Saturday, June 4, 2016

Subjective Well-Being

When I was in high school, on a visit to my uncle's, I came across a book called Tennis Confidential which he had borrowed from a library. It had a passage which I found interesting enough to copy down in my notebook:
Chris Evert was dubbed "The Ice Maiden" for her stoical on-court demeanor, but behind that facade swirled powerful emotions. On Evonne Goolagong, her immensely popular 1970s rival, Evert once revealed: "I never resented the fact that the crowds were for Evonne. But I was envious and wanted to shout, 'Don't you know I'm feeling something inside?'"
Presumably Goolagong reacted more vehemently than Evert did when she missed a volley. But perhaps Goolagong really did feel the disappointment more keenly – who can say?

Psychologists confront this problem in trying to measure subjective well-being. Most measurement methods rely on self-reporting, but as the OECD Guidelines on Measuring Subjective Well-Being put it:
[t]he nature of subjective measures means that we can never really know whether one respondent's 8 out of 10 corresponds to the exact same mental state as another respondent's 8 out of 10.
But not all questionnaires involve numbered scales. Goodwin Watson's 1930 study asked respondents to choose the best-fitting description from a series of options. My favourite among these is, "Life often seems so worthless that there is little to keep one going. Nothing matters very much, there has been so much of hurt that laughter would be empty mockery."