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Sources of Happiness: A Qualitative Approach



Perceived sources of happiness among community residents in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, and in the West were identified and compared. The authors performed a qualitative analysis to develop a typology and found 9 major categories among 180 reported sources of happiness. They were (a) gratification of need for respect, (b) harmony of interpersonal relationships, (c) satisfaction of material needs, (d) achievement at work, (e) being at ease with life, (f) taking pleasure at others' expense, (g) sense of self-control and self-actualization, (h) pleasure and positive affect, and (i) health. The results indicated that the Western conception of happiness places greater emphasis on intrapersonal or internal evaluation and contentment, whereas the Chinese conception of happiness places greater emphasis on interpersonal or external evaluation and satisfaction. The Chinese conception of happiness also has unique components, such as being at ease with life.
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Sources of Happiness: A
Qualitative Approach
Luo Lu a & Jian Bin Shih a
a The Graduate Institute of Behavioural Sciences
Kaohsiung Medical College , Taiwan
Published online: 03 Apr 2010.
To cite this article: Luo Lu & Jian Bin Shih (1997) Sources of Happiness: A
Qualitative Approach, The Journal of Social Psychology, 137:2, 181-187, DOI:
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A Qualitative Approach
The Graduate Institute
Behavioural Sciences
Kaohsiung Medical College, Taiwan
ABSTRACT. Perceived sources of happiness among community residents
Taiwan, and in the West were identified and compared. The authors performed a qualita-
tive analysis to develop a typology and found
major categories among
sources of happiness. They were (a) gratification of need for respect, (b) harmony of inter-
personal relationships, (c) satisfaction of material needs, (d) achievement at work, (e)
being at ease with life,
taking pleasure at others’ expense, (g) sense of self-control and
self-actualization, (h) pleasure and positive affect, and (i) health. The results indicated that
the Western conception of happiness places greater emphasis on intrapersonal or internal
evaluation and contentment, whereas the Chinese conception of happiness places greater
emphasis on interpersonal
external evaluation and satisfaction. The Chinese conception
of happiness also has unique components, such as being at ease with life.
SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING has been studied in a large number of disciplines
over many centuries and has been defined in ethical, theological, political, eco-
nomic, and psychological terms (Diener,
Given this
paradigmatic diversity, it is not surprising that many terms have been used to
label well-being, including happiness, objective well-being, subjective well-
being, quality of life, and life satisfaction. Of these terms,
is the most
popular, both in research and in lay usage. Since
happiness has been listed
as an index term in
Psychological Abstracts International.
What, then, is meant by happiness? People who are asked this question give
two kinds of answers: (a) often experiencing a positive emotional state such as
joy or (b) being satisfied with life
a whole
with parts
it. These
possible components to happiness. However, happiness is not the opposite of
We are grateful to Phyllis
L. Wu and Phil
Chen for their creative input in devel-
oping the class$cation scheme.
Address correspondence to Luo Lu, The Graduate Institute of Behavioural Sciences,
Kaohsiung Medical College,
Shih-Chuan 1st Road, Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
Downloaded by [National Taiwan University] at 19:26 17 November 2014
unhappiness, depression, or psychological ill-health, although it is negatively
related to those states and has somewhat different causes (Argyle, 1987; Lu,
1995). Andrews and Withey (1978) first postulated three possible components to
happiness: (a) positive emotion, (b) life satisfaction, and (c) the absence of neg-
ative emotions or psychological distress. This conceptualization of happiness is
receiving increasing support among researchers. However, there may be a fourth
component that concerns self-fulfillment and other “depth” elements such as pur-
pose in life and personal growth (Ryff, 1989). A similar dimension of inner psy-
chological experiences has been found to be produced by seriously engaging in
leisure activities, getting on well with loved ones, or feeling overwhelmed by the
beauty of nature (Argyle
Crossland, 199 1
Argyle, 1994). The most gen-
eral description of happiness would be
internal experience
a positive state
which can be induced through various means.
