Wellbeing Wizard

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A Formula to Measure Wellbeing
Written by Mark Millard   

Following David Cameron's announcement that wellbeing will be added to the UK's measures of national prosperity here are some thoughts on measuring wellbeing from a psychological perspective - with questionnaires & surveys based on an established formula:

A formula for wellbeing
SWB = Subjective Wellbeing
LS = Life Satisfaction
FPA = Frequent Positive Affect
FNA = Frequent Negative Affect

This approach defines wellbeing as a composite construct, a combination of our thoughts and feelings about how our lives are going.

SWB. Subjective Wellbeing

The most widely used question used to measure subjective wellbeing is:

  Overall, on a scale of 0 worst possible to 10 best possible how do you consider your life is going at present?  

To which most people, most of the time answer 6 or 7, and when asked where they think they'll be in a year or so's time it's usually a point or two above where they are now.

These broad brush questions tap into the so-called Positivity Offset, it seems the default setting on a standard model homo sapiens is about 7 out of 10, positive enough to get us going but not so positive we settle back smug & self satisfied.

Our sense of wellbeing is designed to motivate us and keep us in the hunt.

Such global questions are very useful with large numbers of people to capture a general sense of mood or direction. However they tell us little about what underlies any shifts or changes or what we might focus on to improve our levels of wellbeing.

LS. Life Satisfaction

A more precise approach is the Domains & Facets model where an overall measure of wellbeing is built up from a range of more detailed questions about how satisfied we are with different aspects of our lives.

For example, a questionnaire based on domains & facets might look like this:

wellbeing questionnaire screen print 480 wide.jpg 

The results provide a more detailed measure of wellbeing, across multiple domains which makes it easier to identify where & how improvements might be made.

  A formula for life satisfaction  
  Life Satisfaction = Actuality - Expectation  

If we sense a discrepancy in some part of our life where we expected an 8 and we've only got a 6 there are basically 2 ways we can improve things:


1. Improve the actuality - work on turning our 6 into an 8

2. Revise our expectations - content ourselves with what we have


FPA & FNA. Frequency of Positive & Negative Affect

When it comes to wellbeing the frequency and variety of our feelings is more important than their intensity - on the positive side we need a little and often and different (when we do the same things over & over they can quickly lose their power to please).

Measures of wellbeing often focus on the ratio of postive to negative feelings, with somewhere around 5:1 being optimal.

Some also distinguish between feelings about the past (e.g. gratitude & regret), the present (e.g. happy & sad) and the future (e.g. optimism & pessimism). This provides a sense of where our wellbeing is coming from and where it is going.

Wellbeing Matters

High levels of wellbeing are associated with high levels of performance and success in many areas of life, from physical health & longevity, to effort, energy & work rate to teamwork, collaboration & pro-social behaviour.

Wellbeing and success covary, each is both a cause and an effect of the other. How well we feel ourselves to be has a measurable effect on our behaviour, not withstanding how well or well off we actually are.

I welcome the move to measure wellbeing as an indicator of national health. Our sense of wellbeing is not only a measure of our current quality of life but also a forerunner of future success, individually, organisationally and socially.


  Measure your wellbeing with our free questionnaire  


Further Reading


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