Measuring Well-Being, While Treating Autonomy as a Value: A Literature Review

What are values and how can they be operationalized for the empirical social sciences? The University of Malmö’s graduate student Irina Widmer traces debates on how to measure well-being. In her blog post, she focusses specifically on the value of autonomy. How relevant has it been for measurements of well-being?

Irina A. Widmer, University of Malmö/ University of Neuchâtel

Do conceptions of well-being vary across societies – and, if yes, how seriously should we take these variations? Felicia Huppert and Timothy So’s social psychology article on “Flourishing” points to the need to analyse well-being in a specific context and to pay attention to “cultural differences in well-being”. Alex Linley et al. came to the challenging conclusion that well-being might be measured with the same tool in different groups (gender, ethnicity, age), the context having little influence on the outcome of the study. Due to a missing common definition of well-being, the range of values which are included to measure well-being varies greatly from one study to another. Huppert and So attempt to build an objective definition of well-being, based on positive mental health criteria, defined as the opposite of internationally accepted symptoms for depression and anxiety. This “medical diagnosis” seems promising; nevertheless, some values considered central in many other methodologies are left out, notably autonomy.

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