One important distinction has been made between the emotional and cogni-
tive aspects of happiness. In general, the former is seen as an emotional
ing state, or preponderance of positive affect over negative affect (Bradburn,
1969), whereas the latter refers to a more cognitive or judgmental process (Veen-
hoven, 1991). Researchers in the area usually choose to study one of the aspects
of happiness. Similarly, there have been a number
measures of happiness,
although none has been widely accepted and most have included either the emo-
tional aspect or the cognitive aspect of happiness (see Diener, 1984; Strack,
Schwarz, 1991, for comprehensive reviews). One exception has been
the Oxford Happiness Inventory (OHI; Argyle, Martin,
Crossland, 1989),
which was developed with an underlying conceptualization of happiness consist-
ing of (a) life satisfaction, (b) positive affect, and (c) absence
negative affect.
The OH1 asks participants to rate their experiences of 29 potential sources
of happiness on a scale ranging from
To do justice to the positive nature
of the happiness construct, the designers of the
positively skewed the rating
scales (Diener, 1984). The OH1 has good reliability and validity (Argyle
1995). Researchers who performed factor analyses on the
with several
groups of participants (young and old, male and female, students and communi-
ty residents) found a relatively stable structure consisting of seven components
of happiness: (a) positive cognition, (b) social commitment, (c) positive affect,
(d) sense of control, (e) physical fitness,
satisfaction with self, and
alertness. This list conveys a sense of the intrapersonal focus of happiness, that
is, internal evaluation and contentment. Social commitment is the only compo-
nent that reflects the interpersonal sphere of happiness. There is, then, a bias
toward individualistic values in the happiness research to date, and almost all
research in the area has been conducted by Western scholars and with Western
participants, except for a few cross-cultural studies that were performed using
Western concepts and measures. Therefore, it remains to be seen whether the
Western conception
happiness, and consequently its scientific measurements,
can be universally applied regardless of cultural variations; culture and value sys-
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tems may have a profound impact on the conception of happiness and on per-
ceived sources of happiness in life.
It is important to ask whether the happiness of Chinese people differs from
that of Western populations. Because there is little empirical work on the happi-
ness of Chinese people, we reviewed Chinese philosophical teachings to explore
two related issues: (a) What is meant by happiness in a traditional Chinese cul-
ture? and (b) How can happiness be achieved?
The word
did not appear in the Chinese language until recently.
is perhaps the closest equivalent of happiness in Chinese ancient
writings. However, its definition, which is extremely vague, usually means “any-
thing positive and good in life”
1987, p. 127). Wu (1991)
pointed out that longevity, prosperity, health, peace, virtue, and a comfortable
death are among the best values in life, namely,fu
Roughly, the Chinese peo-
ple’s conception of happiness includes material abundance, physical health, vir-
tuous and peaceful life, and relief from death anxiety.
Confucianism has been the dominant value system in Chinese societies and
the most powerful influence shaping the Chinese culture and the conceptions of
Chinese people for thousands of years. Confucian philosophy presupposes that
the life of each individual is only a link in that person’s family lineage and that
an individual is a continuation of his or her ancestors. The same reasoning can be
applied to an individual’s offspring. Although this teaching does not necessarily
imply belief in reincarnation, it does put one’s family in the center of one’s life
and everyday existence. Unlike Christianity-dominated Western cultures, Chi-
nese culture does not proclaim the pursuit of salvation in the next life as the ulti-
mate concern; rather, it advocates that one should strive to expand and preserve
the prosperity and vitality of one’s family.
achieve this goal, one must work
hard and be frugal to accumulate material resources, obtain respectable social
status, suppress selfish desires, lead a virtuous life, and fulfill one’s social duties.
The emphasis on social interaction found in Confucianism provides a basis for
understanding the Chinese conception of happiness.
Yang and Cheng (1987) divided the Confucian values, still well preserved in
Taiwan, into four groups. Family factors include family responsibilities and obe-
dience to one’s elders. Group factors include accepting the hierarchical structure
of society; trust in and obedience to authority; and commitment to the solidarity,
harmony, and norms of the group. Job-orientation factors include education, skill
learning, hard work, and frugality. Disposition factors include austerity, calm-
ness, humility, and self-control. Putting these values into practice should lead to
happiness in life.
