The subjective happiness ladder: what is it?

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Louise Hay
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The subjective happiness ladder: what is it?

Well-being is a very personal aspect whose evaluation is influenced by various factors. The Subjective Happiness Scale gives us the measure of this individual perception.

Last update: January 30, 2020

Happiness is what all human beings aspire to. Yet, precisely because of its subjectivity, it is difficult to give an exact definition and to think of effective evaluation tools. The Subjective Happiness Scale does this by demonstrating reliability through a simple procedure.



Since the origins of psychology, general interest has focused on the pathological and negative aspect of human conduct. Luckily, In recent times, more attention has been paid to the study of strengths and skills, whose main representative is happiness as a general concept.

What is happiness?

Happiness can be defined as a state of fullness, satisfaction, enjoyment and joy. It is positively associated with various physical, psychological and social aspects of people's lives.

That's why happy people seem to enjoy better physical health and a stronger immune system. Moreover, they are more successful in various fields, such as work, economic, sentimental or social.

One might think that this relationship is one-way: the consequences of success come from a greater degree of happiness. However, the phenomenon has been shown to work in both directions.

Happy people make better decisions and more adaptively interpret reality. They respond more functionally to everyday experiences and recover faster from failures. That is to say that their particular way of thinking and acting leads them to success.

Another important aspect to consider is that the concept of happiness is different for each of us. Some tools designed to evaluate it have tried to measure specific aspects, perhaps neglecting the most relevant reality: happiness is subjective. For this reason the Subjective Happiness Scale offers a more precise point of view, but it takes into account the perception of the individual himself.



Happiness does not consist in a systematic achievement of goals; there are those who "having obtained everything" in order to achieve full satisfaction, do not feel satisfied. On the other hand, some people are able to find happiness even in the darkest moments.

The Ladder of Subjective Happiness

Having said this, the scale we are dealing with tries to measure the subjective perception of well-being, typical of each of us. To do it, uses a simple template consisting of four questions that must be answered on a scale from 1 to 7, In the following way:

  • How happy do you consider yourself, in general? Think of an answer ranging from 1 (very unhappy) to 7 (very happy).
  • Comparing with most of your peers, how happy do you consider yourself? It indicates a value from 1 (not very happy) and 7 (very happy).
  • Some people are very happy by nature. They enjoy life no matter what happens, they know how to make the most of everything. To what extent do you recognize yourself in this description? Answer by indicating a value from 1 (very little) to 7 (quite).
  • In general terms, some people are not very happy. While they aren't depressed, they don't seem to be as happy as they could be. To what extent do you recognize yourself in this description? Answer by choosing a value between 1 (quite) and 7 (very little).

To calculate the result, all you have to do is sum all four scores and divide the number obtained by four. The result indicates your current subjective happiness level. The average score of the general population varies according to gender, age and other personal characteristics. However, it usually fluctuates between 4,5 and 5,5.



How useful is the Subjective Happiness Scale

This evaluation tool has been tested on the population of different age groups, gender and culture, proving to be a reliable criterion for evaluating subjective happiness. The reliability and validity of this scale have made it a simple and useful tool for determining the perceived level of well-being. 


Furthermore, the scores obtained on this scale seem to lead to other equally important concepts, such as optimism and extroversion. People who boast these characteristics are more likely to score higher in terms of happiness. If you scored low, you should try to change your approach: happiness is subjective.

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