At the most basic level, psychological wellbeing (PWB) is quite similar to other terms that refer to positive mental states, such as happiness or satisfaction, and in many ways it is not necessary, or helpful to worry about fine distinctions between such terms. If I say that I’m happy, or very satisfied with my life you can be pretty sure that my psychological wellbeing is quite high!

Actually, PWB has two important facets. The first of these refers to the extent to which people experience positive emotions and feelings of happiness. Sometimes this aspect of PWB is referred to as subjective wellbeing (Diener, 2000). Subjective wellbeing is a necessary part of overall PWB but on its own it is not enough. To see why this is so, imagine being somewhere that you really enjoy, perhaps sitting on a yacht in the sunshine, with your favourite food and drink and some good company – or alone if that’s how you’d prefer it! For most people that would be very enjoyable, for a week or two but imagine doing it not just for a week but forever! There are very few people who would find that prospect enjoyable. The old saying may be true, you can have too much of a good thing. What this example brings home is that to really feel good we need to experience purpose and meaning, in addition to positive emotions.

So, the two important ingredients in PWB are the subjective happy feelings brought on by something we enjoy AND the feeling that what we are doing with our lives has some meaning and purpose. The term “Hedonic” wellbeing is normally used to refer to the subjective feelings of happiness and, the less well-known term, “Eudaimonic” wellbeing is used to refer to the purposeful aspect of PWB. The psychologist Carol Ryff has developed a very clear model that breaks down Eudaimonic wellbeing into six key parts.

References

1 Diener, E. (2000) Subjective wellbeing: The science of happiness and a proposal for a national index. American Psychologist, 55, 34-43.
2 Ryff, C.D., Singer, B.H. and Love, G.D. (2004) Positive health: connecting wellbeing with biology. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 359, 1383-1394.