Stress and well-being
Biserka Zarbova, PhD
, Sonya Karabeliova,
Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski, Faculty of Philosophy, Department of Psychology
The basic psychological constructs in the theoretical and applied field of Health
Psychology are stress, well-being, life satisfaction and feeling of happiness. Our research
interests are focused on the interaction and dynamics of these phenomena into work
environment with higher risk. The aim of the current research is to identify a correlation
between the subjective perception for the levels of stress and well-being within a six month
period and a correlation with self-perception for feeling of happiness and life satisfaction. A
pilot survey was conducted with a sample of 90 respondents, 36 men and 54 women, aged 26
to 64 (M=42.52; SD=8.89), 20 people live alone and 70 – have a partner. Respondents work as
pilots, air traffic controllers, administrators, managers, doctors and science workers; 34 of them
assess their profession as risky and 56 – as not risky. For the last six months their estimates for
the levels of stress and well-being are predominantly in the middle and the upper part of the
scale of their subjective perceptions, where the levels of well-being are assessed higher than
those of stress. The results support the hypothesis regarding significant positive correlations
between well-being and life satisfaction, well-being and happiness, and negative correlations
between well-being and stress. It was found that respondents who live with a partner are more
satisfied with their life than the ones who live alone. No significant differences were registered
in the assessment of subjective perception depending on the type of profession – risky or not
Key words: stress, life satisfaction, well-being, feeling of happiness
Stress, well-being, life satisfaction and feeling of happiness are some of the basic
psychological constructs in the theoretical and applied field of Health Psychology. Our research
interests are focused on the interaction and dynamics of these phenomena into work
environment with higher risk.
Stress as a phenomena is inevitable in contemporary everyday life. Considering the
intensity and dynamics of nowadays life, especially the one in bigger cities, the increased stress
levels are constantly discussed in public as the main reason for many different health problems.
Meanwhile, stepping on one of the definitions about stress as "the non-specific response of the
body to any demand placed upon it" (Селие, 1982, p.22), stress can be defined as a stimulus
for personal development and creative problem solving. These inherent dualism and
contradiction in stress manifestation continue to provoke interest in the study of the
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prerequisites for it and its effects, the borders of impact and its interaction with other factors,
influencing the optimal mental life of the modern human being.
The focus of this research is on the interaction between subjective perceptions on
experienced stress and well-being within a six month period. The questions that seek answers,
refer to: the interrelationships between the level of stress, life satisfaction and feeling of
happiness; to what extent the demographic characteristics of the respondents differentiate
variations in the studied phenomena and whether the type of work environment and one’s
perception of the job as being risky have a significant impact on life satisfaction and feeling of
happiness as components of subjective well-being.
The approach for the interpretation of the received data is based on the understanding
that the evaluated constructs are individually determined, and refracted through the prism of
the subjective perception on the experience of stress and well-being. Similarly, the subjective
feeling of happiness and life satisfaction are assessed through differentiated by each
respondent's own internal criteria and they stay into the field of hypothesis for the researchers.
Theoretically, the basis for the analysis are the cognitive stress model and the hedonistic
paradigm of subjective well-being.
In the frame of the cognitive transactional model, stress is defined as an interrelationship
between the person and the environment, based on the cognitive personal evaluation for the
quality and the opportunities of each component of this relation. Lazarus and Folkman (1984)
defined psychological stress as “a relationship between the person and the environment that is
appraised by the person as taxing or exceeding his or her resources and endangering his or her
well-being“(p.21). In this context, the main role for the stress experience has a cognitive
appraisal for the following aspects. The first one (primary appraisal), is on the environment,
perceived as a challenge – a stimulus for energy and mobilization, or as a threat, provoking
worries and fears of not coping. The second one (secondary appraisal) is on the actual resources
available to cope with the situation –and it is positive, when the actual resources exceed the
needed ones, and the opposite – it is negative, when they are less than the necessary resources.
