Examples of measures of happiness


Overall happiness

Affective compomnent
Hedonic level of affect
Cognitive component:

Delighted Terrible LifeAverage Overall LevelPerceived realization of aspirations
Happy LifeTime happy Perceived realization of goals
Happy PersonAffect BalancePerceived getting things wanted
Satisfaction with life one leadsExperience samplingBest Worst possible life
Satisfaction with Life-as-a-wholeCheerful appearance 
Summed overall appraisals of life  


Overall happiness can only be measured by self-reports, because external raters cannot know to how a person evaluates his life all in all. The following questions pertain to that matter.

Delighted-Terrible Life (O-DT)

Self-report on single question:
“How do you feel about your life as a whole…..?”
7  delighted
6  pleased
5  mostly satisfied
4  mixed
3  mostly dissatisfied
2  unhappy
1  terrible
Name: Andrews & Withey’s `Delighted-Terrible Scale’ (original version)
Code:  O-DT-u-sq-v-7-a
Reference: Andrews, F.M. & Withey, S.B., ‘ Social Indicators of Well-being: Americans’ Perceptions of Life Quality’, Plenum Press, 1976, New York, USA

Happy Life (O-HL)

Self-report on single question:
” Taken all together, how would you say things are these days?   Would you say that you are….?”
3 very happy
2 pretty happy
1 not too happy
Code: O-HL-c-sq-c-3-aa
Reference: Andrews, F.M. & Withey, S.B., ‘ Social Indicators of Well-being: Americans’ Perceptions of Life Quality’, Plenum Press, 1976, New York, USA

Happy Person (O-HP)

Self-report on single question:
“Generally speaking are you a happy person…….?”
Responses were made on an open line scale, and were later coded in 7 categories:
1  very unhappy

7  very happy
Code: O-HP-g-sq-ol-7-a
Reference:  Veenhoven, R., ‘ Is there an innate need for children?’ European Journal of Social Psychology, 1974, vol. 14, 495 – 501

Satisfaction with Life one Leads  (O-SLL)

Self-report on single question:
“On the whole how satisfied are you with the life you lead?”
4   very satisfied
3   fairly satisfied
2   not very satisfied
1 not at all satisfied
Code: O-SLL-u-sq-v-4-b
Used in Euro-barometer surveys, bi-annual general population samples in all EU member states, since 1973
Reference: Website Eurobarometer:

Satisfaction with Life-as-a-Whole (O-SLW)

Self-report on single question:
“We have talked about various parts of your life, now I want to ask you about your life as a whole. How satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days…..?”
7 completely satisfied
4 neutral
1 completely dissatisfied
Preceded by questions on satisfaction with domains of life.
Code: O-SLW-c-sq-n-7-a
Reference: Andrews, F.M. & Withey, S.B., ‘ Social Indicators of Well-being: Americans’ Perceptions of Life Quality’, Plenum Press, 1976, New York, USA

Summed overall appraisals of life (O-Sum)

Self-report on four questions:
Using the 1-7 scale below, indicate your agreement with each of the items by placing the appropriate number on the line preceding that item. Please be open and honest in your responding.
A.   In most ways my life is close to ideal
B.   The conditions of my life are excellent
C.   I am satisfied with my life
D.   So far, I have gotten the important things I want in life
Answers rated:
7    strongly agree
6    agree
5    slightly agree
4    neither agree nor disagree
3    slightly disagree
2    disagree
1    strongly disagree
Computation: 28-7 sum-score divided by 4
Name: Shortened Diener’s Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS)
Remark: In the original scale item 5 reads: ‘If I you live my life over, I would change nothing’. This item is left out in this selection because a positive answer to this question does not necessarily mean that the respondent doesn’t like the life he/she actually lives.)
Code: O-sum-u-mq-v-7-a

Reference: Pavot, W., Review of the Satisfaction With Life Scale, Psychological Assessment, 1993, Vol. 5, 164-172. ISSN 1040 3590


Hedonic level cannot be measured by prevalence of negative affect only. Since positive and negative affects vary more or less independently, one can experience much negative affect, but still feel well on the balance, because one also experiences positive affect. Unlike overall happiness, affective experience manifests in non-verbal expressive behavior. Therefore, it can also be rated by others.

Self estimate: Average Overall Level (A-AOL)

Self-report on single closed question:
“How is your mood these days….?” 
4   very good all the time
1 not good almost all the time
Code: A-AOL-c-sq-v-4-b

Reference:  Levy, S. & Guttman, L., ‘Structure and dynamics of worries’, Sociometry, 1975, vol. 38, p. 445-473

Self estimate of Time Happy (A-TH)

Self-report on three questions: answered every evening before retiring during 3 weeks:
A.  What percentage of the time you were awake today did you feel happy?
B.  What percentage did you feel unhappy?
C.  What percentage did you feel neither happy nor unhappy?
Respondents were told that the three percentages should add up to equal 100%.
Code: A-TH-md-mq-th%-101-a

Reference: Fordyce, M.W., ‘Happiness, its daily variation and its relation to values’, Doctoral dissertation, 1972, International University, USA.

