In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Happiness

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Concepts of Happiness
  • Consequences of Happiness
  • Can We Make People Happier?

Psychology Happiness
Shigehiro Oishi
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0030


In psychological science, “subjective well-being” is the term most often used in place of the popular term “happiness.” Subjective well-being consists of a person’s cognitive and affective evaluations of his or her life rather than the momentary mood state of happiness. Although psychologists have been interested in subjective well-being since the inception of psychology in the late 19th century, systematic research on this topic did not begin until the late 1970s and the early 1980s. In the 1990s and 2000s several psychologists started using terms such as “psychological well-being” and “eudaimonia” in place of “subjective well-being” to emphasize the aspects of the good life that are not well captured by pleasure and pain (e.g., meaning in life and personal growth). The present bibliography provides a general overview of the scientific field of subjective and psychological well-being followed by a list of informative books and articles on key issues.

General Overviews

At this point, subjective well-being is one of the most popular topics in psychological science. Although there are books and articles on this topic dating back to the late 1800s, the concept of happiness and therefore the study of happiness dissipated in the 1940s, just as the concept of emotion was questioned in the 1930s and 1940s under the influence of behaviorism. Even Henry Murray, the genius who successfully measured implicit motives, such as the need for affiliation, gave up and declared, “Aristotle’s assertion that the only rational goal of goals is happiness has never been successfully refuted as far as we know, but, as yet, no scientist has ventured to break ground for a psychology of happiness” (Murray and Kluckhohn 1948, p. 13). Although survey researchers included questions regarding happiness in the 1940s to the 1960s, very few mainstream psychologists studied happiness and related concepts during that time. The first comprehensive review on “avowed happiness” appeared in Wilson 1967. This review had a limited impact on the field, however, despite the fact that it was published in Psychological Bulletin (cited under Journals), one of the most prestigious journals in psychology. Perhaps most psychologists at the time still believed that happiness was not something that could be scientifically investigated. Nevertheless, the antagonism against the scientific study of happiness became gradually weaker with the cognitive revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. Bradburn 1969, an influential book on emotional well-being, introduced the new measure of positive and negative affect and showed the relative independence of positive and negative affect. Several years later Philip Brickman and colleagues published their famous paper Brickman, et al. 1978 on hedonic adaptation. Then Ed Diener published a comprehensive review on subjective well-being in Psychological Bulletin (Diener 1984) and finally legitimized the study of happiness in psychological science. It should be noted, however, that Hadley Cantril and Angus Campbell (see Cantril 1965; Campbell, et al. 1976) should also be credited as pioneers of subjective well-being, as their books on the quality of life were important inspirations for the later generation of well-being researchers. In a related vein, Martin E. P. Seligman and Chris Peterson and their colleagues have promoted positive psychology since the late 1990s (see Seligman 2002 for review). Subjective well-being has been a major component of positive psychology, and the increasing visibility of positive psychology also helped expand the scope of subjective well-being research.

  • Bradburn, Norman M. 1969. The structure of psychological well-being. Chicago: Aldine.

    This is one of the first books that discussed psychological well-being as the central thesis.

  • Brickman, Philip, Dan Coates, and Ronnie Janoff-Bulman. 1978. Lottery winners and accident victims: Is happiness relative? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 36.8: 917–927.

    DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.36.8.917

    This is one of the most famous papers in the history of subjective well-being. It reports the surprisingly small difference in self-reported happiness and enjoyment of mundane activities between paraplegics and lottery winners. Based on these findings, Brickman and colleagues proposed their famous hedonic treadmill theory of happiness.

  • Campbell, Angus, Philip E. Converse, and Willard L. Rodgers. 1976. The quality of American life: Perceptions, evaluations, and satisfactions. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

    Using a large national survey, these researchers summarize various issues related to life satisfaction, in particular demographic factors, such as marital status, income, number of children, and satisfaction with various life domains.

  • Cantril, Hadley. 1965. The pattern of human concerns. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press.

    In this book the author introduced his famous ladder scale of life satisfaction. This book also includes cross-cultural data on life satisfaction.

  • Diener, Ed. 1984. Subjective well-being. Psychological Bulletin 95:542–575.

    DOI: 10.1037/0033-2909.95.3.542

    The most cited review paper on the science of subjective well-being. This review summarized most practical (measurement) and conceptual issues up to the early 1980s and ignited the scientific study of subjective well-being.

  • Murray, Henry Alexander, and Clyde Kluckhohn. 1948. Outline of a conception of personality. In Personality in nature, society, and culture. Edited by Clyde Kluckhohn and Henry Alexander Murray, 3–32. New York: Knopf.

    This is one of the most influential books on personality. In the introductory chapter Murray and Kluckhohn discuss their rationale for defining personality in terms of tension reduction rather than happiness.

  • Seligman, Martin E. P. 2002. Authentic happiness: Using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment. New York: Free Press.

    In this book the author introduced the field of positive psychology to a general audience.

  • Wilson, Warner. 1967. Correlates of avowed happiness. Psychological Bulletin 67:294–306.

    DOI: 10.1037/h0024431

    The first comprehensive review on the scientific research of happiness, covering research mainly from the 1930s to the mid-1960s.

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