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The Definition and Measurement of Well-Being Ulrich Schimmack University of Toronto Mississauga CIFAR, October 1, 2010, Toronto.

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Presentation on theme: "The Definition and Measurement of Well-Being Ulrich Schimmack University of Toronto Mississauga CIFAR, October 1, 2010, Toronto."— Presentation transcript:

1 The Definition and Measurement of Well-Being Ulrich Schimmack University of Toronto Mississauga CIFAR, October 1, 2010, Toronto

2 Well-Being, Welfare, Good Life, Happiness, Subjective Well-Being, Psychological Well-Being, Authentic Happiness, True Happiness, Utility, Pleasure-Pain Balance, The Greatest Good, The ultimate motive, Meaning of Life, Optimal Functioning, Health

3 Well-Being Definition An evaluation of a life. Evaluations require a criterion. - Actual-ideal discrepancy. What is the criterion for life evaluations?

4 Well-Being Prototype An individual with high well being …% A A. is richB. is poor96% A. is healthy B. is ill98% A. is freeB. is unfree 98% A. is safeB. is threatened96% A.feels happyB. feels unhappy99% Responses by UTM psychology students taking PSY324 “Well-Being” course.

5 Scientific definition should be consistent with prototype. Problems of prototype definition: - unrealistic goal to maximize everything - neglects other aspects that vary across people - does not provide a standard for quantitative measure of well-being - rich & unhealthy vs. poor & healthy

6 Classical Definitions of Well-Being - Taxonomy of Definitions - Where do the criteria come from? - Objective - Outside - Same for all - “The ideal life” - Subjective - Inside - Vary across individuals - “My ideal life”

7 Objective Definition I: - Aristotle’s Eudaimonia - Well-being is well-functioning - Functions provide objective evaluation criteria (car, organs) - But, what is the function of a life? [42] - Not a definition of well-being because there is no objective function of lives.

8 Objective Definition II: Hedonism "Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure" (Bentham) - Objective - assumes the same criterion for everybody - Problem: - Treats all pleasant experiences as equal. - Ignores other aspects of human lives. - Can be influenced by illusions.

9 Nozick’s Experience Machine What would you choose: A.Your real life 78% B.Your brain is hocked up to 22% a compute that simulates your ideal life and you don’t know that it is a simulation.

10 Subjective Definition I: Desire Fulfillment - Desires are subjective - Desires imply low well-being - Increase well-being - fulfill all desires (market economy) - get rid of desires (Buddhism)

11 Problem: - Desires are future-directed. - Retrospective evaluations can differ from anticipated evaluations (disappointment, regret, pleasant surprises). - “be careful what you wish for”

12 Subjective Definition II: - Well-being as a retrospective evaluation. - Individuals have ideals, preferences, values - do not disappear when matched - Ideals can be used to evaluate actual lives. - Cantril (1965) 0 = worst possible life (self-defined) 10 = best possible life (self-defined)

13 Problem I: Illusions - Happiness/Self-Evaluation - Mental State - Can be influenced by illusions even if ideals assume accurate beliefs. - Preference Realization - Not a mental state - Illusions increase well-being only if people prefer illusions over reality

14 Nozick’s Virtual Vacation A. Spend reading week living your real life. 48% B. Spend reading week in an experience 52% machine that simulates your ideal life and makes you forget that it was a simulation.

15 Problem II: Inauthentic Preferences - Where do individuals’ ideals come from? - Culture may teach some people to want too much or too little - too little: cast system in India - too much: advertising - Preferences should be the result of free choice


17 Correlations among Self-Report Measures of Well-Being in the SOEP Schimmack (2009)


19 Are all Domains Equal? - Only modest agreement between direct ratings of importance and indirect evidence (regression) - Some domains are not important (weather) - some domains are important (health, family) Zou & Schimmack (2010)

20 Do People Not Care About Housing? Nakazato, Schimmack, & Oishi (2010)

21 Self-Informant Agreement - Average correlation ~.4 - Has not increased since first study in 1934 - higher agreement for domain satisfaction than for global judgments - agreement is explained by important life domains (health, family, academics, recreation) Schneider & Schimmack (2009, 2010)

22 Self-Informant Agreement - Cultural differences in self-ratings - Mediated by positive illusions - Not replicated with informant ratings - Important to use multiple raters. Kim, Schimmack, & Oishi (2010)

23 Final Conclusion - Well-being is a life that matches individuals’ subjective ideals (preference-realization). - Cognitive and affective measures are partially valid indicators of well-being. - No evidence that one indicator is better than another. - Increasing the validity of measures is essential for progress in well-being science.

24 The End WB Science TodayThe Future

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