What's the Subjective Happiness Scale?

29 January, 2020
Well-being is an integral part of who we are as people. Its evaluation is influenced by different factors. In this regard, the Subjective Happiness Scale lets us measure this individual perception.

Happiness is the thing humans want the most. Due to its ambiguity, however, it’s difficult to establish a concrete definition and design instruments to evaluate it effectively. Nevertheless, the Subjective Happiness Scale (SHS) meets this goal through a simple process.

From the beginning of the study of psychology, general interest has centered on the pathological and negative aspects of human conduct. Fortunately, social scientists are starting to pay more attention to the study of strengths and abilities in a way that focuses on happiness as a social construct.

A smiling woman.

What’s happiness?

Happiness can be described as a state of satisfaction, enjoyment, and pleasure. It’s positively related to diverse physical, psychological, and social aspects of people’s lives.

Thus, happy people seem to enjoy better physical health and a stronger immune system. In addition, they have better success records in several areas of life, including work, economic achievement, marriage, and social life.

It would seem that this is a one-way relationship: accomplishing things makes people happy. However, this phenomenon works in both directions.

Happy people make better decisions and have a more adaptive interpretation of reality. They respond in a more functional way to daily experiences and recuperate faster after failure. In other words, their particular way of thinking and acting drives them toward success.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that happiness means something different for each person. Other instruments designed to evaluate this construct have tried to measure concrete aspects, perhaps overlooking a more relevant reality: that happiness is subjective.

That’s why the Subjective Happiness Scale (SHS) boasts a more adjusted vision, as it takes into account each individual’s perception.

Happiness doesn’t consist of the systematic achievement of accomplishments. There are those who “have everything” and don’t feel happy. On the other hand, other people are able to find happiness even in the most difficult times.

The Subjective Happiness Scale (SHS)

Based on this premise, the scale we’re examining today measures each person’s subjective perception of well-being. To do this, it uses a simple four-question structure. Respondents rate their feelings on a scale of 1 to 7.

  • How happy do you feel in general? Choose an answer between 1 (very unhappy) and 7 (very happy).
  • Compared to most of your peers, how happy do you consider yourself? Choose an answer between 1 (very unhappy) and 7 (very happy).
  • Some people are very happy in general. They enjoy life independently of what happens and find something positive in every situation. To what extent does this characterization describe you? Respond by choosing an answer from 1 (not at all) to 7 (completely).
  • Some people aren’t very happy. Even though they’re not depressed, they never seem to be as happy as they could be. To what extent does this characterization describe you? Respond by choosing an answer from 1 (completely) to 7 (not at all).

To calculate the result, simply add the four points and then divide the number by four. The result is your current level of subjective happiness. The average points in the general population vary by sex, age, and other personal characteristics. However, it tends to oscillate between 4.5 and 5.5.

A man sitting at a desk looking happy.

The usefulness of the Subjective Happiness Scale (SHS)

Populations of different ages, genders, and cultures have used this instrument, as it’s a reliable measurement of subjective happiness. The reliability and validity of the scale make it a simple and useful tool to determine perceived well-being.

In addition, the points obtained from this scale seem to correlate to other important traits, such as optimism and extraversion. People with these characteristics are more likely to obtain higher points for happiness. So if your points on this scale are low, try to change your focus. Remember that happiness is subjective!

  • Vera-Villarroel, P., Celis-Atenas, K., & Córdova-Rubio, N. (2011). Evaluación de la felicidad: análisis psicométrico de la escala de felicidad subjetiva en población chilena. Terapia psicológica29(1), 127-133.
  • Torres, L. H., & González, T. M. P. (2017). Felicidad subjetiva, sentido del humor y personalidad en la docencia. International Journal of Developmental and Educational Psychology3(1), 401-410.