Measuring flourishing: The impact of operational definitions on the prevalence of high levels of wellbeing

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Lucy Clare Hone
Aaron Jarden
Grant M. Schofield
Scott Duncan

Abstract

The epidemiology of flourishing is an important research topic prompting international interest in its psychometric assessment. But the need to measure human feelings and functioning at the population level has resulted in the creation of a multitude of different conceptual frameworks of flourishing: a term now commonly used to describe high levels of subjective wellbeing. Not only do different researchers theorise and conceptualise flourishing in different ways, but also the categorical diagnosis of flourishing is dependent upon the various combinations of components, and researcher-determined thresholds, used in each operationalization. The multiplicity of approaches is potentially limiting the usefulness of the resultant epidemiology. This paper comprises two parts: Part 1 identifies four operationalizations of flourishing in the psychology literature and reviews their psychometric properties and utility; Part 2 investigates the impact of operational definition on the prevalence of flourishing using the Sovereign Wellbeing Index survey, a sample of 10,009 adult New Zealanders, and reports substantial variation in prevalence rates according to the four different operationalizations: Huppert and So (24%), Keyes (39%), Diener et al. (41%) and Seligman et al. (47%). Huppert and So’s model was the only one of the four to require endorsement of one particular variable, making it the most stringent criterion for flourishing, while the other three were more flexible in their categorisation. Cross-tabulation analysis indicated strong agreement between our replications of Keyes and Seligman et al.’s models (81%), and between Diener et al. and Seligman et al.’s models (80%). Agreement between Seligman, and Huppert and So’s, operationalizations was moderate (74%). Taken together, and in line with recent OECD recommendations, our findings reinforce the need for greater international collaboration and conceptualisation consensus when measuring flourishing. In the absence of any published empirical research investigating perceptions of flourishing among laypersons, a prototype analysis investigating alignment between lay and academic conceptualisations of flourishing is recommended.

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