Corey L.M. Keyes (ed.)Mental Well-Being2013International Contributions to the Study of Positive Mental Health10.1007/978-94-007-5195-8_9© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013
9. Mental Well-Being in Iran: The Importance of Comprehensive Well-Being in Understanding the Linkages of Personality and Values
Victoria University of Wellington & Centre for Applied Cross-Cultural Research, Kelburn Parade, 600, Wellington, 6012, New Zealand
The main purpose of this chapter is to search into the concept of mental well-being in Iran. First, the author reviews the philosophical and psychological conceptualizations of mental health in the West, focusing on the distinction between hedonic and eudaimonic aspects of well-being. Second, the author provides a conceptual analysis of the implicit theory of Islam about mental health with reference to Islamic texts. This conceptual analysis reveals that the distinction between hedonic and eudaimonic aspects of well-being is generally applicable to the Islamic cultures, although there are some cultural differences in the content and proprieties. Third, the author reviews the current empirical findings in Iran using western scales of well-being. This chapter proceeds with discussing the strengths and drawbacks of these empirical studies and highlighting a few ways in which these drawbacks can be overcome in the future. Finally, the author argues that although much needs to be done in the years to come, the Iranian experience with western well-being scales has been successful heretofore.
In line with the theme of this book, the purpose of this chapter is to highlight the major findings in the field of well-being in Iran. Obviously, it is difficult to do a comprehensive review of a field as broad as well-being in such a dynamic culture. Therefore, this chapter focuses on some selected streams of research. Iranian and western findings are compared in order to draw conclusions and to summarize the Iranian experience. This chapter begins with a review of western conceptualizations of well-being and proceeds with proposing an account of the concept of the good life in Islam, with reference to Islamic texts. I argue that the distinction made by western scholars between eudaimonic and hedonic aspects of well-being is applicable to Iranian-Islamic culture in its generality. I then review a few areas of well-being research in Iran. Attention is then directed to some contributions of well-being research in Iran and to the ongoing debates in the field. I argue that the initial Iranian experience with western conceptualizations and scales of well-being has been relatively successful and can be considered as a good first step in this area of research.
Western Conceptualization of Mental Well-Being: Hedonic and Eudaimonic Aspects
It is impossible to map out the entire field of well-being research. Here, I will focus on the distinction between two different perspectives in the study of well-being: hedonic and eudaimonic. The distinction between hedonic and eudaimonic aspects of well-being has repeatedly proved informative and has been held by many to be theoretically and empirically warranted (e.g., see Keyes and Annas 2009; Keyes et al. 2002; Ryan and Deci 2001; Ryan et al. 2008; Waterman et al. 2008). The primary difference between eudaimonic and hedonic definitions of well-being is that the former is premised on positive functioning and the latter on positive feeling (Keyes and Annas 2009).
Under hedonic theory, well-being is equated with hedonic pleasure or happiness. “Indeed, the predominant view among hedonic psychologists is that well-being consists of subjective happiness and concerns the experience of pleasure versus displeasure broadly construed to include all judgments about the good/bad elements of life” (Ryan and Deci 2001, p. 144). Most research within so-called hedonic psychology have used an assessment of subjective well-being. Subjective well-being (SWB) is generally operationalized as both a predominance of positive over negative affect (i.e., affect balance) and a global satisfaction with life (Diener 1984). In other words, a person is said to have high SWB if that person reports that life is satisfying, experiences frequent pleasant affect, and infrequently experiences unpleasant affect (Diener and Lucas 1999).
