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Integrating the Diverse Denitions of Happiness: A
Time-Sequential Framework of Subjective Well-
Christie N. SCOLLON
Singapore Management University, firstname.lastname@example.org
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Kim-Prieto, C., Diener, E., Tamir, M., SCOLLON, Christie N., & Diener, M..(2005). Integrating the Diverse Denitions of Happiness:
A Time-Sequential Framework of Subjective Well-Being. Journal of Happiness Studies, 6(3), 261 - 300.
Available at: hp://ink.library.smu.edu.sg/soss_research/922
CHU KIM-PRIETO, ED DIENER, MAYA TAMIR,
CHRISTIE SCOLLON and MARISSA DIENER
INTEGRATING THE DIVERSE DEFINITIONS OF
HAPPINESS: A TIME-SEQUENTIAL FRAMEWORK
OF SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING
ABSTRACT. The ﬁeld of subjective well-being (SWB) is primarily concerned
with people’s evaluation of their lives; however, it includes a wide range of
concepts, from momentary moods to global life satisfaction judgments. We
propose a framework that integrates these diverse constructs. Our sequential
temporal framework of subjective well-being describes experiences of well-
being from the events and circumstances that cause evaluative reactions,
through the emotional reactions to these events, to recall of these reactions,
and ﬁnally to global judgments of well-being based on the previous stages. The
hypothesized processes that translate the various steps in the sequence into one
another are described, and supporting evidence is reviewed. We outline the
implications of our framework for understanding subjective well-being, and
discuss the research that is needed to further explore the proposed framework.
KEY WORDS: emotion, subjective well-being, mood, happiness.
INTEGRATING THE DIVERSE DEFINITIONS OF HAPPINESS: A
TIME-SEQUENTIAL FRAMEWORK OF SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING
Subjective well-being (SWB) encompasses a wide range of com-
ponents, such as happiness, life satisfaction, hedonic balance,
fulﬁllment, and stress, and holds at its core affective and cogni-
tive evaluation of one’s life. It also extends from the speciﬁc
and concrete to the global and abstract: momentary experiences
versus people’s global judgments about their entire lives.
Research on SWB has grown in prominence in the scientiﬁc
literature in recent years. Over 4,000 studies are listed in
PsychInfo under ‘‘life satisfaction,’’ and almost 4000 studies are
listed for ‘‘happiness.’’ On the negative end of the subjective
well-being dimension, PsychInfo lists over 30,000 studies about
major depression and approximately 40,000 studies on stress.
SWB has been extensively studied in relation to demographic
Journal of Happiness Studies (2005) 6:261–300 ÓSpringer 2005
factors such as marriage (Lucas et al., 2003; Reis and Gable,
2003) and income (Diener and Biswas-Diener, 2002, for a re-
view), personality factors (Diener and Lucas, 1999), coping (e.g.,
King et al., 2000), and goal pursuit (Emmons, 1986). Research
on its heritability (e.g., Tellegen et al., 1988), and cross-cultural
generalizability (see Diener et al., 2003, for a review) has been
growing, and scientists have examined the beneﬁts of positive
emotions (Fredrickson, 1998) and SWB (e.g., Diener et al., 2002).
This boom in scientiﬁc inquiry is also reﬂected in the impor-
tance of happiness to the lay mind: In a recent survey of over
9000 college students in 47 nations, happiness was rated at 8.1
on a nine-point scale of importance, making it the highest
regarded of the 20 given values (e.g., love, wealth, health, and
getting into heaven). Over half of the respondents rated the
importance of happiness as a ‘‘9’’, while only 3 percent indi-
cated that they did not value happiness at all.
The interest in SWB by academics as well as the lay public is
high, and the extent of research that is encompassed by SWB is far
ﬂung: The variables representing SWB are manifold, as are the
measures. This booming popularity bodes well for the future of
SWB research. But it has also resulted in confusion and contention
regarding the measurement and meaning of SWB. We propose a
framework for integrating the variables in the area of SWB, and
review the factors that inﬂuence the relationship between the com-
ponents. However, before we outline and explain our framework,
we ﬁrst review the current status of SWB research.
Current Approaches to SWB Research
People gauge their SWB in a number of different ways. For
example, one can appraise large segments of one’s life, such as
work, social relationships, or marriage. Or, one can gauge hap-
piness by recalling emotions felt during a speciﬁc event, such as
Christmas dinner. Or, one can rely on current mood or sponta-
neous emotional reactions.
Given these multiple components that are involved in the
estimation of SWB, three main approaches to SWB can be
identiﬁed. Each approach offers a unique conceptualization of
SWB, and relies on different kinds of measures. The ﬁrst
approach views SWB as a global assessment of life and its
C.KIM-PRIETO ET AL.
facets. According to this approach, knowledge of SWB requires
access to personal global judgments of satisfaction and quality
of life. Research based on this approach often involves large
surveys, in which respondents are asked to self-report on their
general happiness or satisfaction with large global domains,
such as work or social relationships. An example of this ap-
proach is the Eurobarometer questions administered to a thou-
sand respondents twice a year in each of the European Union
A second approach views SWB as a recollection of past emo-
tional experiences. Within this framework, researchers assess
people’s evaluations of their lives by asking participants about
their emotions over the last week, last month, or other speciﬁc
timeframes. Instead of inquiring about how happy or satisﬁed a
person is in general, researchers in the second tradition ask
respondents to recall whether they experienced a number of rel-
evant feelings, such as ‘‘depressed,’’ ‘‘joyful,’’ or ‘‘on top of the
world’’ during a certain period of time (Bradburn, 1969). Rather
than relying on a global judgment of satisfaction, this approach
focuses on memories of past emotions.
A third approach views SWB as an aggregation of multiple
emotional reactions across time (Kahneman, 1999). Because this
approach emphasizes on-line emotional experiences, it often re-
lies on the experience sampling method (ESM). In ESM, people
report on their current emotions several times a day, over a set
period of time, usually varying from one week to several weeks.
The researcher obtains an estimate of SWB by aggregating the
participants’ reports and examining average mood, emotional
intensity, aﬀect variability, and other temporal aﬀective vari-
ables. In some cases, the researcher might also assess the
respondent’s feelings in diﬀerent situations (e.g., Fleeson, 2001).
In sum, because researchers have addressed SWB from multiple
perspectives, measures of SWB have also varied. Research on
SWB can include huge international samples (e.g., Suh et al.,
1998), small samples of undergraduate students (Emmons, 1986),
adolescents (McKnight et al., 2002), groups of elderly respondents
(Baltes and Mayer, 1999; Smith et al., 1999) or clinical popula-
tions (e.g., Frisch et al., 1992); it may use general surveys, speciﬁc
questionnaires, or experience sampling methods. Such variety
SEQUENTIAL FRAMEWORK OF SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING 263
inevitably raises questions about what these diﬀerent measures are
Explaining the Variety of SWB Measures
To what degree do the different facets of SWB converge? If the
measures used by the different approaches fully converge, this
would justify the use of SWB as an overarching construct, but
at the same time call for a reconceptualization of its different
components. On the other hand, if the measures are unrelated,
researchers would need to reconsider the usefulness of SWB as
a general construct, and focus on the unique and more speciﬁc
concepts emphasized by each approach.
Much research exists on the convergent validity of SWB
assessments. For example, do people’s global judgments of their
happiness correlate with their recall of events or their average
reported happiness when they are signaled at random moments?