Wu (1992) asserted that Confucian happiness is achieved though “knowl-
edge, benevolence, and harmony of the group” (p. 31). Confucian philosophy
stresses the collective welfare of the family, or clan (extending to society and the
entire human race) more than individual welfare. Under this collectivist orienta-
tion, Chinese culture emphasizes sharing the fruits of individual success with the
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Social Psychology
group. Contributing to society is the ultimate happiness, whereas hedonistic
striving for happiness is regarded as unworthy and even shameful.
Some views of happiness are shared by the Chinese people and Western
populations, and some are uniquely Chinese. Both cultures view the ultimate
state of life and the inner, positive nature of experience as part of their concep-
tion of happiness; thus, the nature of happiness and its state of experience
universal. The differences between the Western and Chinese views of happiness
lie in the potential sources of happiness, or the means to achieve happiness.
Western culture values individual striving, control, and achievement. According
to Chinese philosophy, constant personal introspection, improvement, self-con-
trol, and practicing of moral virtues are important paths leading to meaning in
life and, ultimately, happiness. Thus, happiness goes far beyond the individual
sphere of life into the group, community, and societal spheres of existence. This
view of happiness reflects collectivistic values and concerns. Researchers study-
ing the happiness of Chinese people should consider more distinct sources
happiness that are not covered in Western measures such as the
Our pur-
pose in the present article was twofold: (a) to explore perceived sources of hap-
piness among residents of Kaohsiung, Taiwan, and (b) to compare them with
those of Western populations.
We interviewed 54 community residents of Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Because
previous research has indicated that sources of happiness may be heavily influ-
enced by the individual’s lifestyle or age group (Argyle, 1987), we limited our
sample to adults between the ages of
and 60. The sample consisted of 26 per-
aged 18-29 (48.1%), 16 persons aged 30-39 (29.6%), 12 persons aged
40-49 (22.2%), and
persons aged
Among those interviewed, 34 were men (63%) and 20 were women (37%).
One person was illiterate (1.8%),
had completed primary school (16.2%), 14 had
completed junior school (25.2%),
had completed high school (14.4%), and 22
had a college education or above (39.6%). The average educational attainment of
the participants was high school graduation, which is close to the national average.
To reflect the exploratory nature of the study, we adopted a qualitative
approach. The second author conducted semistructured interviews at a large
square in the center of town, a popular location for leisure pursuits and public
meetings. Data reported here
mainly responses to two questions: (a) “What
is happiness?” and (b) “What sort of things will make you happy?’
time limit
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was set; instead, we applied the saturation principle, and the researcher termi-
nated an interview when the respondent stopped providing new information.
Tape-recorded interviews were transcribed; then, possible sources of happi-
ness were extracted and recorded on a separate list to form the final transcript for
analysis. Altogether, the respondents supplied
sources of happiness. We had
preset the desired level of analysis by developing a classification scheme to orga-
nize the reported sources of happiness into meaningful categories. To achieve this
objective, we formed a research group consisting of three psychologists and one
sociologist. After reading the transcript many times, interpreting meanings, look-
ing for themes, and organizing these themes, each researcher developed a tenta-
tive classification plan. The research group then engaged in a thorough discus-
sion, comparing and revising these tentative plans. Eventually, the group reached
a consensus on a master classification scheme consisting of nine categories. This
discussion and revision process was necessary to achieve intersubjectivity, hence
ensuring acceptable reliability and validity for the study.
Results and
The nine-category classification scheme for sources
happiness was as follows:
1. Gratification of need for respect, for example, “being praised and respect-
Harmony of interpersonal relationships, for example, “having a warm
Satisfaction of material needs, for example, “having enough money to
Achievement at work, for example, “work offering a sense of achieve-
Being at ease with life, for example, “submissive to fate” or “understand-
Taking pleasure at others’ expense, for example, “having a holiday, while
Sense of self-control and self-actualization, for example, “achieving one’s
Pleasure and positive affect, for example, “a relaxed mood” or “nothing to
Health, for example, “no illness.”