Eudaimonic theory, alternatively, draws on virtue ethics. Virtue ethics is an ethical theory that takes virtue as a primary aspect of well-being and asserts that the central question of ethics “How should I live?” can be construed as “What kind of person should I be?” (Bunnin and Yu 2004). This approach to ethics can be traced back to ancient Greek philosophers, including Aristotle. “Virtue ethics is a term of art, initially introduced to distinguish an approach in normative ethics which emphasizes the virtues, or moral character, in contrast to an approach which emphasizes duties or rules (deontology) or one which emphasizes the consequences of actions (utilitarianism)” (Hursthouse 1999, p. 1). This approach locates the origin of ethics in our natural desires and inclinations. According to Devettere (2002), virtue ethics posits that an object functions well or poorly depending on whether or not it achieves its appropriate telos, or ends. Almost all versions of virtue ethics hold that our desires aim ultimately at an overriding good, or eudaimonia (i.e., good fate or happiness). The overriding good is the most important good that makes our lives good on the whole. Humans achieve eudaimonia “whenever the physical, psychological, interpersonal, social, and political aspects of their lives are functioning well and harmoniously… Embedded in their nature are numerous unrealized capabilities or capacities, and they function well when they actualize their innate natural capabilities that make their lives go well” (Devettere 2002, p. 22).
The eudemonistic view maintains that happiness cannot be equated with hedonia. The overriding good cannot be pleasure. Indeed, “happiness in ancient ethical thought is not a matter of feeling good or being pleased; it is not a feeling or emotion at all. It is your life as a whole which is said to be happy or not, and so discussions of happiness are discussions of the happy life” (Annas 2000, pp. 40–41). Annas elucidates why pleasure cannot be what ancient ethicists had in mind while formulating eudaimonia:
[O]ne point is clear right from the start … Happiness is having a happy life—it applies to your life overall. Pleasure, however, is more naturally taken to be something episodic, something you can feel now and not later. It is something you experience as we perform the activities which make up your life. You can be enjoying a meal, a conversation, even life one moment and not the next; but you cannot, in the ancient way of thinking, be happy one moment and not the next, since happiness applies to your life as a whole. (p. 42)
Virtue ethicists, instead, emphasize the role of virtue in living a eudaimonic life. Eudaimonia is the person’s activity that is explicated in terms of living virtuously (Keyes and Annas 2009). In other words, as Solomon and Martin (2004) put it, eudaimonia is a life of activity in accordance with virtue. “A virtue is a disposition that makes us good as a human being in that it makes us perform our functions well” (Hooft 2006, p. 58).
In line with the philosophical tradition of eudaimonism, positive psychologists adhering to the eudemonistic view consider well-being to consist of more than just hedonic pleasure, suggesting that people’s reports of happiness (or of being positively affective and satisfied), although beneficial in its turn, do not necessarily mean that they are functioning psychologically and socially well. Eudaimonic view is concerned with living well and actualizing one’s human potential (Deci and Ryan 2008).
Some psychologists have tried to formulate eudaimonia. Ryff’s (1989) model of psychological well-being, for example, falls into the eudaimonic tradition. Her model stems from extensive literature aimed at defining positive psychological functioning (e.g., the humanistic and existential theories). She tried to integrate these scattered formulations into a multidimensional model of positive psychological functioning, which encompasses the points of convergence in the previous formulations. The model resulting from this distillation contains six components: “positive evaluations of oneself and one’s past life (Self-Acceptance), a sense of continued growth and development as a person (Personal Growth), the belief that one’s life is purposeful and meaningful (Purpose in Life), the possession of quality relations with others (Positive Relations With Others), the capacity to effectively manage one’s life and surrounding world (Environmental Mastery), and a sense of self-determination (Autonomy)” (Ryff and Keyes 1995, p. 720). (For other conceptualizations of eudaimonia by western authors, see Ryan et al. 2008; Vitterso et al. 2010; and Waterman et al. 2008).