The correlations between different measures tend to be positive,
but modest. For example, Balatsky and Diener (1993) found
that Russian students’ recall of good versus bad events in their
lives correlated 0.22 with a global measure of life satisfaction.
Pavot, Diener, Colvin, and Sandvik (1991) also found a correla-
tion of 0.42 among these measures in a U.S. sample. Thomas
and Diener (1990) estimated correlations in the range of 0.50 to
0.58 between on-line reports of the frequency of positive versus
negative aﬀect and recalled aﬀect, and estimated correlations
ranging from 0.02 to 0.62 for the intensity of aﬀect. Wirtz et al.
(2004) reported correlations between recall after one month and
on-line aﬀect in the 0.53 to 0.75 range. Lucas et al. (1996)
examined across a series of studies the correlation between glo-
bal life satisfaction and recalled aﬀect, and found correlations
ranging from 0.42 to 0.52 between life satisfaction and recalled
positive aﬀect, and between )0.30 and )0.51 between life satis-
faction and recalled negative aﬀect. Thus, the various SWB
measures appear related, but only at moderate levels.
When assessing the correlation between different measures of
SWB, researchers often assume that the assessments tap with a
varying degrees of measurement error an underlying latent con-
struct of SWB. For instance, Sandvik et al. (1993) found a
single factor underlying self-report and non self-report measures
C.KIM-PRIETO ET AL.
of SWB. Following this view, using diﬀerent measurement
methods are desirable because each measurement approach con-
tains diﬀerent measurement error (Diener and Fujita, 1995).
Some researchers have questioned the inherent validity of
speciﬁc SWB measures. Veenhoven (1993), for example, argues
that the concept that comes closest to reﬂecting SWB is global
life satisfaction. Although momentary moods might be assessed
accurately, they might not reﬂect true long-term subjective well-
being. For example, a person might experience enjoyable
moments, but end up concluding that his or her life was mean-
ingless (e.g., see Seligman, 2002). Kahneman, (1999), however,
argues the opposite. He suggests that on-line moods are the
most accurate and least biased measurement of SWB, and
therefore should have a privileged place among the measures.
However, the moderate correlations between various mea-
sures of SWB do not seem to be due to unreliability or invalidity
of the scales. In his review, Diener (1984) points to substantial
temporal reliabilities of the SWB scales, often in the 0.55–0.70
range. He further reviews studies showing that correlation of
peer reports and self-reports are in the 0.40 range (see also
Lucas et al., 1996), and self-report of SWB converges with ex-
pert, researcher, and staﬀ ratings on average of 0.52 when mea-
sures are corrected for unreliability (e.g., Sandvik et al., 1993).
Sandvik et al. (1993) found signiﬁcant correlations between
SWB scales and troubles (e.g., parental divorce), health symp-
toms, and personality inventories such as Optimism and Extra-
version scales. Thus, the SWB measures show substantial
validity and reliability, in spite of the less than satisfactory cor-
relations between the measurements of SWB.
Another explanation for the moderate correlations between
the measures is that they tap different constructs. This explana-
tion argues that moods, emotions, and long-term cognitive
judgments of one’s life each capture something different about
respondents’ reactions to their lives. According to this approach,
different measures are seen as addressing different constructs, all
grouped under the capacious canopy of SWB.
In sum, several explanations exist for the modest correlations
among the measures. One explanation views the different measures
as tapping a single construct with varying degrees of error, suggesting
SEQUENTIAL FRAMEWORK OF SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING 265
the existence of a single underlying SWB latent trait. Another ap-
proach suggests that some of the measured constructs are of superior
validity in assessing SWB than other methods of measurement. A
third approach views each measure as tapping a distinct construct,
suggesting that a single underlying latent trait does not exist, al-
though the different constructs might be correlated with each other.
The approach that we propose moves beyond the idea that
SWB is merely a vague term encompassing many independent con-
structs, or that it is an underlying unitary construct for which we
are searching out the best measure. We propose that while SWB is
a unitary construct, it changes through the passage of time. As
such, the different components that make-up the time-sequential
framework of SWB are related to each other in systematic ways.
Our framework is built on the idea that reactions to events
unfold over time, and that different measures of SWB reﬂect
different temporal stages in this developing process. It incorpo-
rates what is known about how current moods, as well as the
recall of emotions, inﬂuence global satisfaction judgments. Our
framework also includes ﬁndings on the memory for emotions,
and the factors besides on-line hedonic experiences that can
inﬂuence reports of recalled affect. Finally, it incorporates what
is known about how global SWB judgments are constructed.
Thus, we bring conceptual coherence to the diverse deﬁnitions
of SWB and to the manifold measures of this construct.
KEY POINTS AND IMPLICATIONS OF THE FRAMEWORK
Our framework makes several major points about SWB, and
has implications for interventions, measurement, and life choices
in the pursuit of well-being.
1. We frame SWB as a sequence of stages that unfold over
time, from instigating events and circumstances to global
evaluations of life.
2. The four major stages of SWB are related to one another and
follow a temporal sequence: (A) life circumstances and events;
(B) aﬀective reactions to those events; (C) recall of one’s reac-
tions; and (D) global evaluative judgment about one’s life.
3. In addition to the temporal unfolding, new factors also
C.KIM-PRIETO ET AL.
inﬂuence SWB at each stage. Thus, although each stage corre-
lates with the stages before it and after it, the correlations are
less than unity, even when controlling for measurement error.
4. Understanding SWB requires comprehending the entire
sequence of stages; no single stage is adequate by itself.
Thus, measurement of any single stage provides an incom-
plete picture of SWB, and assessing all four stages is neces-
sary for a complete understanding of subjective ill-being and
5. The four stages, and the transition processes between them,
indicate why people’s circumstances are only modestly
related to the global judgments they make about their lives.
6. The reason that personality has such a pervasive inﬂuence on
subjective well-being is that it inﬂuences all four of the stages.
7. The framework points to tradeoﬀs people might make in
trying to maximize their SWB. For example, people might
sacriﬁce positive hedonic experience at the second stage in
order to maximize positive global judgments of well-being
at the fourth stage.
8. We hypothesize return loops in the model such that later
stages in the framework may inﬂuence a new set of events and
reactions to them in the future by inﬂuencing people’s behav-
ior and reactions.
In the following sections, we present the steps of our sequential
framework in greater detail and discuss the relations between the
stages in the model. We also review how various measures map
onto speciﬁc stages, and discuss some of the variables that inﬂu-
ence each stage, as well as the relation between the stages. Finally,
we conclude with suggestions for future research that is needed in
order to further test our framework. Our overarching aim is to
demonstrate that different concepts and measures of SWB can be
understood within a comprehensive temporal framework.
THE SEQUENTIAL FRAMEWORK OF SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING
The framework presented in Figure 1 follows an event as it is
gradually modiﬁed and integrated into the complex network
SEQUENTIAL FRAMEWORK OF SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING 267
that includes the various measurements of SWB. The sequences
are not necessarily causal in nature, but rather reﬂect major
components of life evaluations as they evolve in time. The model
begins with objective events and circumstances that elicit emo-
tional reactions from the individual. Quality of life can be mea-
sured by assessing objective life circumstances, and economists
and sociologists have often assessed well-being at this level. It
should be noted, however, that this ﬁrst stage is not strictly sub-
jective well-being because this stage does not include people’s
reactions to their world. Nevertheless, because objective events
are often the initial targets of subjective evaluations, they appear
as the ﬁrst step of our conceptual temporal sequence.
