Beyond life satisfaction: Lay conceptions of well-being middle-aged and elderly adults

Gerben J. Westerhof*, Freya Dittmann-Kohli, Toine Thissen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


The present study examines lay conceptions of well-being in a representative sample of Germans in the second half of life. Respondents filled out a sentence completion questionnaire as well as the Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS). In their sentence completions, respondents gave spontaneous descriptions of their lives as a whole in terms of satisfaction, quality (good/bad), achievement, retrospection, and other global dimensions. They also referred to the intrapersonal and interpersonal domain, health and functioning, and other specific life domains in these sentence completions. Systematic differences were found in the dimensions referred to in positive and negative judgments and across age groups. Hardly any of the negative judgments were couched in terms of life satisfaction. The sentence completions and the SWLS resulted in similar evaluations, but the personally meaningful dimensions of judgment which emerged from the sentence completions were only partly covered by the dimensions inherent in the SWLS items. These findings are discussed in relation to existing studies on subjective well-being and successful aging, which appear to focus too narrowly on life satisfaction at the expense of other personally meaningful dimensions of life judgments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)179-203
Number of pages25
JournalSocial indicators research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2001
Externally publishedYes


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