Social Components of Human Functioning
According to Keyes and Shapiro (2004), what has been missing in the well-being literature is the recognition that individuals may evaluate the quality of their lives and personal functioning against social criteria. Keyes’ (1998) brief review shows that the distinction between public and private life has pervaded social psychological theory. He argues that the private and public life are two potential sources of life challenges, with possibly distinct consequences for judging a well-lived life. Despite this distinction, the “leading conceptions of adult functioning portray well-being as a primarily private phenomenon” (Keyes 1998, p.121) and emphasize private features of well-being. That is, according to Keyes (2002), measures of hedonic well-being often identify individuals’ satisfaction, or positive affect, with life overall but rarely with facets of their social lives. Dimensions of psychological well-being are also intrapersonal reflections of an individual’s adjustment to and outlook on their life. Only one of the six scales of psychological well-being (positive relations with others) reflects the ability to build and maintain intimate, trusting, interpersonal relationship (Keyes 2002). But “individuals remain embedded in social structures and communities, and face countless social tasks and challenges” (Keyes 1998, p. 122). Accordingly, Keyes asserts that there is more to functioning than psychological well-being. He believes that to understand optimal functioning and mental health, social scientists should also investigate individuals’ social well-being.
Keyes’ (1998) multidimensional model of social well-being is an attempt to conceptualize and assess the social aspect of well-being. This model falls into the eudaimonic perspective and addresses social aspects of human functioning. The model consists of five dimensions that indicate whether and to what degree individuals are functioning well in their social world:
[S]ocial acceptance is a favorable view of human nature and a feeling of comfort with other people; social actualization is the belief in the evolution of society and the sense that society has potential that is being realized through its institutions and citizens; social contribution is the evaluation of one’s value to society; social coherence is the perception of the quality, organization, and operation of the social world and includes a concern for knowing about the world; and social integration is the extent to which people feel they have something in common with others who constitute their social reality (e.g., their neighborhood), as well as the degree to which they feel that they belong to their communities and society. (Robitschek and Keyes 2009, p. 323)
Extant findings regarding the correlates of social well-being confirm the validity and usefulness of this multifaceted model of social well-being. The social well-being scale correlates with variables extracted from earlier formulations of successful aging (e.g., generativity in Erikson’s model of human development, Keyes and Ryff 1998), a set of variables reflecting positive functioning in the context of community in which community psychologists are interested (e.g., psychological sense of community, Cicognani et al. 2008; Joshanloo et al. 2006a, b), other aspects of well-being (e.g., life satisfaction, Joshanloo and Ghaedi 2009; Joshanloo and Nosratabadi 2009), and some positive personality traits (e.g., self-efficacy, Joshanloo et al. 2006a, b).
Complete Mental Health
It is important to note that although the hedonic and eudaimonic aspects of well-being are theoretically and empirically distinguishable, many believe that both components of well-being should be included in the research designs, in tandem, to gain a full picture of a well-lived life (Keyes and Annas 2009). Theoretically, feeling and functioning are distinct, yet overlapping. Not surprisingly, empirical investigations suggest that there is overlap between the experience of hedonia and eudaimonia (e.g., see Kashdan et al. 2008). Ryan and Deci (2001) assert that “evidence from a number of investigators has indicated that well-being is probably best conceived as a multidimensional phenomenon that includes aspects of both the hedonic and eudaimonic conceptions” (p. 148). As Strumpfer (2006) pointed out, such a conception would clearly fit well into Keyes’ (2002, 2005a) complete mental health model. According to this model, each dimension of well-being (hedonic, psychological, and social) represents an important domain of study in itself. Thus, all these scales should be collectively employed to measure the presence and absence of mental health.
Keyes (2002) proposes a mental health continuum ranging from flourishing, moderate, to languishing. Flourishing individuals have high levels on both hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. Languishing individuals have low levels on both types of well-being. Finally, individuals who are neither flourishing nor languishing in life are diagnosed as moderately mentally healthy. These individuals either have moderate levels of both hedonic and eudaimonic well-being or have high level of one and low level of the other. In several studies, Keyes and his colleagues have shown that anything less than flourishing (scoring high on both hedonic and eudaimonic well-being) “is associated with greater burden to self and society” (Keyes and Annas 2009). Results of several studies show that missed days of work, cutbacks in the amount of work, limitations of activities of daily living, prevalence of cardiovascular disease, average number of chronic physical health conditions, and the like are lowest among flourishing individuals, increased among moderately mentally healthy individuals, and highest in languishing individuals (Keyes 2002, 2004, 2005a, b). Findings of another study by Keyes et al. (2002) indicate that when both hedonic and eudaimonic well-being are present in an individual, they complement each other. However, when one is absent, they compensate for each other.