The next stage involves the emotional responses to the events.
Emotional reactions involve multiple components, such as cogni-
tive appraisal, physiological reactions, and behavioral tenden-
cies. On-line recording of reactions, both in the laboratory and
in the natural world, have been used to assess SWB at this stage.
The experience sampling method invented by Csikszentmihalyi
and Larsen (1978) has been particularly popular for obtaining
self-reports of on-line emotional reactions (see Reis and Gable,
Goals & desires
Implicit theories of emotion
Time frame of the recall
The salience of information
Figure 1. A sequential framework for the study of subjective well-being.
C.KIM-PRIETO ET AL.
2000; Scollon et al., 2004, for reviews of this methodology).
Figure 1 lists several of the processes that inﬂuence the ways in
which events and circumstances can lead to emotional reactions,
and these will be reviewed later.
After the immediate emotional reactions diminish, they can
later be recalled. But as Figure 1 indicates, multiple factors
beyond emotional reactions are reﬂected when emotions are
recalled. Additional factors, such as the person’s self-concept or
current goals and concerns, can inﬂuence the recall of the emo-
In the last stage, people can think back about events and the
circumstances of their lives, and their reactions to them, and
address global evaluative questions, such as whether they are
satisﬁed with their marriage, are fulﬁlled at work, or feel happy.
This last stage can include information from any of the previ-
ous stages, including the immediately preceding stage of emo-
tion recall. Figure 1 shows some of the factors that are now
understood to inﬂuence global evaluations.
The following sections describe each stage of the framework
in more detail, and also provide information about some of the
factors that can inﬂuence the associations among the stages.
The following discussion is not meant to be exhaustive, but
serves to highlight some important factors that inﬂuence each
stage in the sequence and the transitions between them, to allow
for a better understanding of the multiple components that play
Life Events and Circumstances
People’s lives vary enormously in ways that would seem to
potentially have a huge impact on their well-being. Sociologists,
economists, and policy scholars often examine the differences in
life circumstances as direct measures of quality of life, without
recourse to subjective indicators. Economists often focus on
variables such as the per capita gross domestic product of na-
tions, in the belief that indices of income indicate individuals’
quality of life. Indeed, earnings correlate with variables such as
health, longevity, victimization, and mental health (Diener and
Biswas-Diener, 2002; Diener and C. Diener, 1995). Sociologists
and policy scholars often analyze additional objective indicators
SEQUENTIAL FRAMEWORK OF SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING 269
besides those traditionally studied by economists. For example,
they assess variables such as infant mortality, educational equal-
ity, longevity, and levels of violent crime to indicate the quality
of life of societies (for review, see Diener and Suh, 1997).
The Relation of Circumstances to the Later Stages
What is the relation between life events and circumstances and
SWB? Brickman and Campbell (1971) contended that we adapt
to life circumstances, and therefore live on a ‘‘hedonic tread-
mill,’’ where neither good nor bad circumstances make a diﬀer-
ence due to habituation. Despite the importance of this insight,
research has shown that adaptation is often not complete, and
that life circumstances do matter for various measures of SWB.
Even the data collected by Brickman et al. (1978) revealed that
diﬀerences between people’s SWB correlated with diﬀerences in
life circumstances. For example, Brickman et al. found that
people with spinal cord injuries had signiﬁcantly lower SWB
than others, although the authors suggested that these diﬀer-
ences were not as large as we might expect. The lottery winners
they studied had higher SWB than their control group, but the
diﬀerence was not signiﬁcant, perhaps because of the small
sample size and consequent lack of statistical power. Moreover,
other researchers have found that lottery winners do report
higher levels of SWB than various comparison groups (Smith
and Razzell, 1975).
Other studies also point to the power of people’s circum-
stances in inﬂuencing their SWB. For example, the correlation
between the average income of nations and the average SWB of
these societies is often around 0.70 (Diener and Biswas-Diener,
2002). Most people in America report positive levels of SWB
(Diener and C. Diener, 1995), whereas people living in the
slums of Calcutta more often have low SWB (Biswas-Diener
and Diener, 2001). Similarly, we ﬁnd that homeless individuals
in California, Oregon, and Calcutta all show low levels of SWB
(Biswas-Diener and Diener, 2003).
Longitudinal studies also suggest that life events and circum-
stances can inﬂuence SWB. In a large and representative sample
of Germans, we analyzed the longitudinal associations between
life satisfaction and life events. For example, women who
C.KIM-PRIETO ET AL.
started out with high life satisfaction showed a large drop when
their husbands died, and then slowly recovered over a period of
many years (Lucas et al., 2003). People who lost their jobs
showed a decline in life satisfaction and never fully recovered to
their former levels (Lucas et al., 2004).
As noted earlier, our framework indicates a temporally
evolving sequence, but one that does not imply a causal connec-
tion. On the contrary, as we describe later on, each stage in the
sequence is inﬂuenced by different factors, including earlier as
well as later steps in the sequence. Thus, the direction of inﬂu-
ence from events to reactions is not always unidirectional. For
example, happy people tend to make more money (Diener
et al., 2002), get married (Harker and Keltner, 2001), and have
better health (e.g., Danner et al., 2001; see Lyubomirsky et al.,
2002, for a review). Furthermore, extraverts tend to experience
a greater number of positive events, while neurotics experience
a greater number of negative events (Headey and Wearing,
1989; Magnus et al., 1993). Clearly, objective events do not
occur in a vacuum, but reﬂect multiple forces (both external as
well as internal) that operate in concert. We will refer to this
issue again when we discuss multiple sequence scenarios later in
Overall, life events and circumstances do appear to inﬂuence
later stages of SWB. However, such relations are often surpris-
ingly small. For example, Emmons and Diener (1985) found
correlations ranging from )0.06 to 0.10 for objective standing
in a domain and satisfaction with that domain. Suh et al. (1996)
found that young people largely adapt to many common life
events, such as promotions at work. Even in the case of
extremely negative events, such as mass shootings or plane
crashes, more than half of victims are able to ﬁnd beneﬁts in
the tragedy (Tennen and Aﬄeck, 2002). In addition, demo-
graphic factors such as education, marriage, income, and eth-
nicity together usually account for a small percentage of the
variance in measures of SWB (e.g., Campbell et al., 1976).
Taken together, these ﬁndings suggest that while life circum-
stances can inﬂuence reports of well-being, reactions to most life
circumstances vary so substantially that there is on average only
a modest relation between these circumstances and SWB. Several
SEQUENTIAL FRAMEWORK OF SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING 271
factors can account for this modest relation, two of which are
Habituation and Adaptation
Compared to facets of the environment that remain stable,
changing events can have special signiﬁcance for a person’s
SWB; however, people tend to habituate to their environments
such that life circumstances often do not have an intense inﬂu-
ence on the person’s affect (Brickman et al., 1978; Suh et al.,
1996). Adaptation also occurs to the aspects of the environment
that have remained stable for a long time. Because recent events
and changes in circumstances can have a large impact on SWB,
and long-standing circumstances often have a very small inﬂu-
ence, the correlation of circumstances and measures of SWB is
often modest across people. Long-term stable life circumstances
can have some inﬂuence on SWB (e.g., Biswas-Diener and
Diener, 2001), but recent events are more likely to produce
strong reactions that include substantial changes in SWB (e.g.,
Lucas et al., 2004; Suh et al., 1996). There is now clear evidence
that although important life events such as losing one’s job or
spouse have a strong immediate impact on measures of SWB,
the impact diminishes over time, although the individual may
never completely return to his or her original level of SWB
(Lucas et al., 2003, 2004). Over time, events and circumstances
that are stable come to have a diminishing impact, thereby
reducing the correlation between life circumstances and SWB in
studies that do not also examine how long the circumstances
have remained in place.
