Individual wellbeing

Posted on: 15/02/2022

Individual wellbeing

This article is one of a series of amended extracts from Understanding Wellbeing (2011), edited by the late Anneyce Knight and the late Allan McNaught. There will continue to be developments in the field of wellbeing study, and the book and this material were published in pre-Covid times. Nevertheless, we felt it was worth publishing in this format, as a small contribution to the field.

Other articles in this series consider:

A definitional framework for wellbeing

Family wellbeing

Community wellbeing

Societal wellbeing

Individual wellbeing has been the focus of much of the theorising and research on wellbeing. Diener (2005), particularly, has researched and written extensively on all aspects of wellbeing. He has defined subjective wellbeing as

“…all of the various types of evaluations, both positive and negative, that people make of their lives. It includes reflective cognitive evaluations, such as life satisfaction and work satisfaction, interest and engagement, and affective reactions to life events, such as joy and sadness. Thus, subjective wellbeing is an umbrella term for the different valuations people make regarding their lives, the events happening to them, their bodies and minds, and the circumstances in which they live.” (Diener, p. 2)

Individual wellbeing, by its nature, is a multidimensional concept and there has been a multitude of definitions as to what it might mean. Within the literature there is a variation between those who are predisposed to the measurement of attitudes or attributes, and those who link these subjective feelings with certain defined social situations. Robinson (2010), for example, identified the following five categories of wellbeing as essential to everyone:

  • career wellbeing: how you occupy your time – or simply liking what you do every day.
  • social wellbeing: having strong relationships and love in your life.
  • financial wellbeing: effectively managing your economic life.
  • physical wellbeing: having good health and enough energy to get things done on a daily basis.
  • community wellbeing: the sense of engagement you have with the area where you live.

It is notable that Robinson’s taxonomy does not explicitly mention the family, although this can, by inference, be included in ‘social wellbeing’, while ‘community wellbeing’ is perceived purely in terms of relationships. These varying concepts of wellbeing have been augmented by studies of happiness; and happiness has been posited as the ultimate form of individual wellbeing.

In Figure 1.1 (see What is wellbeing?: Defining wellbeing), individual wellbeing is shown to be influenced by a combination of physical, psychological, spiritual/moral and social factors. Most instruments that attempt to measure individual wellbeing or quality of life try to capture the impact of these factors on the individual’s subjective experience (internal world). The framework also suggests that individual wellbeing is conditioned by the nature of the context in which the individual is situated and can only be understood within that context.


Diener, E. (2005) Guidelines for National Indicators of Subjective Well-Being and Ill-Being. Chicago: University of Illinois

Robinson, J. (2010) ‘The business case for wellbeing: having high levels of wellbeing is good for people – and their employers’. Podcast-Gallup Management Journal, 9 June 2010