Pathways to Well-being

Subjective Well-Being (SWB)

In the last post about well-being, we saw that the terms ‘happiness’ and ‘well-being’ are often used interchangeably to describe feelings such as joy, contentment and a sense that life is meaningful within positive psychology. What generates these feelings in our lives is unique to us.

SWB = satisfaction with life + high positive affect + low negative affect

Subjective well-being is how happy we are with our life. People who are more satisfied have higher levels of positive emotions/experiences and lower levels of negative ones – creating a greater level of subjective well-being.

If you had some time to think about who or what contributes to your personal well-being – did anything come up that surprised you?

Two scales were suggested to measure your subjective well-being – the ‘Satisfaction With Life Scale’ and the ‘Scale of Positive and Negative Experience’, I’d be interested to know if anyone tried these and if you found them user friendly?

For those of you that decided these weren’t for you, maybe you took a moment to reflect on how you would rate areas of your life that contribute to your personal well-being (e.g. relationships, family, work, health etc.) using a scale of 1-10. Did you identify areas you were really satisfied with and maybe some you’d like to work on?

Remember, the next step is to make small changes – break your goal into manageable chunks and go for it! You can reassess your subjective well-being in the near future and see if anything has changed for you.

Two Pathways, same goal

This post will briefly introduce two pathways to happiness/well-being which will be explored in more detail later. Positive psychological research emphasises that it’s important to recognise that both offer paths to increase our well-being in different ways.

Pathway One – Hedonia

Hedonia: has roots in the Ancient Greek words for ‘delight’ and ‘pleasure’.

This pathway involves actions and experiences that generate feelings of pleasure, enjoyment and personal satisfaction. It’s what we gain from taking care of our immediate ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ while minimising our experiences of pain and dissatisfaction. Acts/experiences which contribute to our hedonic well-being are different for everyone, but some examples might include:

  • Sleeping in at the weekend
  • Eating that second (third) piece of chocolate caramel brownie
  • Sex
  • Gorging on series after series of your favourite show
  • Buying a new car

Pathway Two – Eudaimonia

Eudaimonia: has roots in the Ancient Greek words ‘eu’ meaning good and ‘daimon’ meaning power, fate, lesser deity or guiding spirit.

This pathway comes from actions which create a sense of meaning and purpose in us or when we feel we have had the opportunity to realise our potential. These acts/situations fit well with our personal values and allow us to apply our strengths. Often they may include acts which contribute to the greater good. Eudaimonic well-being goes beyond simply ‘feeling good’, producing feelings which are stronger than a sense of satisfaction or pleasure. Again, these acts/experiences are different for everyone, but examples could include:

  • Spending time with your loved ones
  • Successfully completing challenging work
  • Exploring something you’re passionate about
  • Helping someone in need
  • Applying a personal strength in a new way 

Research has shown that more lasting positive effects on our well-being are created by actions that promote a sense of eudaimonia, however the benefits of pleasure and enjoyment brought by hedonia shouldn’t be undervalued.

It’s also useful to point out that activities that create a state of hedonia or eudaimonia are not exclusive; some activities create both types of happiness. Meaningful experiences can give us pleasure and taking care of ourselves is meaningful.

With this knowledge, balance is needed. Pursuing acts that generate both types of happiness are beneficial to our well-being. So, seize some ‘me time’ in your busy day and take time to treat yourself; embrace your hedonic pleasures! Also, have a think about what your personal values are and where your strengths lie – keeping these in mind and active will help build your eudaimonic well-being and produce more lasting effects in your life.

Thanks for reading!

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