The Context of Situational Circumstances
Researchers studying the effects of events and demographic
variables on SWB have often concluded that the effects tend to
be relatively small. For example, Campbell et al. (1976) con-
cluded that all of the demographic variables they studied, taken
together, accounted for less than 20% of the variance in SWB.
However, the eﬀects of variables such as marriage and age
probably depend heavily on the situational speciﬁcs of those
variables. Good health enjoyed by a 70 year old may contribute
more to SWB than good health enjoyed by a 20 year old. Or,
C.KIM-PRIETO ET AL.
the eﬀects of widowhood on SWB may be diﬀerent for a person
surrounded by friends and family versus another woman who
only recently moved to a new location where she has little
social support. Thus, one reason that demographic and other
‘‘objective’’ social indicators correlate only modestly with the
subjective stages is that they are relatively imperfect indicators
of quality of life, and do not take into account important con-
textual factors which moderate people’s subjective reactions to
Emotional Reactions to Events and Circumstances
The next stage in our framework moves from the events and life
circumstances to the person’s reaction to these events. When a
life event occurs, a person appraises the event – how desirable it
is, whether she or he has the resources to cope with it, why the
event occurred, and so forth. The evaluation of events might
occur consciously as well as unconsciously (e.g., Robinson, 2000),
and these appraisals lead to varying emotions (e.g., Ortony et al.,
1988). Central to feelings of SWB is that reactions to events are
evaluative (feeling whether the events are good or bad), and in-
clude feelings of pleasantness and unpleasantness.
We cannot give a thorough description of all the processes
that comprise emotional reactions, but simply emphasize that
such reactions are complex phenomena that involve parallel
processes at multiple levels. For example, in addition to imme-
diate evaluations and later cognitive appraisals, an emotional
reaction often involves outward motor expression, such as facial
expressions, posture, vocalizations, and verbal expressions.
Emotional reactions also involve changes in physiological sys-
tems, such as neurochemical processes and activation of speciﬁc
brain regions. In addition, emotional responses to events also
include people’s verbal labels for their emotions, which contain
information about the explanation for the emotional feeling.
Because emotional reactions involve many systems, measure-
ment of such reactions have been based not only on self--
reports, but also on biological (Cacioppo et al., 2000) and
nonverbal measures (Keltner et al., 1999; Oettingen and
Seligman, 1990). Because an emotional reaction is a complex set
of responses to events, no single measure can fully capture it.
SEQUENTIAL FRAMEWORK OF SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING 273
On-line verbal reports of emotional reactions can be comple-
mented by nonverbal, physiological, and behavioral measures
(e.g., Larsen and Fredrickson, 1999) to yield a richer understanding
of emotional reactions. These measures of various components of
emotional reactions are usually moderately correlated with one an-
other. Thus, whereas well-being researchers have focused mainly on
self-report scales to assess on-line emotion, additional measure-
ments can oﬀer an invaluable contribution to the understanding
and assessment of well-being judgments.
The Transition from Objective Events to Emotional Reactions
Emotional reactions are responses to either internal or external
events. Although some events affect virtually all people because
they are almost universally appraised as good or bad, most
events produce varying reactions across people. Thus, the tran-
sition from life events and circumstances to people’s emotional
reactions to these events and circumstances has been a central
task in understanding SWB. Of course, importance of individ-
ual interpretation in understanding the emotional response to
external events has been undeniable from early days of emotion
theory (e.g., James, 1884), and one that has been much
researched by emotion scholars (e.g., Lyubomirsky and Tucker,
1998). Providing an exhaustive mapping of all the variables that
have been linked to emotional response would require an exten-
sive review onto itself, and beyond the scope and aim of our
current task. Thus, we merely provide some key examples from
the emotion literature of the ways that diﬀerent variables aﬀect
the transition from objective events to emotional reactions.
Personality appears to be one such key element. Personality
traits, such as extraversion and neuroticism, have been related
to reactivity to emotional stimuli (Canli et al., 2001; Larsen and
Ketelaar, 1991; Rusting and Larsen, 1997; Tamir et al., 2002;
Zelenski and Larsen, 1999). People diﬀer in how intensely they
respond to emotional events (Larsen and Diener, 1987; Larsen
et al., 1986, 1987), and in the duration of their emotional reac-
tions (Schimmack et al., 2000).
Another important element is appraisal and explanatory style
(Buchanan and Seligman, 1995). Several theories explain how
appraisals are made, and how habitual appraisal tendencies can
C.KIM-PRIETO ET AL.
inﬂuence SWB (e.g., Ortony et al., 1988; Seligman, 1995). At the
most basic level, appraisal processes lead to a valenced evalua-
tion of events in terms of their personal signiﬁcance. In addition
to appraising whether an event is positive or negative, people
also assess causal factors, personal control, and their ability to
cope. Some appraisals are learned and habitual. For example,
fear can be conditioned without conscious mediation (e.g.,
Robinson, 2000). Appraisal also occurs at the level of interpre-
tation; people diﬀer in the way they interpret and explain situ-
ations (Lyubomirsky and Ross, 1999; Lyubomirksy and
Tucker, 1998). For example, people who are aggressive tend to
appraise situations in more aggressive terms (e.g., Cohen et al.,
1998). Indeed, learned helplessness (Peterson and Seligman,
1984; Peterson et al., 1993), which is a pessimistic explanatory
style coupled with stable and global self attributions of nega-
tive outcomes, predict strong and persistent negative emotions
(see also Jackson et al., 2002).
Emotional Reactions and Well-Being
Thus far, we have discussed the nature of emotional reactions
and few select variables that mediate events and evaluative re-
sponses to them. However, even the approach that places the
greatest emphasis on speciﬁc emotional experiences does not
view single experiences as a reﬂection of long-term feelings of
well-being. Rather, multiple emotional reactions are aggregated
in order to reﬂect people’s feelings of well-being over time. Con-
sidering the fact that researchers often aggregate multiple emo-
tional reactions across time, it is important to identify the key
factors that inﬂuence the selection of the emotional reactions
that have long-term effects. One important factor that inﬂu-
ences long-term effects of emotional reactions is goals and per-
sonal desires. This is because although people can respond
emotionally to events at any given moment, only the reactions
that are relevant to general goals and concerns are likely to
inﬂuence SWB. For example, a person might encounter a snake
in the woods and experience intense fear, but such a reaction
does not necessarily have implications for that person’s sense of
happiness and satisfaction with life because they hardly ever go
for a walk in the woods. Thus, life circumstances and events
SEQUENTIAL FRAMEWORK OF SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING 275
most inﬂuence SWB when they either hinder or beneﬁt major
goal progress, or signify whether an important goal has been
obtained or lost (Cantor and Sanderson, 1999; Emmons, 1986).
Factors that are closely linked to personal goals appear to
have most impact on people’s reports of SWB. For example,
Andrews and Withey (1976) found that people’s evaluations of
things that are generally distant from their own lives, such as
the government and other institutions, have little relation to
measures of SWB. On the other hand, people’s evaluations of
factors closer to their lives, such as their social relationships
and jobs, correlate more closely with their reports of SWB.