The criteria for this type of evaluation are entirely subjective and they are not always clearly
defined and rational. They are based on the current personal status, previous experience and
accumulated knowledge and wisdom.
In the paradigm of Hedonism well-being is seen as a structure with emotional and
cognitive components. The cognitive component reflects life satisfaction in the main important
areas of human life – work, family, social appearance, free time. The emotional component is
measurable in the ratio between the experiences of positive emotions and negative affects.
Diener at al. (1985) defined subjective well-being as “the quality of life, based on the
availability and frequency of positive and negative emotions and the overall satisfaction in a
human’s life” (p.71). Pavot and Diener (1993) created a Scale for subjective well-being
measuring (SWLS). In the three pillar structure of the subjective well-being, Satisfaction is a
long-term vision and evaluation of one's own life based on the personally chosen criteria and
standards. The feeling of happiness has its own short time measurability – it is the result of the
ratio of pleasant and unpleasant emotions in the present.
According to Diener at al. (1985) Life satisfaction reflects a cognitive process, since it
is linked to “a global assessment of the quality of life and the achievements that a person
retrospectively determines and compares to their own criteria” (p. 71). These criteria are formed
continuously during the personal development process under the influence of the environment
and culture, therefore they cannot be imported from the outside and to set a single standard for
assessing personal satisfaction. There are no universal rules that combine the objective
conditions and the subjective evaluation in order to form the feeling of satisfaction.
Happiness as an emotional state is characterized by positive feelings and emotions of
joy, contentment, delight and bliss. It is a dynamic variable, ranging in time. According to
Keyes at al. (2002) Happiness is a short-time measured – it is a result of relationship between
the current positive and negative emotions. As a philosophical category Happiness reflects the
highest good and therefore is regarded as a strong motivator in human behavior. As a
psychological construct it is always refracted through the personal perspective – no one else
can feel or know the presence of this experience. The subjective measurement of happiness lies
on a continuum, a numerical scale that ranges from a very low to a very high level and the only
reliable source of information about its manifestation is a personal self-report. Lyubomirsky
(2008), the author of the Subjective Happiness Scale (SHS), describes it as “an experience of
joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good,
meaningful and worthwhile.” (p.52)
Data from the European Social Survey Round 6 (2012), carried out in Bulgaria, showed
the lowest level of assessment of the experience for well-being in our country, compared to the
other 28 European countries, participating in the study. Data, provided by Gallup International
from the World Happiness Report (2016), put Bulgaria on the 129 position out of 157 countries
from all over the world about the state of happiness. Despite differences in methodology of
measurement, the results undoubtedly show the dominance of unsatisfactory experiences for
the Bulgarian population. Most of the intercultural and national psychological surveys, carried
out in Bulgaria, using the SWLS method - for example Байчинска (2010); Гарванова (2015);
Diener (2000) also present a low level of life satisfaction for the contemporary Bulgarians.
The aim of the current study is to identify a correlation between the subjective
perception for the levels of stress and well-being within a six month period and a correlation
with self-perception for feeling of happiness and life satisfaction.
A pilot survey was conducted with a sample of 90 respondents, 36 men and 54 women,
aged 26 to 64 (M=42.52; SD=8.89), 20 people live alone and 70 have a partner. Respondents
work as pilots, air traffic controllers, administrators, managers, doctors and science workers;
34 of them assess their profession as risky and 56 – as not risky. The participation was voluntary
and all respondents were invited directly in a face to face contact or by an e-mail to answer the
The dependable variables in the survey are the levels of stress, well-being, happiness
and life satisfaction. The undependable variables are six with two conditions for each one – age
(24/40 and 41/60), gender (male/female), marital status (married/alone), occupation
(humanistic/technic), type of organization (public/private), work environment (risky/not risky).
There is no control variables.
The methodology of the study consists of four short questionnaire surveyed constructs:
The Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS), adapted for the Bulgarian population by
Ivanova (Иванова, 2011). The Scale consists of five statements in a five level Likert rating
The Subjective Happiness Scale (SHS), adapted for the Bulgarian population by
Ivanova at al. (2015). The Scale consists of four statements with opportunities for answers in a
five level Likert rating scale.