Affect Balance (A-B)

Self-report on 10 questions:
“During the past few weeks, did you ever feel ….?”  (yes/no)
A.   Particularly exited or interested in something?
B.   So restless that you couldn’t sit long in a chair?
C.   Proud because someone complimented you on something you had done?
D.   Very lonely or remote from other people?
E.   Pleased about having accomplished something?
F.   Bored?
G.   On top of the world?
H.   Depressed or very unhappy?
I.    That things were going your way?
J.    Upset because someone criticized you?
Answer options and scoring:
 Yes  =  1  No   =  0
Summation:- Positive Affect Score (PAS): A+C+E+G+I. Negative Affect Score (NAS): B+D+F+H+J. – Affect Balance Score (ABS): PAS minus NAS. Possible range: -5 to +5
Name: Bradburn’s ‘Affect Balance Scale’ (standard version)
Code: A-BB-cm-mq-v-2-a
Reference: Bradburn, N.M., ‘ The structure of psychological well-being’, Aldine Publishing Company, 1969, Chicago, USA

Experience sampling (A-ARE)

Self-report on single question, answered every evening before retiring during six weeks
“On average; how elated or depressed, happy or unhappy you felt today….?
10   Complete elation, rapturous joy and soaring ecstasy
9     Very elated and in very high spirits. Tremendous delight and buoyancy
8     Elated and in high spirits
7     Feeling very good and cheerful
6     Feeling pretty good, “OK”
5     Feeling a little bit low. Just so-so
4     Spirits low and somewhat ‘blue’
3     Depressed and feeling very low. Definitely ‘blue’
2     tremendously depressed. Feeling terrible, really miserable, “just awful”
1     utter depression and gloom. Completely down.
       All is black and leaden. Wish it were all over.
Name:  Wessman & Ricks’  `Elation – depression scale’
Code: A-ARE-md-sqr-v-10-b

Reference: Wessman, A.E. & Ricks, D.F., ‘Mood and Personality’, Holt, 1966

Cheerful appearance (A-CA)

Interviewer rating of cheerful appearance on 8 aspects
A.  The look is….
        a)  open
        b)  evasive
        –    impossible to say
B.  The corners of the mouth turn…
        a)  up
        b)  down  
        –    impossible to say
C.  The posture is…
        a)  relaxed, at ease
        b)  rather tense
        –    impossible to say
D.  The movements are …
        a)  relaxed, at ease
        b)  limited, withdrawn 
        –    impossible to say 
E.   The eyes are…
        a)  big, open
        b)  small, screwn up
        –    impossible to say
F.   The elbows are kept…
        a)  not close to the body
        b)  close to the body
    –    impossible to say
G.   The lips are more..
        a)  broad, full
        b)  thin, pent up
        –    impossible to say
H.   All in all the subject looks…
        a)  quite cheerful
        b)  not very cheerful
    –    difficult to say
Answer options:   a = 2……….b = 1 Scoring: sum of aspect ratings
Name: `Allensbacher Ausdruckstest’
Code:  A-CA-mh-ri-v-2-a
The last item (H) is also used separately (code A-CA-mh-ri-v-2-b)

Reference: E. Noelle-Neumann, ‘ Politik und Gluck (Politics and happiness)’, H. Baier (ed.) Freiheit und Sachzwang, Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen, 1977, 208 – 262


Contentment can only be measured by self-reports, because external raters cannot know to what degree a person perceives his wants to be met.

Realization of Aspirations (C-RA)

Self-report on single question:
“How do you feel about what you are accomplishing in life…?”
7    completely satisfied 
6    very satisfied 
5    satisfied 
4    satisfied-dissatisfied 
3    dissatisfied 
2    very dissatisfied 
1 completely dissatisfied.
Code: C-A-u-sq-7-a
Reference: Buttel, F.H. & Martinson, O.B., ‘ Ideology and social indicators of the quality of life’, Social Indicators Research, vol. 4, 1977, p.353-369

Realization of Goals (C-RG)

Self-report on single question:
“How would you rate yourself as to how successful or unsuccessful you have been in terms of achieving your own goals and aims in life? Think of the top of the ladder as being completely successful, the bottom being entirely unsuccessful.”
[ 10 ]    completely successful
[   9 ] 
[   8 ]
[   7 ]
[   6 ]
[   5 ]
[   4 ]
[   3 ]
[   2 ]
[   1 ]
[   0 ]   entirely unsuccessful
Code: C-RG-h-sq-l-11-a

Reference: Bortner, R.W. & Hultsch, D.F., ‘ A multivariate analysis of correlates of life satisfaction in adulthood’, Journal of Gerontology, 1970, vol. 25,  p. 41-47

Getting things Wanted (C-W)

Self-report on single question:
“In getting the things you want out of life, how would you say that you are right now…..?”
3    very well
2    pretty well
1    not too well
Code: C-W-c-sq-v-3-a

Reference: Bradburn, N.M., ‘ The structure of psychological well-being’, Aldine Publishing Company, 1969, Chicago, USA

Best-Worst possible life (C-BW)

Self-report on single question (preceded by primer items):
“Here is a picture of a ladder. Suppose we say that the top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom represents the worst possible life for you. Where on the ladder do you feel you personally stand at the present time?”     
[  10  ]  best possible life
[    9  ] 
[    8  ]
[    7  ]
[    6  ]
[    5  ]
[    4  ]
[    3  ]
[    2  ]
[    1  ]
[    0  ]  worst possible life
Preceded by 1) open questions about the best possible life one could hope for and the worst possible life one could fear (for anchoring the extremes of the scale in the respondents imagination), 2) ratings on the ladder of one’s life five years ago and where on the ladder one expects to stand five years from now (for anchoring the response in time).
Name: Cantril’s self-anchoring ladder rating of life (original)
Code: C-BW-c-sq-l-11-a

Reference: Cantril, H., The pattern of human concern, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA, 1965