Events such as recent widowhood strongly inﬂuence the re-
ports of SWB of most people (Lucas et al., 2003). While the
reason is not clear, we theorize that the death of a spouse has
a pervasive eﬀect on most people’s ability to meet many of
their desires and goals simply due to the fact that their spouse
is no longer present.
Goals and motivational concerns also mediate the relation
between external events and reactions to them, to the extent
that resources inﬂuence people’s ability to reach their goals.
Diener and Fujita (1995) found that resources, such as income,
were most relevant to measures of SWB if they were related to
the person’s goals (see also Crawford-Solberg et al., 2002). Fur-
thermore, personal resources, such as social support and
self-conﬁdence, were more important for reports of SWB than
were material goods. Objective social indicators of quality of
life are only modestly related to later stages in the SWB se-
quence because people have diﬀerent goals and values, and have
diﬀerent amounts of resources for obtaining their particular
In sum, the model described thus far indicates that external
events and circumstances are related to people’s affective and
cognitive reactions, but that this relation is mediated by pro-
cesses that vary considerably across individuals. Further, while
no one-to-one correspondence between events and circum-
stances and evaluative reactions to them exist, the two are
related in a systematic manner and depend on a variety of fac-
tors, such as explanatory style, adaptation, and the availability
of resources for meeting one’s goals.
C.KIM-PRIETO ET AL.
The Recall Stage
The next stage involves later recollections of an emotional reac-
tion to an event. Substantial research has been conducted on
the relation between memory and emotion, focusing on how
emotion is encoded, how it is recalled, and how emotion and
memory affect one another (e.g., Christianson, 1992). As sug-
gested by our framework, research ﬁndings show that although
on-line reports and recalled reports of the same emotional event
are related, they are not identical (e.g., Thomas and Diener,
1990). One cause of the discrepancy between on-line and retro-
spective reports of emotion is that memories of emotion are not
encoded in memory in a permanent form. Instead, emotional
memories are constantly being reconstructed based on present
emotional experiences, current values, beliefs, and motivations
(e.g., Ross and Wilson, 2000). Figure 1 indicates several factors
that inﬂuence the reconstruction of emotional memories, includ-
ing implicit theories of emotion, cultural norms regarding emo-
tions, and information conveyed in surveys, such as the recall
Indeed, one factor that inﬂuences the reconstruction of mem-
ory is people’s implicit theories about emotion. In this regard,
McFarland et al. (1987) demonstrated that when women were
asked to recall their mood during menses, they recalled more
negative emotions than they previously reported on-line: Im-
plicit theories about the relation between menstruation and
mood moderated the amount of negative emotion that was
remembered. Implicit theories about gender also operate in a
similar manner in that gender diﬀerences that are apparent in
retrospective reports of emotion can disappear when researchers
measure on-line emotion (Robinson and Clore, 2002; Robinson
et al., 1998).
Cultural beliefs also inﬂuence the transition from on-line to
remembered emotion. For example, Oishi (2002) found that
Asian Americans and European Americans diﬀered in their ret-
rospective ratings of emotion but not in their on-line reports of
emotion. When asked to recall their on-line moods, European
Americans remembered their week as very good and Asian
Americans remembered their week as mildly good, although the
two groups reported their mood as being equally mildly good
SEQUENTIAL FRAMEWORK OF SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING 277
on their on-line reports. It is possible that people are more
likely to recall feeling emotions that are normative for their cul-
ture, or recall feeling the emotions that ﬁt culturally with the
events they have been experiencing (see Markus and Kitayama,
1994, for why this might occur).
Other factors underlying the relation of on-line emotion
labeling and recalled affect include current appraisals of the ob-
ject or event causing the reaction. The recall of emotional
events can depend on the current state of the individual. Levine
and her colleagues (Levine, 1997; Levine et al., 2001) demon-
strated that people reconstruct their memories for emotion in
the direction of their current appraisals. In their study, chang-
ing evaluations of the presidential candidate Ross Perot led to
reconstructing one’s memory of how one felt earlier about Per-
ot’s actions. Thus, changes in appraisal of circumstances or
events can result in changes in memory for one’s previous reac-
tions to them.
Why are emotional memories susceptible to reconstruction?
Robinson and Clore (2002) suggest that when recalling emo-
tions over a wide time frame, individuals do not retrieve speciﬁc
instances and aggregate them to compute mean levels of aﬀect.
The recall task is diﬃcult, and respondents prefer to provide
quick answers to researchers’ questions. Consequently, people
rely on heuristic information such as their general self-concept,
implicit beliefs about emotion, or current mood, to inform their
estimates of past emotional experience. In support of this,
Feldman Barrett (1997) showed that individuals who score high
on self-report measures of neuroticism overestimated in their
recalled reports the amount of negative emotion they experi-
enced on-line. On the other hand, individuals who scored high
on self-reports of extraversion recalled more pleasant aﬀect then
they actually experienced on-line. Diener et al. (1984) showed a
similar eﬀect with happy versus unhappy people: Happy people
overestimated the amount of pleasant aﬀect in recall, whereas
unhappy people overestimated the amount of negative aﬀect in
One ﬁnal inﬂuence on recall is that the survey questions pre-
sented by the researcher can stimulate respondents to search for
different information. Winkielman et al. (1998) asked
C.KIM-PRIETO ET AL.
respondents about how much anger they had experienced, but
over time frames of either one week or one year. People re-
ported large amounts of anger for the week compared to what
would be expected for a year if extrapolated from the weekly
reports to a full year. Respondents appeared to set a threshold
for reporting that depended on the questions asked by the
researcher. When the interviewer asked about anger in a short
period, such as a day, the participant assumed that s/he must be
interested in any experience, even mild irritation, because
intense anger would be unlikely in such a brief period, and the
short time frame implied that the experience is frequent. When
the interviewer asked about anger over the course of a year,
however, the respondents assumed that s/he was inquiring
about intense anger episodes that could be recalled over a long
period, and provided an estimate of only intense anger experi-
ences. The two estimates are incommensurable in terms of the
translation of the frequency of anger from one time period to
the other because the subjects in the two conditions provide
information about diﬀerent emotional experiences. Thus,
reports of recall are not only inﬂuenced by memory factors, but
also by survey design variables that inﬂuence how participants
interpret the questions.
The above review indicates that recall does not provide a
precise duplicate of on-line experience, and that other inﬂuences
such as personality and culture can inﬂuence what is remem-
bered. Thus, measures of SWB that depend on recall are likely
to be inﬂuenced by these other factors in addition to on-line
past experiences. When people recall that they are more joyful
than other individuals, it might be because of on-line emotional
reactions, or it might be because of norms, interpretations of
survey items, or implicit beliefs about emotions.
Thus, memories of emotions are dynamic reﬂections of the
way emotions are being shaped and modiﬁed through time.
Emotion memories cannot be simply dismissed as biased reﬂec-
tions of the ‘‘real’’ on-line emotions because research indicates
that remembered emotions are sometimes better predictors of
behaviors than the actual on-line emotions themselves. For
example, Wirtz et al. (2004) found that participants’ memory of
their spring break vacation was a better predictor of whether
SEQUENTIAL FRAMEWORK OF SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING 279
they wanted to go on a similar vacation in the future than their
on-line emotions assessed during the vacation. Oishi (2004) also
found that people’s on-line feelings with their romantic partner
were not as important as the recall of these feelings in predict-
ing whether the partners would still be in the romantic relation-
ship six months later. Within our framework, on-line aﬀect and
recalled aﬀect no longer need to vie for the position of ‘‘true
emotional well-being.’’ Instead, both on-line aﬀect and recalled af-
fect are two diﬀerent ways of understanding subjective well-being.