We compared the empirical data on sources
happiness with the Chinese
philosophical teachings, especially Confucian values. First, we used interperson-
al interaction as a framework and found that happiness was manifested by grati-
the need for respect through others’ positive recognition of one’s con-
duct or success. The conception
happiness as harmony in interpersonal
relationships conveys a desire for solidarity and loyalty, especially within the
ed by others” or “being looked up to.”
family” or “offspring having high achievements.”
spend” or “making lots of money.”
ment” or “being creative at work and achieving goals.”
ing meaning of life.”
others are working hard.”
goals in life” or “trying one’s best and getting desired feedback.”
make one angry.”
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family or clan. Satisfaction of material needs and achievement at work are two
serving one’s family and glorifying one’s clan.
Second, the Chinese philosophical ideal of a virtuous life and peace in under-
standing the meaning of life were also evident in our data. Sense of self-control and
self-actualization refer mainly to practicing moral virtues through self-monitoring
and self-improvement. Being at ease with life, which may reflect a depth compo-
nent of happiness, corresponds to the traditional Chinese philosophy of submission
to, rather than control over, the environment. It also represents the desirable end-
state of life, namely, harmony among heaven, earth, and people.
Third, in Chinese society, longevity has always been regarded as a
almost as a virtue. Health as a source
happiness reflects this traditional value.
There were some discrepancies between the traditional philosophical teach-
ings and values and the modern conception of happiness in Taiwan. In a tradi-
tional society, aspirations such as glorifying one’s family or clan and benefiting
society could be fulfilled through an oficial career-typically after extensive
study and passing many examinations. In modem Chinese society, especially in
a heavily industrialized society like Taiwan, the same underlying motive and
value still exist, but specific goals have shifted from careers in government ser-
vice to careers in business. Hence, the pursuit of money and material affluence
was salient in this classification of sources
Another unexpected finding was that taking pleasure at others’ expense was
considered as a source of happiness. In fact, the phenomenon is within most peo-
ple’s realm
experience; downward social comparison is a common form of
interpersonal judgment.
Chinese idiom dubs it
angry at others’ haves, laughing
at others’ have-nots.
Of course, this darker side of happiness is not to be found in
idealistic teachings of the Chinese philosophers. It does, however, underscore the
importance of comparing theoretical frameworks and empirical evidence.
We found some age differences in terms of sources of happiness. The
sources of happiness that were mentioned most frequently were pleasure and
positive affect for respondents aged
satisfaction of material needs for
those aged
achievement at work for those aged
gratification of
need for respect for those aged
and being at ease with life for those
older than
This pattern of apparent differential importance in sources of
happiness corresponds to specific concerns relevant to particular stages in life.
However, the importance of family and interpersonal relationships was not
affected by age, a finding that is consistent with the Chinese emphasis on the
social being.
In conclusion, the Western conception of happiness seems to place greater
emphasis on intrapersonal or internal evaluation and contentment, whereas the
Chinese conception emphasizes interpersonal or external evaluation and satis-
faction. This split is consistent with Triandis’s (1994) distinction between indi-
vidualism and collectivism. However, the Chinese and the Western conceptions
happiness do have some similarities, such as pleasure and positive affect.
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... Happiness may be viewed and experienced as an interpersonal process rather than an intrapersonal one (Lu & Shih, 2010) within the context of one's relationships with others. Harmony in interpersonal relationships (with friends and family) in particular has been identified as a major indicator of happiness among Malaysians, Indonesians (Jaafar et al., 2012), Taiwanese (Lu & Shih, 1997), and South Africans (Pflug, 2009). In an international study with samples from 12 countries, South Indians were more likely to make references to society and community than Portuguese, when asked to define happiness (Delle Fave et al., 2016). ...
