Measuring Well-Being


Can we measure Happiness?

First of all, science doesn’t really use the word ‘Happiness’ very often. We tend to use the word ‘Subjective Well-Being’. So, the question here is: can we measure Subjective Well-Being? The answer is: yes, to a certain extent. Of course, we can’t measure Subjective Well-Being just like we measure the temperature with a thermometer, and that we can say that Mariah who is sitting there has now a Subjective Well-Being of 6. 7,48 on a scale from 0 to 10. Of course, we can’t do that.

But to a certain extent, it is possible to measure Subjective Well-Being. How do we do that? There are several ways to do that. First of all, it is possible to put a person inside a scanner, and then, for instance, it is possible to measure the activity of the Left Prefrontal Cortex this part of the brain. When that part of the brain is somewhat more active than the other parts of the brain, that may indicate not always, but often it may indicate that that person has a higher sense of Subjective Well-Being at that moment. So, it is possible to measure Subjective Well-Being by putting somebody through a scanner and looking at brain activity. But there are other ways to measure Subjective Well-Being. We can for instance draw some blood and look at the hormone levels in there. From certain hormones, we know that it makes people feel better and from others that it makes people feel worse. So, for instance, this here is oxytocin. When its level is slightly higher than usual, then generally people tend to have a higher Subjective Well-Being at that moment. So, it is possible to analyse your blood and see on the basis of those measures if a person has a high Subjective Well-Being or not. That is another way of measuring Subjective Well-Being. But there are other ways. For instance, one way that is often being used is experience sampling. That is, by using little palmtops for instance, that people can be asked, on a certain moment, how they are feeling right then. And on the basis of that, it is possible to look at their Subjective Well-Being. It is also possible, for instance, to look –or to have a computer look- at the facial expressions. To see, on the basis of little micro-expressions like the so, called Duchenne Smile, to look at how well a person is feeling at that moment. And that is one more way of measuring Subjective Well-Being. But of course, all these different ways of measuring Subjective Well-Being like a brain scan, or drawing blood, or doing experience sampling, or watching facial micro-expressions, or many other ways- tend to be quite extensive and tend to take a lot of time and effort, whereas there is one more quiet easy way to probe Subjective Well-Being of people and that is by asking them questions or asking them a question. Of course, that must be a validated question. Scientists want to be sure that a question that is being asked gives us the answers that we want to probe, that we won’t be using some questions that you see in the magazines or on the internet. No, we want to make sure that a question questions what it is designed to question. And that is called a psychometrically validated question. And when we use that kind of questionnaires or questions, then we can, to a certain extent, know how the Well-Being of a person is. So psychometrically validated questionnaires are another way of probing Subjective Well-Being another way to measure, to a certain extent, Subjective Well-Being.


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