of Happiness (MUNSH; Kozma, Stone, Stones, Hannah, & McNeil, 1990; Kozma & Stones, 1980, 1983, 1987, 1988; Kozma, Stones, & Kazarian, 1985; Kozma et al., 1991; Stones & Kozma, 1986a). Along with widely cited measures of satisfaction, such as the Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS; Diener, Emmons, Larsen, & Griffin, 1985), evidence for psychometric adequacy is convincing.

Measures that fall under Keyes et al.' s (2002) existential challenge rubric include Canadian scales addressing life attitudes (Reker & Peacock, 1981), perceived well-being (Reker & Wong, 1984), and personal meaning (Wong, 1998). A widely used battery by Ryff (1989) measures independence and self-determination, environmental mastery, personal growth, positive relations with others, purpose in life, and self-acceptance. …

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