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Metadata of Note

Type: 🌰 Seed [Nomenclature present here.]

Source: Research Paper by Puget Sound

Tags: #HWB #happiness #Balance: A Thesis #Balance

Date: June 27th, 2022




Human well-being is a broad concept, one that includes many aspects of our everyday lives. It encompasses material well-being, relationships with family and friends, and emotional and physical health. It includes work and recreation, how one feels about one’s community and personal safety. Precisely defining human well-being is difficult, however.


Although it can be described, it lacks a universally accepted definition and has numerous, and often competing, interpretations. As human well-being cannot be directly observed, it cannot be independently measured.


And there are a host of terms — the quality of life, welfare, well-living, living standards, utility, life satisfaction, prosperity, needs fulfillment, development, empowerment, capability expansion, human development, poverty, human poverty, land, and, more recently, happiness – that are often used interchangeably with human well-being (McGillivray and Clarke, 2008).


Despite these difficulties, there is a large body of research covering the subject of human well-being. HWB research occurs in multiple fields such as psychology, medicine, economics, environmental science, and sociology (Costanza et al., 2007).


HWB, Income, & Consumption

In recent times, human well-being has frequently been considered analogous to income and consumption levels. The reasoning goes something like this: humans consume materials and services to meet their needs and desires, and so increase their well-being; markets provide these materials and services; income allows individuals to obtain these market items; therefore, income can be equated with human well-being (Stiglitz et al, 2009).


Because we live in a world where there is less and less need, there is more and more desire. For the first time in human history, we’re not struggling with scarcity but coping with abundance—and that means coping with mimetic desire. After a person has satisfied all of his basic needs, he looks up to a universe of possible things to want. And this universe of desire—the universe of the third brain—is infinite. There is never a point where we have satisfied all of our desires. There is always another model to imitate.


Using income or consumption as a proxy for well-being is problematic, however. Many material goods and services are not marketed; many of the determinants of human well-being are not resources but are circumstances or experiences that still have important connections to human well-being; and even a given market basket can produce varying amounts of HWB depending on the individual so that some individuals can achieve a higher level of HWB with a market basket (i.e., income) smaller than others. Finally, income measured at the individual or national level overlooks distributional issues that can affect well-being (Stiglitz et al, 2009).


Domains of HWB

For this exercise, human well-being will be treated as having multiple dimensions. It refers to the degree to which an individual, family, or larger social grouping (e.g. firm, community) can be characterized as being healthy (sound and functional), happy, and prosperous. (Pollnac et al., 2006). The focus here, however, will be on individual well-being, although the determinants of an individual’s well-being can include characteristics that include characteristics of family, community, nation, and so forth.

Similar to work done by natural scientists to describe ecological components that represent the system’s overall biophysical health, social scientists have created broad categories or domains to draw general distinctions among different components of HWB. Within each domain is a set of subcategories or attributes that identify the specific components of HWB for that domain.


There is no one generally agreed-upon set of domains and attributes to describe HWB. In reviewing over 22 studies, Hagerty et al (2001) found the following seven domains to be broad enough to encompass most research frameworks: relationships with family and friends; emotional well-being; material well-being; health; work and productive activity; feeling part of one’s community; and personal safety (see also Cummins, McCabe, Romeo, and Gullone, 1994; Cummins, 1996).


The list of potential attributes is even longer, and no comprehensive list exists. Examples of attributes include items such as education; employment; energy; human rights; shelter, housing; health and health care access; income, income distribution, purchasing power; mobility; transportation; infrastructure; governing institutions; social participation; population; reproduction; leisure activities, sports participation and vacation time; spirituality; public safety and crime; traditional activities and cultural responsibilities; and more (Diener and Suh, 1997; Boelhouwer, 1999; Marks, 2007; Costanza, et a l., 2007; Flynn, 2002).


Indicators of HWB


Domains and attributes are concepts that allow researchers to understand and broadly categorize information. Indicators are the actual measures that communicate information about the state of and trends in HWB for a given system. They are most useful when the cost of gathering information about the entire system is high, so that information must be simplified into a set of easily quantifiable attributes that represent the entire system.


Indicators have been the subject of considerable discussion in both the natural and social sciences, in disciplines such as economics, sociology, anthropology, psychology, ecology, forestry, and many others. Due to the broad array of disciplinary approaches, definitions, and applications, the formulation of indicators varies widely depending on which ‘world view’ is applied (Bowen and Riley, 2003).