Constructed Satisfaction Judgments
Global evaluations of one’s life occur at the ﬁnal phase of the
emotion sequence. For example, respondents can think about
and report whether their lives are meaningful, whether their
work is fulﬁlling, and whether their marriage is satisfactory.
Such global evaluations are distinctly different from both on-
line affective experiences and the recall of such experiences. In-
deed, one of the approaches to SWB mentioned earlier focuses
on global evaluations as the best indicator of SWB. In this sec-
tion, we describe this stage in further detail, emphasizing how it
relates to earlier stages in the framework.
Schwarz, Strack, and their colleagues (see Schwarz and
Strack, 1999, for a review) examined how people construct life
satisfaction judgments. Figure 1 lists several of the processes
these researchers have examined, including the accessibility of
speciﬁc standards of comparison, the salience of speciﬁc infor-
mation, the speciﬁcity of the evaluated target, and the inﬂuence
of current mood. Schwartz et al. shed considerable light on the
processes that inﬂuence the construction of global satisfaction
judgments, and we describe some of these factors below.
One process that affects people’s constructions of satisfaction
judgments is the standards that people use, whether consciously
or unconsciously, in making SWB judgments (Campbell et al.,
1976). Schwarz and Strack (1999) showed that the comparison
standards against which one judges one’s life could be altered
by priming. They asked participants to respond to satisfaction
questions when a person in a wheelchair was in the
C.KIM-PRIETO ET AL.
respondent’s view. In this case, life satisfaction was higher be-
cause respondents compared themselves to the person with a
disability. A similar ﬁnding was presented by Dermer et al.
(1979), who showed that people’s life satisfaction was higher if
life in the past was presented in an unfavorable light. In an-
other study, Schwarz and Scheuring (1988) varied the response
scales on items prior to the satisfaction judgment: Some sub-
jects had response scales with low options (suggesting that most
people are not that well oﬀ in the domain), whereas other par-
ticipants received items with response scales that were high
(indicating that most subjects are well oﬀ in this domain). The
response scales set standards against which subjects could gauge
their own level of success, and this inﬂuenced their later satis-
faction (for a review of this line of research, see Schwarz, 1996).
People can evaluate their satisfaction with their life as a whole,
but they can also rate their satisfaction with speciﬁc life do-
mains, including romantic relationships, career, physical appear-
ance, and many more. Because different targets could be related
to different experiences and goals, the target speciﬁcity of satis-
faction judgments might also inﬂuence the resulting evaluations.
Some research suggests that people may rely on different sour-
ces of information when evaluating their satisfaction with spe-
ciﬁc versus general life domains. For example, Schwarz et al.
(1987) suggested that people access domain-speciﬁc information
when evaluating speciﬁc life-domains, but rely on heuristic cues
(e.g., their current mood) when evaluating their satisfaction
with life as a whole. Although further research is needed to
compare general to speciﬁc life satisfaction judgments, the avail-
able research indicates that diﬀerent sources of information might
be salient to diﬀerent degrees when evaluating life satisfaction.
The information that is salient, and therefore highly accessible,
at the time of satisfaction judgment can strongly inﬂuence the
judgment (Schwarz and Strack, 1999). For example, in one study
(Strack et al., 1988) college student respondents were asked
about both their dating satisfaction and their life satisfaction,
SEQUENTIAL FRAMEWORK OF SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING 281
but the question order was counterbalanced, with half of the
subjects receiving the dating question ﬁrst. When the dating
question came before the life satisfaction question, the two
correlated substantially, but when the dating question came sec-
ond, the correlation was low. Presumably the concrete dating
question could inﬂuence the life satisfaction response by making
certain information salient, but the life satisfaction question
would be unlikely to inﬂuence the respondents’ satisfaction with
their romantic lives because this judgment is more bounded by
the reality of the situation. Schimmack et al. (2002) extended
these ﬁndings to the individual diﬀerence domain by showing
that for some individuals, information about romantic life is
more chronically salient than for other individuals, and therefore
is more likely to inﬂuence their life satisfaction judgment. Thus,
both situationally primed information and material that is
chronically salient for individuals are likely to be used in the
construction of life satisfaction judgments.
Later investigators built on the impressive work of Schwarz
and Strack. Schimmack et al. (2002) explored why, if momen-
tary situational factors inﬂuence reports of life satisfaction,
these reports tend to be very stable across time and situations
(Diener and Larsen, 1984; Eid and Diener, in press). They
found that the information people use in their judgments also
tends to be stable. People tend to use the same sources of infor-
mation repeatedly over time, and the information itself tends to
be somewhat stable. For example, Schimmack et al. found that
whether individuals used their family relationships in judging
their life satisfaction was moderately stable over time. In addi-
tion, the ratings of family relationships were themselves some-
what stable over time. It appears that some information is
chronically accessible to individuals, and tends to be used
repeatedly when they report their satisfaction, unless other
information is made more salient by the situational context.
Thus, global satisfaction judgments are likely to be based on
some chronically salient information, as well as information
that has recently been primed by situational factors.
In addition to individual differences in the domains of infor-
mation people use when making life satisfaction judgments, indi-
vidual differences also exist in the way people use information.
C.KIM-PRIETO ET AL.
Diener et al. (2002) found that some individuals most heavily
weight the domains in which they have the biggest problems in
judging their life satisfaction, whereas other individuals most
heavily weight their best domains
. At the societal level, some
cultures focus people more on positive or on negative informa-
tion (e.g., Elliot et al., 2001; Lee et al., 2000), and this can
change the emotional information they recall when making
global life judgments. In a similar vein, Diener et al. (2000)
found that a general positivity disposition predicts average life
satisfaction judgments across nations. Thus, it is clear that both
stable individual diﬀerences and situational factors inﬂuence
global judgments of life satisfaction.
A strength of a life satisfaction measure is its ﬂexibility: Peo-
ple can consider or ignore information that they personally con-
sider relevant or irrelevant when making judgments about life
satisfaction. However, this ﬂexibility leaves open the possibility
that situational factors can inﬂuence the judgment by making
certain information more salient to the respondent. This also
explains why objective predictors are often only modestly re-
lated to global satisfaction judgments; some respondents might
view the predictor as relevant to his or her global evaluation,
whereas others may not. Schimmack et al. (2002) found, for
example, that almost all student respondents considered pro-
gress toward their academic goals when making life satisfaction
judgments, but only about half of them considered their current
mood or housing arrangement to be relevant. Individual diﬀer-
ences in goals, as well as culture (Oishi and Diener, 2001), are
likely to inﬂuence what people consider important when evalu-
ating their lives.
Relation of Global Judgments to Previous Stages in the Model
In order to compute a judgment of life satisfaction or fulﬁll-
ment, people can use affective information, such as their recall
of positive emotions. Suh et al. (1998) found that recall of aﬀect
correlated with life satisfaction judgments, and Schimmack
et al. (2002) found evidence suggesting that individuals retrieve
emotional information when forming life satisfaction judgments.
However, both studies suggest that individual diﬀerences exist
SEQUENTIAL FRAMEWORK OF SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING 283
in the relative degree to which people rely on past emotional
experiences when making global judgments of life satisfaction.