The conceptualizations of well-being outlined above are proposed by western psychologists. Considering the differences between non-western countries and the West, it is not wise to take the utility of these conceptualizations and scales for granted in non-western countries before theoretical and empirical investigations are undertaken. In the sections that follow, I will briefly introduce Iranian culture and closely examine what the Iranian concept of the good life might be like. This analysis is aimed at shedding some light on the question: Is it fruitful or destructive to apply western concepts and scales of well-being to a country like Iran?
The Concept of Mental Well-Being in Iran
Iran is a Muslim country in southwestern Asia, with a population of more than 70 millions. Iran is not an Arab country, and the official language of the country is Persian. Relative to North American and northern European societies, collectivistic values are salient in Iranian social life (Safdar et al. 2006).
Ninety-seven percent of Iran is Muslim (Clawson and Rubin 2005), and the country is currently ruled by a theocratic government. Iranian government has tried to Islamize the population during the last few decades. The constitution of Iran states that no laws, rights, or policies should contradict Islam (Tamadonfar 2001). The foreign policy of the Iranian government is generally anti-western, and such a policy has led to the country’s isolation from the West.
A substantial majority of Iranians (about 89%) are Muslims of the Shiite sect, a sect different from Sunni, to which a great majority of Muslims (e.g., most of Arabs) belong. Zoroastrianism (the ancient pre-Islamic religion of Persia) has influenced the Islamic practice and faith among Iranians on a noticeable level (e.g., Stepaniants 2002; Romance 2007). However, the Iranian version of Islam (i.e., Shiism) is identical to mainstream Islam in terms of the fundamental tenets (e.g., belief in the oneness of God, belief in the resurrection day, the belief that the prophet Muhammad is the messenger of God, and that Quran is God’s words).
These characteristics of Iranian culture indicate that Iran is different in political regime and culture from most of the countries from which scientific psychological studies come. Accordingly, the relevance of the western notion of the good life to Iran cannot be taken for granted without theoretical and empirical studies supporting this claim. Below, I propose an account of the concept of the good life in Islam with reference to Islamic texts. However, it should be borne in mind that Islam is not the only influential ideology in Iran. Other influential schools of thought are Iranian pre-Islamic religions and philosophies (e.g., Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism), Iranian post-Islamic philosophy, and Persian mysticism which have all influenced the Iranian popular religiosity. However, dealing with all these schools of thought is beyond the scope and purpose of this chapter and is left for future work.
Mental Health in Islam
I saw a holy man on the seashore who had been wounded by a tiger. No medicine could relieve his pain; he suffered much but he nevertheless constantly thanked God the most high, saying: “Praise be to Allah [=God] that I have fallen into a calamity and not into sin.”
If that beloved Friend [=God] decrees me to be slain
I shall not say that moment that I grieve for life
Or say: What fault has thy slave committed?
My grief will be for having offended thee.1
—Sa’adi, The Gulistan [The Rose Garden] of Sa’adi (1259 CE)
Islamic view of humankind is dualistic, as humans possess both a perishable body and an everlasting soul (Haque 2004a, b). Islam posits that one of the basic spiritual needs of people is to worship a higher power (Sajedi 2008a). Also, according to Islam, we have two lives, one in this world and one in the hereafter. Our life in the present world is far less important than our eternal life in the afterworld (Quran 6:32). The Islamic concept of the good life needs to take these two important points into account. That is to say, this concept should be formulated in such way that it guarantees the satisfaction of individuals’ spiritual needs and their happiness in both lives. Clearly, such a concept of mental health and the good life needs to go beyond the absence of mental illness. Indeed, in Islam, mental health is not only the absence of mental disorders but also the presence of positive qualities and virtues (Abou el Azayem and Hedayat-Diba 1994; Haque 2004a, b; Smither and Khordandi 2009). The Islamic view of the good life is consistent with positive psychology’s viewpoint in this regard.