  • For example, the management community has focused on institutional measures of program performance while the ecological science community has worked to build indicators of the scope and scale of change in natural systems.
  • The social science community has created social indicators to measure trends and changes in social systems.

Social indicators are societal measures that reflect people’s circumstances in a given cultural or geographic unit. Land (1983) identifies three primary uses for social indicators: monitoring (i.e., reporting for policy assessment), tracking (i.e., reporting for public enlightenment), and forecasting. Social indicators can focus on populations of interest such as the elderly, disabled, minorities, or women; or they can be used to track changes in geographic regions.


Objective vs Subjective Indicators

There are two types of social indicators for measuring human well-being: objective and subjective indicators (Diener and Suh, 1997; Costanza et al., 2007; Cummins, 2000).

Objective indicators are those that can, in principle, be measured and verified in the “public domain,” as expressed by Cummins (2000).

  • Examples of objective social indicators include infant mortality, doctors per capita, longevity (assessed for the health domain); homicide rates, police per capita, and rates of rape (assessed for the personal safety domain). Objective indicator data can be gathered by observation or other forms of impersonal measurement, or by surveys that seek objective information from individual responses. The key feature of an objective indicator is the perspective: In principle, they measure attributes of human well-being that are publicly visible and have a uniform interpretation across individuals.
  • Objective social indicators help us understand how specific communities utilize resources or interact with the environment, but they do not measure how people feel about their place or their subjective experience is influenced by the health of the environment.


Subjective social indicators attempt to measure psychological satisfaction, happiness, and life fulfillment, which are private attributes of HWB in the sense of not being capable of independent observation and verification. 

  • By necessity, subjective social indicators are gathered through survey research instruments that ascertain the subjective reality in which people live. Sharpe (1999) describes this approach as “based on the belief that direct monitoring of key social-psychological states is necessary for an understanding of social change and the quality of life.”
  • Different domains lend themselves to being measured and tracked by different types of indicators. Material well-being and other basic economic attributes of HWB are amenable to being measured with objective indicators. These are often derived from data gathered by the U.S. Census Bureau or other government agencies. Even these domains, however, have important subjective elements, and so tracking both objective and subjective indicators will provide a more complete understanding of HWB and environmental considerations.


Normative vs Descriptive Indicators

It is important to understand whether a social indicator has an unambiguous relation to HWB at either the individual or aggregate level, or whether it merely describes an attribute of HWB but without such a clear relation. If the first case holds, Land (1983) suggests that the indicator can then be used as a normative indicator or one that can be directly tied to a social policy goal (Sharpe, 1999). The US Department of Health has defined normative welfare indicators in the following way:

“…a statistic of direct normative interest which facilitates concise, comprehensive, and balanced judgments about the condition of major aspects of society. It is, in all cases, a direct measure of welfare and is subject to the interpretation that if it changes in the ‘right’ direction, while other things remain equal, things have gotten better, or people are better off. Thus, statistics on the numbers of doctors or policemen could not be social indicators, whereas figures on health or crime rates could be (Land, 1983).

The use of normative social indicators in this sense requires that society agrees about what needs to be improved, that agreement exists on what “improved” means, and that it is meaningful to aggregate the indicators to the level of aggregation at which policy can be defined (Land 1983).

Normative social indicators are most useful when indicators are used for policy monitoring, and they can be either objective or subjective in nature.

If an indicator does not have a clear policy relation, it can still be used as a descriptive indicator (Land, 1983), and can again be either objective or subjective in nature. 

  • As Land (1983) notes, descriptive social indicators focus on “social measurement and analysis designed to improve our understanding of what the main features of society are, how they interrelate, and how these features and their relationships change.” This type of indicator may be related to social policy objectives but is not restricted to this use (Sharpe 1999).

Note: I wish they’d given some example here.

  • Descriptive social indicators come in many forms and can vary greatly in the level of abstraction and aggregation, from a diverse set of statistical social indicators to an aggregated index of the state of society.



As should be clear from the discussion above, human well-being is a complex concept, impossible to observe and measure directly, from the viewpoint of an objective observer. Nevertheless, there is broad agreement on important areas such as HWB domains, some of which can be connected to Partnership goals and objectives. Thus, identifying social indicators for the Partnership’s efforts is a tractable task, although the basis for selecting a particular set of indicators is still daunting.


Key Points: Human well-being is difficult to define and measure from an objective point of view, but can be categorized in terms of its domains, such as material and emotional well-being, work and productive activity, and personal safety. Indicators connected to these domains can be objective or subjective in nature, and they can be normative (that is having an unambiguous relation to HWB) or descriptive.