Understanding Well-Being in Multi-Levels: A review

E. C. W. Ng, A. T. Fisher


Well-being is not only an emerging research agenda, but also a critical issue concerning the individual as well as the societal development, because how the issue is viewed has a huge theoretical as well as practical, even policy, implication. In academic, while some argue that well-being is in the subjective perception of one’s life or psychological functioning, others argue that well-being is in the objective conditions and the broader environment. This paper, drawing on psychology tradition, tries to go beyond the dichotomy of well-being as either an individual attribute or external conditions. Instead, this article acknowledges the multi-levels of well-being are closely tied and should be taken into accounts when well-being is concerned. We will provide a brief review of the two major approaches – subjective well-being and quality of life – of well-being before the multi-level approach is introduced. The strength and challenges of the multilevel approach will be discussed.


well-being; subjective well-being (SWB); positive psychology; quality of life (QOL); multi-level approach

Full Text:



Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachment as a fundamental human motivation. . Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497-529.

Berger, P. L., & Neuhaus, R. J. (1977). To empower people. Washington, D. C.: American Enterprise Institute.

Berkman, L. F., & Glass, T. (2000). Social integration, social network, social support, and health. In I. Kawachi & L. F.

Berkman (Eds.), Social epidemiology (pp. 137-173). New York ; Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Biglan, A., Flay, B. R., Embry, D. D., & Sandler, I. N. (2012). The critical role of nurturing environments for promoting human well-being. American Psychologist, 67, 257-271.

Bowling, A. (1997). Measuring health : A review of quality of life measurement scales (2nd ed.). Buckingham ; Philadelphia: Open University Press.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1995). Developmental ecology through space and time: A future perspective. In P. Moen, G. H. Elder,

K. Lüscher & U. Bronfenbrenner (Eds.), Examining lives in context : Perspectives on the ecology of human development (1st ed. ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The Ecology of Human Development. Harvard University Press.

Carr, A. (2004). Positive psychology : the science of happiness and human strengths. London ; New York: Brunner-Routledge.

Cole, M. (1996). Cultural psychology : a once and future discipline. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Costanza, R., Fisher, B., Ali, S., Beer, C., Bond, L., Boumans, R., et al. (2007). Quality of life: An approach integrating opportunities, human needs, and subjective well-being. Ecological Economics 61, 267-276.

Cowen, E. L. (1991). In pursuit of wellness. American Psychologist, 46(4), 404-408.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow : The psychology of optimal experience (1st ed.). New York: Harper & Row.

Cummins, R. A. (1997). Comprehensive quality of life scale - Adult. Melbourne: School of Psychology, Deakin University.

Diener, E. (1984). Subjective well-being. Psychological Bulletin, 95(3), 542-575.

Diener, E. (2009). Positive psychology: Past, present, and future. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Oxford handbook of positive psychology (2nd ed., pp. 7-12). Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press.

Diener, E., Sapyta, J. J., & Suh, E. (1998). Subjective well-being is essential to well-being. Psychological Inquiry, 9, 33-37.

Diener, E., & Suh, E. (1997). Measuring quality of life: Econnomic, social, and subjective indicators. Social Indicators Research, 40, 189-216.

Diener, E., & Suh, E. M. (1999). National differences in subjective well-being. In D. Kahneman, E. Diener & N. Schwarz (Eds.), Well-being : The foundations of hedonic psychology. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Diener, E., & Suh, E. M. (2000a). Culture and subjective well-being. Cambridge, Mass. ; London: MIT Press.

Diener, E., & Suh, E. M. (2000b). Measuring subjective well-being to compare the quality of life of cultures. In E. Diener & E. M. Suh (Eds.), Culture and subjective well-being. Cambridge, Mass. ; London: MIT Press.

Diener, E., Suh, E. M., Lucas, R. E., & Smith, H. L. (1999). Subjective well-being: Three decades of progress. Psychological Bulletin, 125(2), 276-302.

Diez-Roux, A. V. (1998). Bringing context back into epidemiology: Variables and fallacies in multilevel analysis. American Journal of Public Health, 88(2), 216-222.

Diez-Roux, A. V. (2000). Multilevel analysis in public health research. Annual Review of Public Health, 21, 171-192.

Dluhy, M., & Swartz, N. (2006). Connecting knowledge and policy: The promise of community indicators in the United States. Social Indicators Research, 79, 1-23.

Eckersley, R. (2001). Culture, health and well-being. In R.

Eckersley, J. M. Dixon & R. M. Douglas (Eds.), The social origins of health and well-being. Cambridge ; Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.