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The ways in which parents socialize positive emotions have important implications for youth wellbeing, though little is known about parental goals and responses to adolescents’ happiness in culturally diverse families. Using an open-ended qualitative methodology, we explored parent and adolescent views about situations leading to happiness, responses and justifications to the expression of happiness, and what parents would like to teach their children about happiness in a sample of 209 parent (56.3% fathers; Mage = 42.79 years) and adolescent (85.2% girls, Mage = 14.95 years) dyads in Bengaluru, India. When prompted to identify adolescents’ recent experiences of happiness, both parents and adolescents primarily described academic and extracurricular achievements, followed by special events and receipt of tangible items, social interactions, and overcoming difficult situations. The two most common parent responses to adolescents’ happiness were responding with appreciation or encouragement of the achievement and providing further instruction or advice, with fewer responses focusing on enhancing/maintaining the emotional state of happiness itself. A substantial proportion of participating parents reported that their child should focus on task improvement when feeling happy, followed by affect maintenance (i.e., the child should “be happy”), or express their emotion with restraint. The findings contribute to developing a culturally-informed understanding of socialization of happiness in diverse families.
This study aims to reveal that the subjective happiness of individuals is affected not only by socioeconomic conditions but also by the local environments in which they live, and the conditions demanded by citizens in the local environment may vary depending on the level of happiness. We use the 2018 Seoul Survey of approximately 40,000 citizens (±0.4%p sampling error at 95% confidence level) and generate a final sample of 30,728 individuals between the ages of 25 and 65 years. The results of the unconditional quantile regression show a heterogeneous (non-linear) relationship between happiness and local environments. More specifically, we observe a decreasing importance of physical environments (leisure, green spaces, pedestrian spaces, public transit, public amenities, and community pride) and a increasing importance of socio-relational characteristics of the environment (trust, altruism, and safety) with increasing quantiles of happiness. Our findings suggest that public policies aimed at promoting citizen happiness through improving the local environments should more actively consider issues of efficiency and equity.
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Despite spectacular economic growth, most East Asian countries (especially those with the Confucian cultures) score relatively low in happiness surveys. This chapter discusses the reasons for this East-Asian happiness gap, including environmental disruption, excessive competitiveness, repressive education, excessive conformity, negative attitudes towards enjoyment, and the emphasis on outward appearance. Implications on the desired direction of future growth especially regarding the relative importance of public spending on the environment and research and the non-material aspects of life are also briefly touched on.
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The aims of this study are to investigate definitions and explanations of the concept of happiness, and to introduce a model to classify lay definitions of happiness. This study is part of a longitudinal Croatian study on well-being (the CRO-WELL project). Answers to the open-ended question “What is happiness for you?” from a sample of adult Internet users (Nfemale= 1,036 and Nmale= 839; Mage=38) were analyzed. The definitions were classified regarding four perspectives based upon which question the respondents were assumed to have actually been answering, summarized as the RISE model: Rationale for Happiness – answering the question “How does happiness work?”; Impressions of Happiness – answering the question “How does it feel to be happy?”; Sources of Happiness – answering the question “What makes you happy?”; and the Essence of Happiness – answering the question “What is happiness?”
Conference Paper
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Gelir Dağılımı ve Kültürel Faaliyet Harcamaları İlişkisi: Türkiye Örneği
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This book is about the degree to which people take pleasure in life: in short 'happiness'. It tries to identify conditions that favor a positive appreciation of life. Thus it hopes to shed more light on a longstanding and intriguing ques­ tion and, possibly, to guide attempts to improve the human lot. During the preceding decades a growing number of investigations have dealt with this issue. As a result there is now a sizable body of data. Yet it is quite difficult to make sense of it. There is a muddle of theories, concepts and indicators, and many of the findings seem to be contradictory. This book attempts to bring some order into the field. The study draws on an inventory of empirical investigations which involved valid indicators of happiness; 245 studies are involved, which together yield some 4000 observations: for the main part correlational ones. These results are presented in full detail in the simultaneously published 'Databook of Happiness' (Veenhoven 1984). The present volume distils conclusions from that wealth of data. It tries to assess the reality value of the findings and the degree to which correlations reflect the conditions of happiness rather than the consequences of it. It then attempts to place the scattered findings in context. As such, this work is not a typical study of literature on happiness.