A Scale to measure the subjective stress level experience within a 6 month period of
time. The scale varies from 1 = very low level of stress to 9 = extremely high stress level.
A Scale to measure the subjective well-being level experience within a 6 month period
of time. The scale varies from 1 = very low level of well-being to 9 = extremely high level of
Results and discussion
The statistical data processing uses Descriptive statistics, One-way ANOVA and
The Descriptive statistical data processing provided the following findings. The survey
results show that for the last six months the results for the level of stress and well-being are
predominantly average and slightly above average, with the well-being experience rated higher.
The well-being average value for the respondents is М=7,46, SD=1,49, with 80% of the
responses being above the average scale level – 5. The highest values of 9 and 10 are given by
23,3% of the respondents. The stress average value is М=6,50, SD=2,06, with 53,3% above the
average scale level – 5. The highest values of 9 and 10 are given by 17,7% of the respondents.
At the same time, the summarized subjective values about the well-being experience
were higher than the above-mentioned trend in other surveys for the Bulgarians being
positioned in the lower values for life satisfaction, happiness and well-being. This trend is also
seen in the results of the life satisfaction scale and the happiness scale– the average values in
this latest survey are higher than values of the previous surveys. Based on the two major
strategies for maintaining optimal mental functioning – by changing the external conditions or
by an internal change of the interpretation of what is happening, these results can be explained
in two ways. On one hand, the standard of living in larger cities (95% of the respondents live
in Sofia or in a large city) is higher due to different financial options for the improvement of
the environment (funds, programmes, projects), availability of goods and services, both as their
availability and price. On the other hand, the wealth of information and knowledge available to
the average intelligent person (86% of the respondents have higher education) implies the
probability of wider interests and better possibilities for interpretation of events in life. An
additional impact probably has the fact that all respondents are employed - 64% in government
structures and 36% in the private sector. This fact implies a status of relative stability and
security, a vision of temporal perspective in a dynamically changing socioeconomic
environment. But it is also important to take into account the impact of the six-month time
window in the subjective assessments of the experiences of stress and well-being of the survey,
which sets a foreseeable common framework and coherence in the answers of the respondents.
Correlations between well-being, level of stress, happiness and life satisfaction
Correlation analysis was used to check the relationships between the studied
phenomena, the results of which are shown in Table 1.
There is a weak negative correlation between subjective assessments of experience for
the both measurable constructs - stress and well-being (r=-0.236, p<0,05). These results match
the conventional understanding of the inverse proportional relationship between the intensity,
workload, everyday difficulties and strain, associated with stress and the experience of well-
being, which is semantically relevant to the receipt and consumption of goods, to positive
feelings and related emotions of joy, delight and satisfaction.
Table 1.Correlations between well-being, levels of stress, happiness and life satisfaction
* p<0,05; ** p <0,01
A negative correlation between the subjective experience of stress and happiness (r = -
0.318, p <0,01) was found, which confirms the dominant belief for a more stable correlation
between the perception of stress and the emotions in the negative register. However, the
interpretation of this tendency can be sought in the weakening effects of stress under the
influence of dominant positive emotions. In support of the claim of Lyubomirsky (2008) for the
correlation between social relationships and happiness as being bi-directional – “romantic
partners and friends make people happy, but the opposite is also true - happy people are more
likely to attract lovers and friends” (p.138).
A negative correlation is identified also between stress experience and life satisfaction.
