Psychological and Subjective Well-being: A Proposal for Internationally Comparable Indicators

OPHI Working Papers

This paper sets out a proposal to measure psychological and subjective states of wellbeing in individual and household surveys. In particular, it proposes a short list of seven indicators, and a module containing the relevant questions needed to construct them. The indicators address both eudaemonic and hedonic criteria, and cover four aspects of wellbeing: 1) meaning in life; 2) the three ‘basic psychological needs’ of autonomy, competence and relatedness, following self-determination theory; 3) domain-specific and overall life satisfaction; and 4) happiness. The article recommends that further research should explore the connections between these indicators, as well as their relationship with objective measures of disadvantage. While re-affirming that perceptual staters should not be treated as aims of government policy, it is argued that they may provide a richer understanding of peoples’ values and behaviour – and therefore that further research on the subject could deepen our understanding of capability poverty.

Citation: Samman, E. (2007). ‘Psychological and subjective well-being: A proposal for internationally comparable indicators’, OPHI Working Paper 5, Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), University of Oxford.

Abridged Spanish version

Also published in Oxford Development Studies, 2007, Vol. 35(4), pp. 459–486.

wellbeing, missing dimensions, psychological needs


Emma Samman

Series Name
OPHI Working Papers
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WP 05