Eckersley, R. (2004). Well and Good. Melbourne: The Text Publishing Company.

Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2004). The psychology of gratitude. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fitzapatrick, R. (1996). Alternative approaches to the assessment of health-related quality of life. In A. Offer (Ed.), Pursuit of the Quality of Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fredrickson, B. L. (2000). Cultivating positive emotions to optimize health and well-being. Prevention and Treatment 3. http://journals.apa.org/prevention/volume3/toc-mar07-00.html.

Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psycology: The broaden-and-build therogy of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56(3), 218-226.

Goodenough, U. (2000). Vertical and horizontal transcendence. Zygon: Journal of religion and science, 35, 233-240.

Gorsuch, R. L. (2006). Measurement and research design in studying spiritual development. In E. C. Roehlkepartain, P. E.

King, L. Wagener & P. L. Benson (Eds.), The handbook of spiritual development in childhood and adolescence. Thousand Oaks, Calif. ; London ; New Delhi: SAGE.

Haas, B. K. (1999). A multidisciplinary concept analysis of quality of life. Western Journal of Nursing Research, 21, 728-742.

Hays, S. (1994). Structure and agency and the sticky problem of culture. Sociological Theory, 12(1), 57-72.

Helliwell, J. F. (2002). Globalization and well-being. Vancouver: UBC Press.

Helliwell, J. F., & Putnam, R. D. (2004). The social context of well-being. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 359(1449), 1435-1446.

Isen, A. M. (1987). Postive affect, cognitive processes, and social behavior. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 20, 205-253.

Jahoda, M. (1958). Current concepts of positive mental health. New York,: Basic Books.

Jones, K. E. (1998). A study of the difference between Faith Maturity Scale and Multidimensional Self Concept Scale scores for youth participating in two denominational ministry projects. ProQuest Information & Learning, US.

Keyes, C. L. M. (2006). Subjective well-being in mental health and human development research worldwide: An introduction. Social Indicators Research, 77, 1-10.

Keyes, C. L. M., & Lopez, S. J. (2002). Toward a science of mental health: Positive directions in diagnosis and treatment. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology. Oxford England ; New York: Oxford University Press.

Keyes, C. L. M., Shmotkin, D., & Ryff, C. D. (2002). Optimizing well-being: The empirical encounter of two traditions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82(6), 1007-1023.

Keyes, C. L. M., & Waterman, M. B. (2003). Dimensions of well-being and mental health in adulthood. In B. M. H. (Ed.), Well-being : Positive development across the life course

Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Langer, E. (2002). Well-being: Mindfulness versus positive evaluation. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Larson, J. S. (1996). The world health organization's definition of health: Social versus spiritual health. Social Indicators Research, 38, 181-192.

Leadbeater, B., Schellenbach, C. J., Maton, K., & Dodgen, D. W. (2004). Research and policy for building strengths: Processes and contexts of individual, family and community development. In K. I. Maton (Ed.), Investing in children, youth, families, and communities : strengths-based research and policy (1st ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K. M., & Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology, 9(2), 111-131.

Marmot, M. G., Shipley, M. J., & Rose, G. (1984). Inequalities in death - specific explanations of a general pattern. Lancei, i, 1003-1006.

Marmot, M. G., & Wilkinson, R. G. (Eds.). (1999). Social Determinants of Health. New York: Oxford University Press.

McCullough, M. E. (2000). Forgiveness as a human strength: Theory, measurement, and links to well-being. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 19, 43-55.

McCullough, M. E., Pargament, K. I., & Thoresen, C. E. (2000). Forgiveness : Theory, research, and practice. New York: Guilford Press.

McGregor, I., & Little, B. R. (1998). Personal projects, happiness, and meaning: On doing well and being yourself. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 494-512.

Michalos, A. C. (2004). Social indicators research and health-related quality of life. Social Indicators Research, 65(1), 27-72.

Myers, D. G. (1999). Close relationships and quality of life. In D. Kahneman, E. Diener & N. Schwarz (Eds.), Well-being : The foundations of hedonic psychology. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

National Research Council & Institute of Medicine. (2009). Preventing mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders among young people: Progress and possibilities. Washington, DC: National Academic Press.

Nelson, G. B., & Prilleltensky, I. (2005). Community Psychology: In pursuit of Liberation and Wellbeing. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

O' Neill, P. (2005). The ethics of problem definition. Canadian Psychology, 46(1), 13-20.

Pargament, K. I. (1997). The psychology of religion and coping : Theory, research, practice. New York: Guilford Press.