The Islamic notion of the good life is more consistent with eudaimonism than hedonism. Islamic texts indicate that to live a good life, one should have faith and put that faith into practice. “[i]t is believed that by following Islamic principles, Muslims can achieve and enjoy the four ingredients of a healthy and balanced life, namely, physical, social, mental, and spiritual health” (Abou el Azayem and Hedayat-Diba 1994, p. 49). All Muslims are obliged to have faith in some principal beliefs of Islam (belief in oneness of God, belief in the resurrection, etc.). Furthermore, Islam is a comprehensive way of life. It covers all aspects of life (individual, spiritual, economic, social, political, and family). Muslims believe that religion cannot be separated from any little aspect of life (Hamdan 2007; Pridmore and Pasha 2004). Only having faith in these beliefs and living based on the ordinances of Islam in all aspects of life can lead to the satisfaction of individuals’ spiritual needs and the actualization of their potential. About those who believe and keep their duty to Allah, the Quran (10:64) says “[t]heirs are good tidings in the life of the world and in the hereafter….”2
According to Islam, humans are the product of the unification of spirit and body. God has breathed spirit into humans’ material body. This divine spirit needs to be actualized. One can freely choose to actualize the divine spirit within oneself by following the ordinances of Islam or choose to indulge in material pleasures. Attainment of a virtuous lifestyle requires relentless patience and constant struggle against our lower nature (Akhtar 2008).
According to Islam, when a child is born, it carries within it a natural belief in God. This natural belief is called the fitrah. This innate disposition is considered to be a source of guidance, telling humans when they are wrong (Haque 2004a, b). In a sense, we are preprogrammed to worship God and follow his commands. But, due to environmental pressures, we forget our true nature. Humans are obliged to rediscover their fitrah and follow its guidance. The Quran says (30:30–31):
So set thy purpose (O Muhammad) for religion as a man by nature upright—the nature (framed) of Allah, in which He hath created man. There is no altering (the laws of) Allah’s creation. That is the right religion, but most men know not—Turning unto Him (only); and be careful of your duty unto Him and establish worship, and be not of those who ascribe partners (unto Him).
Obviously, such a viewpoint fits well with the eudaimonic view, which emphasizes actualizing human potential and satisfaction of true human needs.
Islam’s emphasis on eudaimonia does not mean that positive emotions and pleasures are not legitimate in Islam. Instead, it holds that by adhering to the Islamic lifestyle, Muslims experience many different positive emotions and pleasures (vitality, peacefulness, gladness, contentment, gratitude, joy, etc.), both in this world and in the hereafter. For example, the Quran says (13:28) “[v]erily in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest.” Islam holds that one should not pursue hedonistic pleasures as the primary goal of life. In fact, positive emotions and pleasure are considered necessary in Islam, but they are regarded secondary and are placed after eudaimonistic strivings. That is, Muslims should not choose for themselves the goods of this lower life (i.e., evil pleasures of this world) as the goal of life (Q 7:169), since “naught is the life of the world save a pastime…” (Q 6:32). Thus, attempts to maximize positive emotions and pleasures and minimize negative emotions and pains, if not accompanied by eudaimonic strivings, are discouraged.
As it is evident in the excerpt that opened this section, one of the Iranian foremost poets, Sa’adi, finds good reasons to praise a pious man who suffered a long-lasting incurable pain but constantly thanked God because God has destined him to suffer from a calamity and not to a life of committing sin. In other words, although this calamity undermines the hedonic balance of the pious man’s life, since it does not interfere with living a virtuous life (as understood by the pious man), he is grateful to God for it. Iranian literature is replete with such stories and sagas, which try to persuade people to choose eudaimonic standards for assessing a well-lived life. But we should also note that gratitude is classified as a positive emotion, which has recently received much attention in positive psychology (e.g., Emmons and McCullough 2004). Thus, Sa’adi is covertly suggesting that even in face of misery and calamity, living a virtuous life (e.g., to be satisfied with God’s will and be grateful no matter what happens in one’s life) can neutralize the anhedonia caused by misery and replace it with relatively positive emotions (in this case, gratitude).
