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Personal well-being

Policy details

Metadata item Details
Publication date:17 April 2019
Author:Sofi Nickson
Approver:William Perks
Who this is for:Users and producers of statistics
Type:Harmonisation guidance and principles

The following guidance sets out how to collect and report statistics about personal well-being to ensure statistics about this topic are as comparable as possible across the Government Statistical Service (GSS).


This section provides guidance on the survey questions to use when collecting information about personal well-being.

Personal well-being (PWB) questions as they currently appear on the ONS Annual Population Survey:

68. Satis UK
Next I would like to ask you four questions about your feelings on aspects of your life. There are no right or wrong answers. For each of these questions I’d like you to give an answer on a scale of nought to 10, where nought is ‘not at all’ and 10 is ‘completely’.
Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?
Interviewer instruction: where nought is ‘not at all satisfied’ and 10 is ‘completely satisfied’
Scale from 0 to 10
Asked if: PersProx1 = IN PERSON, DVAge = 16+2
69. Worth UK
Overall, to what extent do you feel that the things you do in your life are worthwhile?
Interviewer instruction: where nought is ‘not at all worthwhile’ and 10 is ‘completely worthwhile’
Scale from 0 to 10
Asked if: PersProx = IN PERSON, DVAge = 16+
70. Happy UK
Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?
Interviewer instruction: where nought is ‘not at all happy’ and 10 is ‘completely happy’
Scale from 0 to 10
Asked if: PersProx = IN PERSON, DVAge = 16+
71. Anxious UK
On a scale where nought is ‘not at all anxious’ and 10 is ‘completely anxious’, overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday?
Scale from 0 to 10
Asked if: PersProx = IN PERSON, DVAge = 16+

  1. PersProx = IN PERSON: responses should be answered in person by the respondent. Proxy responses (on behalf of someone else in the household) will not be accepted
  2. DVAge = 16+ = Questions asked to those aged 16 and over only


Presentation of outputs

This section provides guidance for outputting the survey questions to use when collecting information about personal well-being.

No proposals for harmonised outputs for topics related to personal well-being are planned. The output categories generally derive straight from the questions or from the answer categories given on any showcards used. If any categories are combined, this should be made clear in published documentation.

For information, ONS within their annual publications do provide estimates of the mean ratings for all four personal well-being questions, as well as their distributions, using the thresholds that can be found in the table below:

Life satisfaction, Worthwhile and
Happiness scores
Anxiety scores
Response on a
11 point scale
Label Response on a
11 point scale
0 to 4 Low 0 to 1 Very low
5 to 6 Medium 2 to 3 Low
7 to 8 High 4 to 5 Medium
9 to 10 Very high 6 to 10 High


The Office for National Statistics (ONS) introduced questions on personal well-being on the Annual Population Survey (APS) in April 2011. The questions have remained unchanged on the APS since they were first introduced. All question testing that has been carried out on personal well-being questions has been done using a separate survey – the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN) – to preserve consistency of measures on the APS.

One of the main benefits of collecting information on personal well-being is that it is based on people’s views of their own individual well-being. In the past, assumptions were made about how objective conditions, such as people’s health and income, might influence their individual well-being. Personal well-being measures, on the other hand, take account of what matters to people by allowing them to decide what is important when they respond to questions.

Question placement

It is recommended that the four personal well-being questions are placed after the key demographic questions in line with the way the questions are administered on the APS. The positioning of the four questions was decided following ONS qualitative work and extensive discussions within ONS. Positioning the four questions after the key demographics allows rapport to be developed between the interviewer and the respondent, as well as ensuring the main survey questions do not impact on response to the personal well-being questions. For further details on question placement, please refer to the Personal Well-being Survey User Guide.

Survey modes

To date, ONS have tested the four personal well-being questions using a range of modes of administration, including self-completion and interviewer-led face to face and telephone survey methods.

The APS is mixed mode and data are collected either by telephone interview or face-to-face in the respondent’s home. Different collection modes can affect responses and personal well-being estimates are no exception. For example, in the APS it appears that on average people responding face-to-face with an interviewer in their home gave lower ratings to those responding via the telephone.

This issue is particularly important for the APS as all interviews in Scotland north of the Caledonian Canal are administered by telephone only, rather than through a combination of telephone and face-to-face interviews, as is the case in other areas of the UK. Please see the statistical bulletin ‘Personal Well-being Across the UK, 2012/13’ for the most recent data for different survey modes on the APS.

A regression analysis which looked at the variation in well-being outcomes by specific characteristics and circumstances of individuals whilst holding other characteristics equal was also carried out in spring 2013. The findings of this analysis show that people interviewed face-to-face give lower well-being ratings on average than people interviewed by telephone. However, the size effects are small.  Further details on this regression analysis are available in the report ‘Measuring National Well-being – What matters most to Personal Well-being?’

Previous research has also found that on average lower scores to well-being questions are received if the interview is carried out via self-completion rather than administered by an interviewer, particularly for female respondents (Pudney 2010). However, testing on the ONS Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN) has shown that there was little difference in the mean ratings between the interviewer led and self-completion interviews. Further details on this testing are available in the report ‘Initial Investigation into Subjective Well-being from the Opinions Survey’.

The following working paper produced for the National Statistician’s Technical Advisory Group on Measuring National Well-being also provides further evidence on the impact of responses under different interview conditions: Ralph, K., Palmer, K. and Olney, J. (2011), ‘ Subjective well-being: a qualitative investigation of subjective well-being questions’ (pdf, 344.6KB) , Working Paper for the Technical Advisory Group on 29 March 2012.


Frequently Asked Questions

The Personal Well-being Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) which will be updated as required can be found in this link

Surveys Using the Four ONS Personal Well-being Questions

Personal Well-being Survey User Guide

Personal Well-being Quality and Methodology Information (QMI)

For the latest personal well-being publications

Measuring National Well-being – What matters most to Personal Well-being?’

Initial Investigation into Subjective Well-being from the Opinions Survey’ 

Review frequency:

This page will be reviewed annually.



Personal well-being (PDF, 0.09MB)


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