Psychological Well-Being Definition

Psychological well-being (PWB) is defined as one’s level  of  psychological  happiness/health,  encompassing life satisfaction, and feelings of accomplishment. At the risk of being dualistic and separating physical well-being from PWB, it is helpful to note that  physical  well-being  encompasses  physical health,  including  disease  states,  fitness  level,  and ability to perform activities of daily living (ADL). PWB encompasses the person’s perspective on life, including  not  only  perceptions  of  physical  health but  also  of  self-esteem,  self-efficacy,  relationships with others, and satisfaction with life. A monistic perspective, wherein it is recognized that physical well-being and PWB are integrally interrelated, is preferable.

Subjective  well-being  (SWB)  can  be  addressed from  a  primarily  psychological  perspective.  Ed Diener  suggested  that  SWB  is  comprised  of  the presence  of  positive  affect,  the  absence  of  negative  affect,  and  high  levels  of  life  satisfaction. However,  research  indicates  physical  well-being should  be  considered  as  well  in  evaluating  PWB. The Roman poet Juvenal was correct in that mens sana in corpore sano (“a sound mind in a healthy body”) is most desirable. PWB can range on a continuum from the absence of well-being, identified as ill health or even mental illness in some cases, to optimal well-being, perhaps having attained the state  of  self-actualization  described  by  Abraham Maslow. Many individuals will identify their PWB as  being  on  the  wellness  side  of  the  continuum. Striving   toward   one’s   psychological   potential and  toward  balance  in  one’s  life  and  happiness (perhaps  noting  a  positive  psychology  approach) might  bring  one  closer  to  optimal  PWB.  Brian C.  Focht  also  noted  the  connections  of  PWB  to health-related quality of life (HRQOL). A “sound mind”  can  be  examined  from  a  number  of  perspectives within an exercise and sport psychology (SP)  framework:  assessment  of  physical  capabilities,  including  fitness;  social  relationships;  level of  athletic  or  exercise  identity;  the  balance  in  life across a variety of domains, including social, work or academic, and spiritual; and feelings of accomplishment  and  progress  toward  attainment  of  an individual’s potential.

The  first  perspective  involves  assessment  of physical  capabilities,  including  fitness.  PWB  is certainly  affected  by  fitness  level,  both  in  terms of exercise and sport participation but also in an individual’s  ability  to  perform  ADL.  Ability  to perform  ADL  (e.g.,  self-care  or  personal  hygiene, mobility, housework) will likely affect one’s PWB. Impairments  in  ability  to  perform  ADL  may decrease  PWB  due  to  decreased  independence and subsequent reliance on others and/or assistive devices to help in accomplishing ADL. PWB would be  expected  to  be  high  to  the  degree  that  one  is fit  enough  (fitness  encompassing  cardiovascular capacity,  muscular  strength,  muscular  endurance, and  flexibility)  to  perform  in  preferred  exercise and  sport  modalities.  PWB  level  may  be  affected by  goals.  If  a  person  is  striving  to  improve  exercise or sport performance, then increases in PWB would  accompany  increases  in  fitness  (perhaps also tied into performance, which may encompass skill  development  in  aspects  of  a  given  exercise or  sport,  such  as  the  backhand  stroke  in  tennis). Bonnie  G.  Berger  and  David  A.  Tobar  addressed physical  activity  (PA)  and  quality  of  life  (QOL) more extensively.

In terms of social relationships, most individuals  desire  some  level  of  social  interaction  (e.g., No man is an island). PWB would be expected to be higher if a person has the level of social interaction  desired.  If  an  individual  has  fewer  close friends  than  desired,  however,  then  PWB  would be  expected  to  be  lower.  Social  relationships  and social  interactions  are  often  found  in  exercise and  sport  settings;  examples  include  friendly  get togethers for a Sunday basketball game or a bicycle ride in one’s area, or attending a local sporting event. Exercise or sport can be an excellent vehicle for meeting people, such as at a local health club or fitness center or at participatory events such as running road races or triathlons.

Athletic or exercise identity refers to the degree to which one identifies as an exerciser or athlete. The greater an individual’s identity is tied to her or his exercise or athletic existence, the greater PWB is likely to be affected by exercise or athletic performance as well as injuries or illnesses that might make participation challenging. Research indicates the desirability of individuals having other coping strategies  for  times  when  the  exercise  or  athletic component  of  their  lives  is  not  going  as  well  as desired.

Of particular importance is the balance in one’s life  across  a  variety  of  domains,  including  social, work or academic, and spiritual. Life is a balance of  the  roles  we  play—work,  family,  religious  or spiritual, exercise or sport, to name primary ones. Concerns  might  be  raised  if  exercise–athletic identity  is  primary  and  other  important  areas  of a  person’s  existence  are  excluded.  It  is  important to  attempt  to  be  nonjudgmental  and  know  the individual before deciding if someone’s life appears out  of  balance.  If  someone’s  PWB  is  high  due  to the  high  priority  given  to  one  area  of  their  existence (such as exercise or sport), then this should be  acknowledged,  assuming  this  is  a  conscious choice  on  the  part  of  the  individual.  Sometimes, however,  individuals  find  themselves  drifting  into one area of primacy, while neglecting other areas unintentionally. This can lead to exercise addiction in some cases, where a person has lost control of the  activity  and  her  or  his  life  is  seemingly  governed  by  exercise  or  sport.  A  conscious  decision-making  process  on  allocation  of  time  and  energy to the various important areas of one’s life, including the role of exercise and sport participation, is critical to PWB.

Feelings   of   accomplishment   and   potential attainment of a person’s potential is also related to PWB. PWB may be tied to satisfaction with life— that  is,  has  the  person  accomplished  or  attained the goals that were set? Has the person reached her or his potential in one or more of life’s domains, as noted  previously?  To  the  degree  that  the  person has,  then  her  or  his  PWB  would  be  expected  to be  higher.  This  can  encompass  exercise  or  sport as  well—attaining  one’s  goals  and  reaching  one’s potential  in  preferred  exercise  or  sport  pursuit(s) contributes to enhanced PWB.

In summary, PWB is affected by an array of factors  associated  with  physical  and  mental  health. Exercise and PA and sport play key roles in both physical  and  mental  health,  and  therefore  have profound effects on PWB.


  1. Berger, B. G., & Tobar, D. A. (2007). Physical activity and quality of life: Key considerations. In G. Tenenbaum & R. C. Eklund (Eds.), Handbook of sport psychology (3rd ed., pp. 598–620). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
  2. Diener, E. (1994). Assessing subjective well-being: Progress and opportunities. Social Indicators Research, 31, 103–157.
  3. Focht, B. C. (2012). Exercise and health-related quality of life. In E. O. Acevedo (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of exercise psychology (pp. 97–116). New York: Oxford University Press.
  4. Sachs, M. L., & Pargman, D. (1984). Running addiction. In M. L. Sachs & G. W. Buffone (Eds.), Running as therapy: An integrated approach (pp. 231–252). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
  5. Seligman, M. E. P. (2012). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York: Free Press/Simon & Schuster.

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