Pargament, K. I. (2002). The bitter and sweet: An evaluation of the costs and benefits of religiousness. Psychological Inquiry, 13(3), 168-181.

Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues : A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press.

Phillips, D. (2006). Quality of life : Concept, policy and practice. London ; New York: Routledge.

Prilleltensky, I., & Prilleltensky, O. (2006). Promoting well-being : Linking personal, organizational, and community change. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley.

Raphael, D., Renwick, R., Brown, I., Steinmetz, B., Sehdev, H., & Phillips, S. (2001). Making the links between community structure and individual well-being: Community quality of life in Riverdale, Toronto, Canada. Health and Place, 7(179-196).

Rapley, M. (2003). Quality of life research : a critical introduction. London: SAGE.

Rate, C. R., Clarke, J. A., Lindsay, D. R., & Sternberg, R. J. (2007). Implicit theories of courage. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 2(2), 80 - 98.

Rogoff, B. (2003). The cultural nature of human development. New York: Oxford University Press.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2001). On happiness and human potentials: A review of research on hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 141-166.

Ryff, C. D. (1989). Happiness is everything, or is it? Explorations on the meaning of psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 1069-1081.

Ryff, C. D., & Keyes, C. L. M. (1995). The structure of psychological well-being revisited. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69(4), 719-727.

Sawicki, D. S. (2002). Improving community indicator systems: Injecting more social science into the folk movement. Planning Theory and Practice, 3(1), 13-32.

Schalock, R. L. (2000). Three decades of quality of life. In M. L. Wehmeyer & J. R. Patton (Eds.), Mental retardation in the 21st century. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.

Schalock, R. L., & Felce, D. (2004). Quality of life and subjective well-being: Conceptual and measurement issues. In E. Emerson, C. Haton, T. Thompson & T. R. Parmenter (Eds.), The international handbook of applied research in intellectual disabilities. .

Scheier, M. F., & Carver, C. S. (1985). Optimism, coping, and health: Assessment and implications of generalized outcome expectancies. Health Psychoogy, 4(219-247).

Seligman, M. E. P. (1991). Learned optimism. New York: Knopf.

Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55(1), 5-14.

Shonkoff, J. P., & Phillips, D. (2000). From neurons to neighborhoods : the science of early child development. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Sirgy, M. J., Michalos, A. C., Ferriss, A. L., Easterlin, R. A., Patrick, D., & Pavot, W. (2006). The quality-of-life (QOL) research movement: Past, present, and future. Social Indicators Research, 76, 343-466.

Sirgy, M. J., & Rahtz, D. (2006). A measure and method to assess subjective community quality of life. In M. J. Sirgy, D. Rahtz & D. Swain (Eds.), Community Quality of Life Indicators: Best Cases II (pp. 61-74). Netherlands: Springer.

Snyder, C. R. (1994). The psychology of hope: You can get there from here. New York: Free Press.

Snyder, C. R. (2000). Handbook of hope : Theory, measures, and applications. Burlington: Elsevier.

Snyder, C. R., & Lopez, S. J. (2002). Handbook of positive psychology. Oxford England ; New York: Oxford University Press.

Snyder, C. R., & Lopez, S. J. (2007). Positive psychology : The scientific and practical explorations of human strengths. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE Publications.

Sternberg, R. J. (1990). Wisdom : Its nature, origins, and development. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sternberg, R. J. (1998). A balance theory of wisdom. Review of General Psychology, 2, 347-365.

Trickett, E. J. (1996). A future for community psychology: The contexts of diversity and the diversity of contexts. American Journal of Community Psychology, 24(2), 209-234.

Van der Veer, R. (2001). The idea of units of analysis: Vygotsky's contribution. In S. Chaiklin (Ed.), The theory and practice of cultural-historical psychology. Oxford: Aarhus University Press.

VicHealth. (2009). Mental health and wellbeing: Everybody's business. VicHealth Letter, 34, 2.

Waterman, A. S. (1993). Two conceptions of happiness:

Contrasts of personal expressiveness (eudaimonia) and hedonic enjoyment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64, 678-691.

Wiseman, J. (2009). Community wellbeing indicators as tools for citizen engagement and priority setting: Learning from community indicators Victoria. Paper presented at the The Good Life Conference, Griffith University, Brisbane, 12 February, 2009.

Wong, C. (2002). The crossroad of community indicators. Planning Theory and Practice, 3(2), 259-260.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.5195/hcs.2013.142


  • There are currently no refbacks.