New paper develops a comprehensive measure of holistic well-being

People smiling at work.


3 min read

In a new paper from researchers at SHINE, the Human Flourishing Program, and the Harvard Chan Department of Epidemiology titled Psychometric Properties of Flourishing Scales From a Comprehensive Well-Being Assessment published in Frontiers in Psychology, authors Dorota Weziak-Bialowolska, Piotr Bialowolski, Matthew T. Lee, Ying Chen, Tyler J. VanderWeele, and Eileen McNeely develop a measure of complete well-being.

The framework is derived from the theoretical model of human flourishing understood as a state in which all aspects of a human life are favorable. The approach extends beyond psychological well-being and reflects the World Health Organization definition of health that not only considers the health of body and mind but also embraces the wholeness of the person.

The Well-Being Assessment (WBA) is a comprehensive instrument designed to assess holistic well-being in six domains:

  • emotional health
  • physical health
  • meaning and purpose
  • character strengths
  • social connectedness
  • financial security

Although each of these domains is distinct, all of them are nearly universally desired, and all but financial security constitute ends in themselves.

Data were collected from a representative sample of working adults. A sample of 276 employees participated in the pilot, 2,370 participated in the first wave and 1,209 in the second wave of the survey. The WBA showed a good fitting (40 items, six factors), satisfactory reliability, test–retest correlation, and convergent/discriminant validity in relation to stability over time and relevant health measures, as well as a good fit to the data that were invariant over time, gender, age, education, and marital status.

“We are one step closer to understanding human flourishing,” said research scientist Dorota Węziak-Białowolska. “Even though there is a need for further research, the 40-item instrument proposed by us can be used to assess well-being in six domains.”

“Our earlier research shows that all six domains of human flourishing are nearly universally valued,” added research associate Piotr Białowolski.  “However, some domains turn out to be particularly relevant for specific groups. Married people value social connectedness and usually demonstrate higher meaning and purpose in life, older individuals develop more character strengths, while better educated take better care of their physical health.”

The research also provides insight into the aspects of well-being that change over time.

“It helps us understand that at some points in the life course, one domain of well-being might decline as another rises.  For example, new parents sometimes find a greater sense of meaning and purpose, even as they experience challenges to physical and emotional well-being,” said Matthew T. Lee,  director of empirical research at the Human Flourishing Program. “Having a more complete level of awareness of well-being across domains is necessary to make positive changes.  Furthermore, the workplace is an important platform for the promotion of well-being and our research shows that this measure is appropriate in that setting.”

SHINE aims to advance public health by understanding the impact and meaning of work in people’s lives and how work detracts from or enhances overall well-being.  To learn more about the connections between work and well-being, view SHINE’s publications here.