Alternatively, although life satisfaction and on-line emotion
are related, they are not the same thing. Lucas et al. (1996)
used a multitrait-multimethod approach to examine the relation
between emotional experience and life satisfaction. Although
signiﬁcantly correlated, global reports of positive aﬀect and neg-
ative aﬀect showed separability from reports of life satisfaction.
Similarly, Eid and Diener (in press), found a correlation of 0.74
between the variables at the latent trait level. Thus, long-term
aﬀect accounted for about half of the variability in life satisfac-
tion when the eﬀects of current mood and situational variability
were removed from each measure. When constructing global
SWB judgments, people take more than their pleasant and
unpleasant emotions into account. For example, Schimmack
et al. (2002) found that objective circumstances, such as college
grades, housing, and romantic relationships, held some impor-
tance in life satisfaction judgments.
Figure 1 presents a sequence that includes the major temporal
components of SWB. These stages incorporate objective events
and circumstances that people experience in their lives, the sub-
jective emotional reactions to such events, the memories of speciﬁc
emotional reactions, and the global judgments of life satisfaction.
While these stages unfold over time, we do not imply progressive
development such that one stage turns into another. Instead, these
stages in the SWB sequence are related, but not identical. Most
current research on well-being is related to one of three ap-
proaches outlined earlier in this paper. Whereas each of these
approaches emphasizes one stage in the sequence, our framework
suggests that each stage is one of several diﬀerent forms of evalua-
tion that people make about their SWB. No stage in the frame-
work can single-handedly provide a full account of subjective
well-being; rather, the interrelationship of the stages is crucial to a
full understanding of how people evaluate their lives. The frame-
work therefore incorporates several important factors that inﬂu-
ence both speciﬁc stages and the transitions between them.
C.KIM-PRIETO ET AL.
Multiple Sequence Scenarios
Our framework shows a simpliﬁed version of emotional experi-
ences in real life. In everyday life, people are exposed to multiple
events, which lead to multiple emotions that can later be recalled
separately or in combination. Thus, a sequential path as the one
depicted in Figure 1 does not occur in a vacuum; rather, it con-
stantly inﬂuences and is inﬂuenced by other sequences along the
temporal continuum. Thus, an event that occurs at stage, whe-
ther it be the occurrence of an emotional event, a memory of an
emotional event, or global evaluation, inﬂuences what happens at
other stages of other events. As shown in Figure 2, one can
examine the relation between two adjacent sequences, where se-
quence 1 occurs on a temporal continuum before sequence 2. Be-
cause a thorough overview of all possible relations is beyond the
scope of this paper, we will brieﬂy discuss two examples: Eﬀects
of previous stages on future events and circumstances, and the
eﬀects of concurrent events on emotional experience.
Effects on Future Objective Outcomes
Our daily experiences are constantly shaped and modiﬁed by
experiences from our past. This is especially true in the ﬁeld of
emotion and SWB, because valenced evaluations of life can inﬂu-
ence patterns of choice and behavior, reactivity, and evocation.
event emotional reaction recall global judgment
event emotional reaction recall global judgment
event emotional reaction recall global judgment
event emotional reaction recall global judgment
Figure 2. Examples for relations between multiple sequences.
SEQUENTIAL FRAMEWORK OF SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING 285
By using our framework, one can examine how different compo-
nents of SWB inﬂuence objective life outcomes. As shown in Fig-
ure 2a, each stage in an earlier sequence can contribute to the
prediction of future life events and circumstances.
In this respect, positive emotional states are likely to elicit
positive reactions from others (Lyubomirsky et al., 2002). Posi-
tive emotions can also alter performance by increasing creativ-
ity, income, work performance, health, and other variables that
are valued in many cultures. Thus, emotional reactions can
inﬂuence later events and life circumstances. For example, re-
search shows that recalled emotions can be a better predictor of
future events than the actual on-line experiences (Wirtz et al,
2004; Oishi, 2004). Furthermore, global judgments of job
satisfaction can mediate the relation between work environment
and turnover (Lambert et al., 2001), as well as predict outcome
variables such as productivity and company proﬁt (Harter et
al., 2002). Thus, each of the three subjective stages can inﬂuence
later objective events and circumstances.
Multiple Effects of On-line Emotions
In addition to noting possible relations between past stages and
future outcomes, our framework also points to the multiple ef-
fects each stage can have on stages in future or parallel se-
quences. For example, Figure 2b indicates the potential eﬀects
of current emotions on each of the four stages in a subsequent
We have already mentioned the possible effects of emotional
reaction on the prediction of future outcomes. However,
on-going emotional reactions can also inﬂuence the way people
respond emotionally to other events in the environment. For
example, positive affect increases selective attention to positive
information (Tamir and Robinson, 2004), which might serve to
maintain positive feelings. Indeed, many studies have docu-
mented the effects of emotion on concurrent cognition and eval-
uation. In addition, reactions to one event can inﬂuence the
recall of other events. For example, people in a positive mood
might be more likely to recall positive events from their past,
whereas people in a negative mood might be more likely to
recall negative events.
C.KIM-PRIETO ET AL.
Finally, people’s current mood can inﬂuence their global judg-
ments of life satisfaction, but they can also discount this infor-
mation if they believe that it is due to irrelevant sources
(Schwarz and Clore, 1983; see also Robinson, 2000). Schimmack
et al. (2002) found that about one-half of respondents report that
they use their current mood in evaluating their lives. Those indi-
viduals who say that they use their current mood show a much
larger correlation between their moods and life satisfaction re-
ports than do individuals who say that they do not use their cur-
rent mood information. Although individuals diﬀer in whether
they use this information, they tended to do so with some stabil-
ity across time. However, when a particular piece of information
becomes particularly salient, such as one’s mood on a beautiful
spring day after a long spate of bad weather, or when one’s
nation has just won a soccer championship, this material might
become salient even for individuals for whom it is not chroni-
The above examples demonstrate that stages in sequences that
involve different eliciting events can inﬂuence one another.
Revealing such intricate interrelationships is an important task
for future research. Despite the fact that our framework must be
made more complex to accommodate all paths of inﬂuence be-
tween variables, it nevertheless points to major steps in the SWB
sequence, and alerts us to the importance of searching for the
interconnections among those stages. Thus, the current frame-
work should have heuristic, conceptual, and empirical value in
terms of stimulating theory and empirical work on the ways that
the major stages in the sequence are related to one another.
On the Primacy of the Various Stages
As mentioned earlier, scholars have argued for the primacy of
one stage over the other stages in terms of reﬂecting SWB. For
example, in terms of eliciting events, many sociologists and
economists favor economic and social indicators, which reﬂect
life circumstances in a society. In terms of emotional experience,
Kahneman (1999) argued that on-line emotional reactions to
events have priority in terms of assessing hedonic outcomes
SEQUENTIAL FRAMEWORK OF SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING 287
because this measure is not as biased as recall and global judg-
ments. Others have focused on retrospective memories, preferring
a broader perspective on a person’s life than how the respondent
feels at the moment of the survey. Finally, Veenhoven (1993) ar-
gued that global judgments, such as life satisfaction, are primary
in assessing SWB because it best reﬂects the philosophical notion
of the good life. The preference for one perspective over another
can be based on philosophical reasons, or because one method
might be considered less biased than another.