This correlation can be assumed as a sequel to the previous correlation and as a form of
projection or reflection of an actual experience (of stress and its accompanying emotions) on
the process of retrospection and cognitive appraisal of the quality of life and achievements –
i.e. dominant state of stress will decrease life satisfaction. The received high positive correlation
between happiness and satisfaction (r=0.534, p<0,01) is a logical confirmation of the common
and popular understanding of the interrelationship between both constructs as based on pleasure
As expected, there is a well-established high positive correlation (r = 0,606, p <0,01)
between life satisfaction and well-being experience. In Bulgarian language, from semantic
aspect, well-being is associated with "receipt of goods". From this point of view , in the survey,
well-being is reflected in cognitive assessments as satisfactory quality of life reported by the
individuals in retrospect as available "goods" and vice versa - a positive interpretation of one’s
experience and possessions in former life presupposes a subjective assessment of current well-
being experience. In this line of thought, Lyubomirsky (2013) sets experiences higher than
possessions due to several circumstances. First, the permanent nature of possessions leads to a
rapid adaptation to them. Second, the social character of the experiences presupposes, on one
hand, the possibility to be shared and tried again with other people, and on the other hand – it
is less likely experiences to be subject to juxtaposition and comparison with someone else's
experiences or with hypothetical ones. Third, but not last – the experience as a process integrates
a certain level of stimulation, challenge and achievement or defeat and a subsequent similar
cycle (Любомирски, 2013).
Differences in life satisfaction, happiness, levels of stress and well-being
To check the major differentiations in the levels of stress, the feelings of happiness and
life satisfaction, the statistical method One-way ANOVA between subjects is used.
The results from the analysis of the variance showed that gender, age, occupation, type
of organization (public, private) and the perception of the risk nature of the job have no
statistically significant impact on the subjective assessments of the experiences of stress, well-
being, happiness and life satisfaction. Thus, the initial hypothesis that the risk environment is a
determinant factor for the studied constructs found no confirmation in this pilot study. One
possible explanation may be of methodological nature and it is bound with the fact that the
nature of the job (risky or not) is being subjectively determined by each respondent, which
brings room for interpretations and gaps in the understanding of the parameters of risk. In this
sense, the cognitive assessment of stress experience towards the perception of the profession as
being risky can vary widely and proportionately, even for such objectively risky occupations
such as those of air traffic controllers, pilots, and surgeons that can be defined as risk-free by
those exercising them, while the experiences of stress and well-being as being low due to
differences in expectations.
Table 2. Differences in life satisfaction depending on marital status
Following a field analysis of variance it was found that the marital status differentiates
significantly the degree of life satisfaction (F(89,1)=4.593; p<0.05), as the married respondents
were more satisfied (М=19.49), unlike the unmarried ones (М=17.67). The results are in Tab.2.
One of the possible interpretations of this results could be connected with the mutual life
experience between the partners. The sense of mutuality of values, goals, dreams, rituals, of
jointly undertaken risks and responsibilities, of experienced difficulties and joys, of common
life perspective, creates a sustainable framework for partner relationships and connectivity
between the participants in these relationships. In this aspect, the coexistence in a partnership
in the nowadays socioeconomic conditions in our country can be brought out as a predictor of
life satisfaction. Csikszentmihalyi (2016) states that the family provides mainly “emotional
security”, as his explanation for this is associated with “channeling the mental energy and stress
relieving on the suitability and return on emotional investment that the decision for a permanent
cohabitation with the partner gives” (Чиксентмихай, 2016, p.234). For the same author (2016)
the quality of human life depends largely on how one manages to bring enjoyment in the
interactions within the family and to maintain a balance between challenges and skills or how
this one manages to transform a hopeless situation into a new controllable flow activity and to
derive pleasure and strength from the challenges (Чиксентмихай, 2016).
As a conclusion, the results obtained in this pilot study reaffirm the hypothesis for
significant positive correlations of well-being with life satisfaction and happiness, and negative
correlation with the level of stress. Cohabitation with a partner emerged as a reliable predictor
of experience of life satisfaction. The appraisals of the experiences of stress, well-being,
happiness and life satisfaction, placed in the context of the six-month time period are not
influenced significantly neither by gender, age, and education of the respondents, nor by the
type of job and its level of risk. The subject of future studies and analyses will be the content
measurement of the concepts and the more detailed study of the different constructs and their
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