In sum, no mental health model is adequate in Islam unless it takes eudaimonistic aspects into account. In fact, the most perfect model is one that takes both hedonic and eudaimonic aspects into account. It can be concluded that the distinction between hedonic and eudaimonic well-being and the necessity of both of them in conceptualizing and assessing well-being in Islamic cultures seem to be theoretically warranted. However, there appears to be some variation in the dimensions of eudaimonic and hedonic aspects between western and Islamic cultures or the amount of emphasis that each puts on a single dimension of well-being. For example, whereas autonomy is emphasized more as a basic human need in western culture, the need for worship is emphasized more as a basic need by Islam (Sajedi 2008a).
A detailed discussion of individual symptoms of well-being (positive relations with others, purpose in life, social integration, social contribution, life satisfaction, etc.) and their relevance to Islamic faith is beyond the focus of this chapter. The interested reader is referred to the existing articles and books published by scholars and psychologists in many diverse languages. For example, in an article in Persian, Sajedi (2008a, b) argues that Islam provides Muslims with the mechanisms needed to achieve many high standards posited by western notions of mental health. He cites tens of sayings of Islamic religious leaders and of the Quran to show that many common themes in western models of well-being (e.g., spirituality, positive relations with others, social interest, meaning in life, self-knowledge) are highly valued in Islam. As another example, in an interesting study by Dahlsgaard et al. (2005), philosophical and religious traditions in Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Athenian philosophy, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam were investigated to find common core values. The authors found six core strengths that were valued in all these traditions: courage, justice, humanity, temperance, wisdom, and transcendence. They concluded that “there is convergence across time, place, and intellectual tradition about certain core virtues” (p. 210). Given that these universal values predispose individuals to the good life, these findings indicate that living a virtuous life has some common characteristics, no matter which faith it is lived by.
Especially during the last decade, Persian translations of western scales of hedonic and eudaimonic well-being have been widely used in Iran. Therefore, we can draw on existing empirical literature to evaluate the utility of these scales in Iran. Below, I will provide a brief review of the findings of well-being studies in Iran.
Well-Being Research in Iran
Iranian researchers have used many western scales in their work to assess different aspects of well-being. These studies can be divided into two categories. In the first category, the construct validity and reliability of the translations of these scales are examined. In the second category, the predictors of different aspects of well-being are examined. I will return to the second category of research (specifically, two groups of predictors: personality traits and values) later in this chapter. First, I will briefly review the first category of research, which focuses on the investigation of the validity and reliability of western well-being scales in Iranian samples.
Validity and Reliability of Western Well-Being Scales in Iran
Validity and reliability of some western scales of well-being have been examined in Iran. For example, Joshanloo et al. (2006a) examined the factor structure of 13 symptoms of well-being (including six aspects of Ryff’s psychological well-being model, five aspects of Keyes’ social well-being model, life satisfaction, and positive affect) based on Keyes’ (2002) comprehensive model of mental health, described above. Using a sample of 205 Iranian university students, they showed that the three-factor model (viewing psychological, social, and emotional well-being as three separate but correlated factors) showed the best fit to the data. Although, the fit indices were not excellent, some minor modification improved the model’s fit.
