A Model of Subjective Well-Being Homeostasis: The Role of Personality

Part of the Social Indicators Research Series book series (SINS, volume 16)


A considerable body of data is now available to suggest that subjective well-being (SWB) is not free to vary over the theoretical range offered by measurement scales. Rather, most people experience a moderately positive level of well-being, such that the population average is normally held at about 75 percent of maximum. This has led to the proposal that SWB is under the influence of a homeostatic system designed to hold its value within a narrow, positive, set-point-range for each individual. Our paper offers a model that could account for such maintenance through an interlocking system of psychological devices as follows: (a) Personality provides a steady affective background that determines the set-pointrange for the whole homeostatic system. (b) A set of cognitive buffers involving perceived control, self-esteem and optimism, absorb the impact of different need states and, together with personality, create subjective well-being (c) Met and unmet needs act directly on the cognitive buffers, with the met needs reinforcing the buffering system and the unmet needs providing motivation. Personality is also presented as having a powerful influence on motivational systems that seek satisfaction and, thus, predispose behavior that is likely to maintain normal levels of SWB. (d) Finally, at the most fundamental level of the homeostatic system, the processes of habituation and adaptation constitute the first line of defence against the threat of changed extrinsic conditions influencing levels of SWB. Data are cited in support of all levels of the model and the implications of homeostatic control are discussed. In particular, depression is described in terms of homeostatic failure, and the limitation of using SWB as a measure of intervention outcome is emphasized. That is, interventions can only raise SWB if its initial levels were below the setpoint-range. It is concluded that the model is consistent with a great deal of the literature and that testing its many propositions should prove a fruitful approach to advancing knowledge in this area.


Life Satisfaction Marital Satisfaction Negative Life Event Reward Sensitivity SOCial Indicator Research 
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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PsychologyDeakin UniversityBurwoodAustralia

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