Well-being measurement and the WHO health policy Health 2010: systematic review of measurement scales

Eur J Public Health. 2015 Aug;25(4):731-40. doi: 10.1093/eurpub/cku193. Epub 2015 Jan 22.


Background: Subjective well-being (SWB) contributes to health and mental health. It is a major objective of the new World Health Organization health policy framework, 'Health 2020'. Various approaches to defining and measuring well-being exist. We aimed to identify, map and analyse the contents of self-reported well-being measurement scales for use with individuals more than 15 years of age to help researchers and politicians choose appropriate measurement tools.

Methods: We conducted a systematic literature search in PubMed for studies published between 2007 and 2012, with additional hand-searching, to identify empirical studies that investigated well-being using a measurement scale. For each eligible study, we identified the measurement tool and reviewed its components, number of items, administration time, validity, reliability, responsiveness and sensitivity.

Results: The literature review identified 60 unique measurement scales. Measurement scales were either multidimensional (n = 33) or unidimensional (n = 14) and assessed multiple domains. The most frequently encountered domains were affects (39 scales), social relations (17 scales), life satisfaction (13 scales), physical health (13 scales), meaning/achievement (9 scales) and spirituality (6 scales). The scales included between 1 and 100 items; the administration time varied from 1 to 15 min.

Conclusions: Well-being is a higher order construct. Measures seldom reported testing for gender or cultural sensitivity. The content and format of scales varied considerably. Effective monitoring and comparison of SWB over time and across geographic regions will require further work to refine definitions of SWB. We recommend concurrent evaluation of at least three self-reported SWB measurement scales, including evaluation for gender or cultural sensitivity.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Male
  • Mental Health*
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Spirituality
  • Surveys and Questionnaires / standards*
  • World Health Organization