However, an important point of this paper is that a scientiﬁc
understanding of people’s evaluations of their lives requires
knowledge of each of the stages because they are connected to
one another in an integral fashion. Each stage indicates new
information about the quality of a person’s life, and a compre-
hensive theoretical understanding is not possible without under-
standing the complete sequence. There is evidence that each of
the various stages predict important behaviors. For example,
laboratory experiments indicate that positive emotional reac-
tions can lead to heightened altruism, creativity, and ﬂexible
problem solving (see Brief and Weiss, 2002 for a review). And
as mentioned earlier, the memory of emotions, however inaccu-
rate, often predicts future choices and behaviors better than on-
line emotions (Oishi, 2004; Wirtz et al., 2004). Finally, measures
of the global judgment stage indicate that it, too, can have pre-
dictive power. For example, global life satisfaction judgments
have been shown to predict substance abuse (Newcomb et al.,
1986; Zullig et al., 2001), suicide (Koivumaa-Honkanen et al.,
2001) and deaths due to fatal injuries (Koivumaa-Honkanen
et al., 2002). Similarly, global judgments of the workplace can
predict job accidents, unit proﬁtability, and productivity (Harter
et al., 2002). Thus, all three of the subjective stages are impor-
tant to understanding and predicting future behavior.
IMPLICATIONS OF THE FRAMEWORK
Personality Inﬂuences on the Stages of SWB
One implication of our framework concerns the pronounced
effects of individual differences on every stage of the sequential
C.KIM-PRIETO ET AL.
framework. Personality inﬂuences on measures of SWB have
been found to range from moderate to substantial, and the heri-
tability of SWB has been estimated at about 0.5 (Tellegen et al.,
1988). Two of the ‘‘Big Five’’ traits, Extraversion and Neuroti-
cism, have been found to correlate at 0.80 or higher with long-
term levels of positive and negative aﬀect, respectively, after
controlling for measurement error (Lucas and Fujita, 2000; Fujita,
1991). Thus, the relation found between various measures of SWB
and personality is often higher than that found between situa-
tional and demographic variables, and reports of SWB (Diener
and Lucas, 1999).
As discussed earlier, personality can inﬂuence the relation be-
tween an individual’s objective circumstance and one’s emo-
tional reactions. However, evidence indicates that personality
can inﬂuence all of the stages in the model. People with differ-
ent temperaments are likely to experience different life events
(e.g., Headey and Wearing, 1989; Magnus et al., 1993), and a
propensity to experience certain events, such as divorce, appears
to be partly heritable (Jocklin et al., 1996). People with diﬀerent
personalities react diﬀerently to the same events (e.g., Rusting
and Larsen, 1997) and remember the same emotional reactions
diﬀerently (e.g., Feldman Barrett, 1997). Moreover, the same
processes that may be responsible for individual diﬀerences in
emotional experience may operate within persons as well. For
example, Fleeson et al. (2002) found that engaging in extra-
verted behavior had positive consequences for both introverts
and extraverts. Additionally, people with diﬀerent personalities
are likely to select diﬀerent information when constructing glo-
bal SWB judgments (Diener et al., 2002). Certain broad person-
ality predispositions to approach versus withdraw (Elliot and
Thrash, 2002) are likely to inﬂuence all stages in our frame-
work. Thus, personality is one of the strongest correlates of re-
ports of aﬀect and life satisfaction probably because it can
inﬂuence all four stages in the sequence.
One of the clearest implications of our model concerns measure-
ment. Because SWB is viewed as an ongoing process, we believe
that no single measure is automatically more valid than another
SEQUENTIAL FRAMEWORK OF SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING 289
measure. Different measures provide information about differ-
ent stages of SWB, and therefore we strongly advocate multiple
measures that tap different stages. When the measures converge,
they give greater certainty to the ﬁndings. When the measures
diverge, however, they can often cast considerable theoretical
light on the processes under study. When additional measures
are available that help the researcher understand the processes
underlying discrepancies between SWB measures (e.g., of norms
or self-concept), the researcher can be in an especially strong
position to comprehend the processes underlying SWB.
Another implication of our model is that the time when emo-
tion measures are collected can strongly inﬂuence the ﬁndings.
As Kahneman (1999) aptly noted, there can be large diﬀerences
between predicted, on-line, and recalled emotional experiences.
Researchers need to be aware of these diﬀerences, and be cogni-
zant of the implications of measurement timing for the results
and conclusions of their research.
We have outlined a time-sequential framework for understand-
ing SWB. However, more studies are needed to fully understand
and test our framework. First, future research should further
examine the relations between different stages in the sequence.
We are beginning to understand many of the transition pro-
cesses that relate one stage to the next, but much more work is
needed in this area. Future research should also continue to ad-
dress the variables that cause dissociations between different
stages in the sequence. For example, we know little about the
accuracy of recall for moods versus emotions (see Frijda, 1993,
for a discussion of the distinction between the two). We also
know little about how cultural referencing eﬀects (Heine et al.,
2002) might inﬂuence reports of on-line versus recalled emo-
tions. Schwarz and Strack (1999) suggest that people’s evalua-
tions of speciﬁc targets, such as marriage or one’s car, might
depend more on preformed evaluations of the object, whereas
evaluations of more global domains might be subject to greater
situational inﬂuences at the time of measurement. Our
C.KIM-PRIETO ET AL.
framework suggests that measuring on-line versus recalled ver-
sus global evaluations of both broad and narrow domains
would be a valuable extension of Schwarz and Strack’s work.
Future research should also be designed to explore the fac-
tors that moderate the relation between the various stages in the
SWB sequence. For example, if people have a clear and salient
self-concept related to a speciﬁc emotion, their recall of it might
be less related to their on-line experience of that emotion be-
cause they rely heavily on self-concept. Similarly, a person
might have a strong belief about the emotions that accompany
certain situations, and therefore might rely on situational beliefs
when the emotion is recalled. People’s memories of their emo-
tions might depend on personality factors such as the stability
of self-esteem (Kernis et al., 1998), and stability in emotions
might moderate the relation between aﬀect and life satisfaction.
Seidlitz and Diener (1998) found that women recall aﬀective
experiences more accurately, and that this is probably due to
more elaborated cognitions of those experiences. This ﬁnding
points to the importance of exploring individual and group dif-
ferences, as well as the social conditions that inﬂuence the rela-
tion between recalled aﬀect and on-line experience. A factor
that might moderate the relation between recalled aﬀect and
global judgments of satisfaction is the value that people place
on emotions. Thus, our framework points to many interesting
research questions about factors that moderate the relation be-
tween the sequential stages of SWB.
In this paper, we offer an integrative framework of SWB. Our
framework is a sequential one that begins with the events that
cause emotional experience and ends with broad conclusions
people reach in evaluating their lives, based in part on their re-
call and reconstruction of their emotional experiences. We be-
lieve that the framework we present has a number of
advantages. First, it covers the entire span of experience, not
just the early or late stages. Second, we provide hypotheses and
evidence about some of the important transition processes
SEQUENTIAL FRAMEWORK OF SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING 291
between the phases of the SWB sequence, including how such
processes could be inﬂuenced by factors such as personality or
culture. Third, our framework has clear implications for the
theoretical meaning of different measures of SWB. The present
framework suggests a new integrative, temporally oriented per-
spective on SWB, and points to possible limitations of past re-
It might be, however, that there is a universal tendency to weight negative
events more heavily than positive ones, based on the idea that negative infor-
mation in general is more salient than positive information (Ito and Caciop-
po, 1999; Rozin and Royzman, 2001). Future research is needed to better
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