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The theory that happiness is relative is based on three postulates: (1) happiness results from comparison, (2) standards of comparison adjust, (3) standards of comparison are arbitrary constructs. On the basis of these postulates the theory predicts: (a) happiness does not depend on real quality of life, (b) changes in living-conditions to the good or the bad have only a shortlived effect on happiness, (c) people are happier after hard times, (d) people are typically neutral about their life. Together these inferences imply that happiness is both an evasive and an inconsequential matter, which is at odds with corebeliefs in present-day welfare society.Recent investigations on happiness (in the sense of life-satisfaction) claim support for this old theory. Happiness is reported to be as high in poor countries as it is in rich countries (Easterlin), no less among paralyzed accident victims than it is among lottery winners (Brickman) and unrelated to stable livingconditions (Inglehart and Rabier). These sensational claims are inspected but found to be untrue. It is shown that: (a) people tend to be unhappy under adverse conditions such as poverty, war and isolation, (b) improvement or deterioration of at least some conditions does effect happiness lastingly, (c) earlier hardship does not favour later happiness, (d) people are typically positive about their life rather than neutral.It is argued that the theory happiness-is-relative mixes up overall happiness with contentment. Contentment is indeed largely a matter of comparing life-as-it-is to standards of how-life-should-be. Yet overall hapiness does not entirely depend on comparison. The overall evaluation of life depends also on how one feels affectively and hedonic level of affect draws on its turn on the gratification of basic bio-psychological needs. Contrary to acquired standards of comparison these innate needs do not adjust to any and all conditions: they mark in fact the limits of human adaptability. To the extend that it depends on need-gratification, happiness is not relative.
Reviews the literature since 1967 on subjective well-being (SWB [including happiness, life satisfaction, and positive affect]) in 3 areas: measurement, causal factors, and theory. Most measures of SWB correlate moderately with each other and have adequate temporal reliability and internal consistency; the global concept of happiness is being replaced with more specific and well-defined concepts, and measuring instruments are being developed with theoretical advances; multi-item scales are promising but need adequate testing. SWB is probably determined by a large number of factors that can be conceptualized at several levels of analysis, and it may be unrealistic to hope that a few variables will be of overwhelming importance. Several psychological theories related to happiness have been proposed; they include telic, pleasure and pain, activity, top–down vs bottom–up, associanistic, and judgment theories. It is suggested that there is a great need to more closely connect theory and research. (7 p ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2010 APA, all rights reserved)
What is happiness? Why are some people happier than others? This new edition of The Psychology of Happiness provides a comprehensive and up-to-date account of research into the nature of happiness. Major research developments have occurred since publication of the first edition in 1987 - here they are brought together for the first time, often with surprising conclusions. Drawing on research from the disciplines of sociology, physiology and economics as well as psychology, Michael Argyle explores the nature of positive and negative emotions, and the psychological and cognitive processes involved in their generation. Accessible and wide-ranging coverage is provided on key issues such as: the measurements and study of happiness, mental and physical health; the effect of friendship, marriage and other relationships on positive moods; happiness, mental and physical health; the effects of work, employment and leisure; and the effects of money, class and education. The importance of individual personality traits such as optimism, purpose in life, internal control and having the right kind of goals is also analysed. New to this edition is additional material on national differences, the role of humour, and the effect of religion. Are some countries happier than others? This is just one of the controversial issues addressed by the author along the way. Finally the book discusses the practical application of research in this area, such as how happiness can be enhanced, and the effects of happiness on health, altruism and sociability. This definitive and thought-provoking work will be compulsive reading for students, researchers and the interested general reader
Reigning measures of psychological well-being have little theoretical grounding, despite an extensive literature on the contours of positive functioning. Aspects of well-being derived from this literature (i.e., self-acceptance, positive relations with others, autonomy, environmental mastery, purpose in life, and personal growth) were operationalized. Three hundred and twenty-one men and women, divided among young, middle-aged, and older adults, rated themselves on these measures along with six instruments prominent in earlier studies (i.e., affect balance, life satisfaction, self-esteem, morale, locus of control, depression). Results revealed that positive relations with others, autonomy, purpose in life, and personal growth were not strongly tied to prior assessment indexes, thereby supporting the claim that key aspects of positive functioning have not been represented in the empirical arena. Furthermore, age profiles revealed a more differentiated pattern of well-being than is evident in prior research. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)