Shokri et al. (2008) examined the factor structure of 3-, 9-, and 14-item Persian versions of Ryff’s Scales of Psychological Well-Being in Iranian university students (N = 374). Results of the confirmatory factor analysis revealed that the six-dimensional model of psychological well-being (hypothesizing six distinct yet correlated factors) showed an acceptable fit to the data across all three versions. In that study, the content validity of the items of Ryff’s scales was confirmed by some of the professors of psychology at one of the Iranian universities. Interestingly, the six-factor structure of different versions of this scale has not been confirmed in some other countries (e.g., Springer et al. 2006), while the results of this factor analysis conducted in Iran supports the factor structure proposed by Ryff (1989). In another study, Bayani et al. (2008) used an Iranian student sample to examine the reliability and convergent validity of an 84-item version of Ryff’s psychological well-being scales. They found 2-month test-retest reliability coefficients greater than 0.71 for six subscales of this scale. They also found that Cronbach’s alphas of the six subscales ranged from 0.57 to 0.76. Finally, their results demonstrated that this scale was positively correlated with the Satisfaction with Life Scale, the Oxford Happiness Inventory, and Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem Scale.
Bakhshi et al. (2009) examined the construct validity of positive and negative affect scale (Mroczek and Kolarz 1998) in Iranian undergraduates. Their results indicated that scales of positive and negative affect had good reliability and convergent validity. In addition, unidimensional factor structure of positive affect scale was supported by both exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses. As for the negative affect scale, while exploratory factor analysis supported the unidimensional factor structure of this scale, confirmatory factor analysis yielded unacceptable fit indices.
Bakhshipur and Dozhkam (2006) applied confirmatory factor analysis to examine the factor structure of the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS; Watson et al. 1988) in a clinical sample of 255 young adults. They found that fit indices for the model that viewed positive and negative affect factors as two separate but correlated factors were superior to those of the single factor model, although the two-factor model’s fit indices were lower than the rule-of-thumb recommendation provided in the literature.
The validity of the Satisfaction with Life Scale (Diener et al. 1985) has also been examined in two studies in Iran. Bayani et al. (2007) reported a Cronbach’s alpha of 0.83 and a 1-month test-retest reliability of 0.70 for this scale. They also found that this scale had a correlation of 0.71 with the Oxford Happiness Inventory. Joshanloo and Daemi (in press) investigated the construct validity of this scale. Their results indicated that the Satisfaction with Life Scale had a one-factor structure (as proposed by Diener et al. 1985) and acceptable reliability and convergent validity with Iranian student samples.
Hatami et al. (2010) examined the construct validity and reliability of the Multidimensional Students’ Life Satisfaction Scale (MSLSS; Huebner 1994) using a sample of 430 students in grades 6–12 in Iran. They applied exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses in their study. They found that the pattern matrix of this Persian adaptation was, by and large, consistent with previous investigations of the MSLSS in other countries. They concluded that this Persian adaptation of the MSLSS offers a reliable and valid means of assessing Iranian middle and high school students’ life satisfaction.
The validity and reliability of the Oxford Happiness Inventory (Argyle et al. 1989) have been investigated in a few studies in Iran (e.g., Alipour and Agah Heris 2007; Alipour, and Noorbala 1999; Liaghatdar et al. 2008). Findings of these studies indicate that this scale has satisfactory reliability and convergent validity in Iranian samples, but its factor structure appears to be different from that obtained in other countries. In one of these studies, in order to examine the content validity, a panel of 10 psychologists and psychiatrists were asked to review the items of this scale. All experts confirmed the ability of this scale to assess happiness in Iran (Alipour and Noorbala 1999).
Joshanloo and Ghaedi (2009) examined the psychometric properties of personal growth initiative scale (Robitschek 1998, 1999) in an Iranian university student sample. They found that the internal consistency of the scale was 0.87. Results of the confirmatory factor analyses showed that this scale had a unidimensional factor structure in the sample used. Correlations between this scale and convergent validity scales (positive affect, negative affect, life satisfaction, psychological well-being, and social well-being) were significant and in the expected direction. These results indicate acceptable reliability and validity for the Persian translation of this scale for Iranian university students.
