The Evolution of Eupathics: The Historical Roots of Subjective Measures of Well-Being

International Journal of Wellbeing, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 4-41, 2011

68 Pages Posted: 15 Sep 2005 Last revised: 13 Feb 2011

Erik Angner

Department of Philosophy, Stockholm University; Institute for Future Studies; Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science

Date Written: January 23, 2011

Abstract

This paper traces the historical roots of subjective measures of well-being, that is, measures designed to represent happiness, satisfaction, or other “positive” or desirable mental states. While it is often suggested that these measures are a modern invention, I argue that they have a long and rich history that conforms to Theodore M. Porter’s general account of measurement in social and behavioral science. Subjective measures emerged in marital success studies, educational psychology, and personality psychology in the 1920’s and 30’s, and were further shaped by the epidemiology of mental health, gerontology, and the social indicator movement in the 1960’s and 70’s. Consistent with Porter’s account, these measures emerged in applied rather than theoretical branches of social and behavioral science, and they did so not as a result of physics envy, but rather as a result of a moral impulse to improve society; quantification was intended to make up for perceived deficiencies in unaided human judgment; and radical disagreements about the nature of well-being did not impede efforts to measure it – indeed, in time, there was considerably more agreement about how to measure well-being than about how to define it.

Keywords: Measurement, Subjective Well-Being (SWB), Positive Psychology, History, Porter

JEL Classification: A13, B20, D60, H00, I31

Suggested Citation

Angner, Erik, The Evolution of Eupathics: The Historical Roots of Subjective Measures of Well-Being (January 23, 2011). International Journal of Wellbeing, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 4-41, 2011. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=799166

Erik Angner (Contact Author)

Department of Philosophy, Stockholm University ( email )

Universitetsvägen 10 D
Frescati
Stockholm, 114 18
Sweden

HOME PAGE: http://erikangner.com

Institute for Future Studies ( email )

Holländargatan 13
Stockholm, SE-101 31
Sweden

HOME PAGE: http://www.iffs.se/en/research/affiliated-researchers/erik-angner-1/

Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science ( email )

400P Truland Building
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030
United States

HOME PAGE: http://ices.gmu.edu/people/affiliated-faculty

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