An integrated theory of subjective well-being

Crawford School of Public Policy | Arndt-Corden Department of Economics

Event details

PhD Seminar (Econ)

Date & time

Friday 09 November 2018


Weston Theatre, Level 1, JG Crawford Building 132, Lennox Crossing, ANU


Mark Fabian, PhD Scholar, Crawford School of Public Policy


Paul Burke, Economics PhD Seminar Convener

Subjective well-being scholarship has opened valuable new vistas in wellbeing research over the past four decades or so. However, owing to its operationalist epistemology, it cannot effectively advance into areas it now wants to influence, notably welfare economics and public policy. It must first adopt a more realist epistemology, which begins with a deep theory of wellbeing, including its causal structure. I provide this theory drawing on ideas in clinical, hedonic, moral, behavioural and developmental psychology, and both analytical and continental philosophy, as well as economics. The theory has two parts. These are a formal specification of how the different elements of wellbeing fit together, and an account of the causal and dynamic structure of wellbeing. The model focuses on three dimensions of wellbeing: hedonia, eudaimonia and despair. These correspond roughly to whether life is pleasant, fulfilling and valuable. Scholars working at the intersection of subjective well-being and public policy have focused in large part on hedonia and only relatively recently begun to explore eudaimonia. I flesh out the relationship between these dimensions, and also bring into sharper focus the importance of the despair dimension. The dynamics of wellbeing are characterised by self-actualisation guided by affective signals. I explain how the three dimensions of wellbeing are interdependent in this process. The seminar will conclude with a brief discussion of the implications of this theory for wellbeing measurement and applications in economics and public policy.

This seminar is a final oral presentation of Mark’s doctoral dissertation.

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