Altogether, the findings of the validation studies done on translations of western well-being scales in Iran indicate that most of these scales are reliable and valid. Most of the Iranian researchers who have conducted these studies assert that these scales can be used in Iranian samples with confidence. The factor structure of these scales, however, has been found in some cases to be different from western versions. Although some might say this is unacceptable, we should bear in mind that this is not specific to Iran. It is sometimes possible that two-factor analytical studies in a single country, on a single scale, yield different results.
Nevertheless, this stream of research can be improved in some ways. Almost all of these studies have used student samples. Future research should examine the validity and reliability of these scales in adult samples. Furthermore, in some cases, it is better to develop some short forms for western scales to be used in Iranian samples by eliminating some items. Some individual items might need further refinement or replacement. Past research indicates that some items of these scales function worse than the rest in Iran. Some statistical techniques, such as factor analysis and Item Response Theory analysis, should be applied to examine how well each individual item functions with Iranian samples and examine the differences in the way each item functions in Iran and other cultures.
In some cases, it seems to be fruitful to add items to the scales to capture some aspects of the construct which are relevant in Iranian culture but are not captured by the original scale. This needs to be done based on some qualitative research and deep theoretical analyses. Finally, some dimensions of well-being, which are relevant to Iranian culture but are not captured by the western scales, should be identified, and new scales should be developed to tap into them. For instance, one likely candidate is spiritual well-being. The Islamic version of spiritual well-being (the satisfaction of the need for worship and surrender to God, having a constructive and positive relationship with God, etc.) should be theoretically and empirically examined to see if it qualifies as an emic aspect of well-being to be applied along with the existing western scales. All these steps may require lots of effort and time, but certainly they will be fruitful for Iranian well-being studies.
In the section that follows, I will turn to the second category of well-being studies in Iran, which focuses on the investigation of various predictors of different aspects of well-being. Due to space constraints, I will focus on two sets of predictors: personality traits and values. First presented is a brief review of the findings from different countries for each set of predictors, followed by a short review of Iranian studies.
Big Five Personality Domains and Self-Esteem as Predictors of Well-Being in Iran
In their recent review of SWB literature, Lucas and Diener (2008) asserted the following:
[A]fter decades of research on SWB researchers have often arrived at what to some seems like a startling conclusion: The most important factor in determining a person’s SWB appears to be the personality with which he or she is born. (p. 801)
Empirical research has shown that external factors (health, income, etc.) have only a modest impact on SWB reports (Diener et al. 1999). Research instead shows that SWB is often strongly correlated with stable personality traits (Diener et al. 2003). In terms of the Big Five personality domains, extraversion (E) and neuroticism (N) have been found to be the strongest predictors of SWB in many countries (for a very brief review, see Schimmack et al. 2002). However, the meta-analyses by DeNeve and Cooper (1998) and Steel et al. (2008) indicated that two other personality traits, namely, agreeableness (A) and conscientiousness (C), predispose individuals toward SWB as well. Openness to experience (O) does not appear to be a strong and consistent predictor of SWB. It has been suggested to be linked positively to both positive affect and negative affect (McCrae and Costa 1991).
Psychological dimensions of eudaimonic well-being have also been linked with personality domains. Schmutte and Ryff’s (1997) findings revealed consistent linkages between the domains of personality and psychological well-being. Environmental mastery demonstrated strong negative links with N, as did purpose in life and autonomy, to a lesser degree. Self-acceptance, environmental mastery, and purpose in life were linked with E and C. Personal growth was related to O. Positive relations with others was linked with A and, to a lesser degree, with E. Finally, autonomy was linked with E, C, and O but most strongly with N. Schmutte and Ryff concluded that the “dimensions of psychological well-being are distinct from, yet meaningfully influenced by, personality” (p. 557). One important finding is that O tends to correlate only with eudaimonic aspects of well-being. This is in line with Keyes et al. (2002) results, indicating that those with high levels of eudaimonic well-being (as assessed by psychological well-being scales), but low levels of SWB, were distinguished from their opposite counterpart (high SWB/low psychological well-being) by their high levels of O.