The Human Flourishing Program at Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science seeks to empirically study the determinants of flourishing, and to do so in ways that respect and are informed by philosophical and theological traditions. To empirically study the determinants of flourishing, measurement is necessary. Many aspects of flourishing, such as meaning and purpose in life, or character and virtue, are, of course, not easy to measure. Any empirical measure of such rich constructs will inevitably be limited. At best, one may hope to measure and study aspects of meaning, or aspects of character, and even this is challenging. In our research we have made use of numerous existing datasets and existing measures to study different aspects of flourishing. However, we also seek to create new data resources that will more satisfactorily allow for a fuller study of human well-being. In developing these data resources, we attempt to include new and, we hope, more conceptually adequate measures of well-being. In addition to our primary summary flourishing measure, we have thus developed a number of additional well-being measures, that are in various stages of development and assessment. These are described below. We have also adapted our primary flourishing measure for use in adolescent samples, more extensive assessments, incorporating years of life into flourishing, and calculating flourishing scores with Gallup World Poll data. Further information on these other assessments is available here. The measures are copyrighted under a Creative Commons License. However, they can be used without permission for non-commercial purposes if proper citation is given.
Communal Subjective Well-Being
Our primary flourishing measure focuses on the flourishing of an individual. However, we are also often interested in whether our communities are flourishing, be they those of the family, or city, or workplace, or nation. We have developed a measure of community well-being to help assess the extent to which a community may be flourishing. The proposed measure includes items in six domains relevant to community well-being: flourishing individuals, good relationships, proficient leadership, healthy practices, satisfying community, and strong mission. The community well-being measure extends beyond simple measures of community satisfaction which are often currently employed. The measure is intended to supplement other objective assessments of community well-being (e.g. literacy, education, GDP, etc.). Adaptation of the measure for a variety of contexts is provided so that the proposed approach can be used in nations, cities, neighborhoods, families, workplaces, schools, and religious communities. The conceptual background for the measure and the individual items that make up the measure can be found in the paper below:
VanderWeele, T.J. (2019). Measures of community well-being: a template. International Journal of Community Well-Being, 2:253-275.
We have currently collected data on the measure in a random sample of residents in Columbus, Ohio, and will be collecting further data on the measure in a sample of residents in Wuhan, China.
For much of the world’s population religion or spirituality is of central importance. For many, it is the most important aspect of life. While various measures of spiritual well-being have been used in prior research, these are typically too generic specific to capture the principal ends and concerns of most actual religious communities. Moreover, many of the generic spiritual well-being measures are often not sufficiently general to apply to non-theistic or non-monotheistic religions. Arguably, to adequately assess spiritual well-being, tradition-specific measures are needed. In collaboration with Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox pastors, priests, theologians, spiritual directors, and laity, we have developed a set of items to assess spiritual well-being within the Christian tradition. The items cover the domains of beliefs, practices, service, communion with God, character, and relationships. A future conference hosted by the program will describe the development process and invite scholars and theologians of other faith traditions to develop analogous measures. If the measurement of spiritual well-being is to more routinely take place in a pluralistic society, a range of measures, across religious traditions, will arguably be needed. The conceptual background for the measure and the individual items that make up the measure can be found in the paper below:
VanderWeele, T.J., Long, K. and Balboni, M.J. (2020). On tradition-specific measures of spiritual well-being. In: M. Lee, L.D. Kubzansky, and T.J. VanderWeele (Eds.). Measuring Well-Being: Interdisciplinary Perspectives from the Social Sciences and the Humanities. Oxford University Press, forthcoming.
We have collected data on the measure in a number of churches and are collecting data on the measure systematically in our Catholic Student Center Study.
While we all almost universally seek happiness and desire to flourish, life almost always also includes loss and suffering. Any adequate understanding of human flourishing must include an understanding of how to integrate and respond to suffering. Suffering is not the opposite of flourishing – indeed there are numerous philosophical and theological traditions that suggest that suffering can lead to growth and transformation. However, suffering does entail some loss, some absence of a good, and an understanding of flourishing should be able to account for suffering as well. A number of symptom-based measures of suffering, often applicable to specific clinical contexts, have been proposed previously. There are also a number of existing single-item measures to assess suffering. However, multi-item assessment of suffering that extends beyond the clinical context has been lacking. As a result of an interdisciplinary conference on suffering hosted by the Program in 2017, and bringing together philosophers, theologians, psychologists, and clinicians, we extracted a number of common themes from the discussion to propose a multi-item measure of suffering, the Personal Suffering Assessment. The conceptual background for the measure and the individual items that make up the measure can be found in the paper below:
VanderWeele, T.J. (2019). Suffering and response: directions in empirical research. Social Science and Medicine, 224:58-66.
We have collected data on the measures in a sample of over 1,200 factory workers in Sri Lanka and in another sample of over 5,000 international flights attendants. The reliability of the measure was alpha=0.87 for the sample in Sri Lanka, and alpha=0.95 for the sample of flight attendants.
Comprehensive Measure of Meaning
One of the Human Flourishing Program’s major research themes is the study of what gives rise to a sense of meaning and purpose in life. We have used a number of existing datasets and existing measures to aid us in this study. However, we are also trying to create new data resources to study the determinants of meaning and purpose more adequately, and in these datasets, we are introducing what is arguably a more thorough and conceptually grounded assessment of meaning. The Comprehensive Measure of Meaning (CMM) is intended to incorporate the results of philosophical discussion into an established framework coming to predominate the psychological literature that meaning is experienced along three dimensions: cognitive coherence, affective significance, and motivational purposive direction. The CMM principally makes use of a wide variety of items, or their adaptation, already in use from previous scales, but categorizes these in ways consistent with important distinctions derived from the philosophical literature. A summary of the CMM is available and the conceptual background for the measure and the individual items that make up the measure can be found in the paper below:
Hanson, J.A. and VanderWeele, T.J. (2020). The Comprehensive Measure of Meaning: psychological and philosophical foundations. In: M. Lee, L.D. Kubzansky, and T.J. VanderWeele (Eds.). Measuring Well-Being: Interdisciplinary Perspectives from the Social Sciences and the Humanities. Oxford University Press, forthcoming.
We have collected data concerning the measure on a sample of over 4,000 undergraduates at the University of British Columbia.
We are also currently in the process of developing measures of different aspects of hope and optimism, and measures for the empirical assessment of the giving and receiving of love in different types of relationships.
We have evaluated the psychometric properties of our primary flourishing measure in a variety of cultural contexts according to conventional methodologies. We are currently carrying out psychometric assessment of the various other measures above as well. However, other than the measure on suffering, each of the other measures includes what are intended to be conceptually distinct domains that may causally affect one another. Current factor analytic methodology in psychometrics tends to ignore the possibility of such causal relationships among factors and will thereby often confuse causal and conceptual relationships, as we demonstrate here. We are currently working on new methodology to better account for potential causal relationships among factors.