New Findings and Future Directions for Subjective Well-Being Research

Westernized nations have long studied subjective well-being (SWB)—peoples’ beliefs and feelings about the life they are leading and whether or not it is desirable and rewarding.

Only recently, however, have large international studies been conducted such as the World Values Survey and Gallup World Poll.

Conducting a review of recent findings, this author notes:

  • Some predictors of SWB—feelings of social support, trust, and mastery—do exist across cultures. But others, such as religion, vary by society as to whether or not they contribute to SWB.
  • New findings show that material standards are not as proximal as they once were thought to be and are external across the nations of the world.
  • While people react to good and bad conditions, they also return to their baseline SWB over time.
  • SWB of a society provides a way of measuring quality of life that is not fully captured by economic indicators.

SWB can be used to inform policies related to zoning, health, education, and housing, among others. As governments expand their use of SWB measures to guide policy, the author calls for more rigorous research methods to be applied to the field and details key questions for researchers to consider. 


This study is one in a series supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneer Portfolio to explore Positive Health, an emerging concept that seeks to demonstrate that in addition to health risks, people also have health assets, which can be strengthened to produce a healthier life. These health assets could include biological factors, such as high heart rate variability; subjective factors, such as optimism; and functional factors, such as a stable marriage.