Over the past 20 years, there has been a growing interest in economic and psychological studies of happiness through the concept of “subjective well-being.” Contemplative studies can also be situated within this history, insofar as it is indebted to mindfulness studies, Buddhist modernism, and thus the twin goals of minimizing suffering and enhancing well-being. Contemplative studies, however, has yet to clarify its position in relation to the history of subjective well-being research. In this paper, I will, therefore, provide a history of research on subjective well-being, showing how the contemporary field of contemplative studies relates to that history. In doing so, I delineate a subset of subjective well-being, what I call “spiritual well-being,” and highlight the extent to which the contemplative approach is most suited to cultivating this kind of well-being.

Francis Mckay

University of Chicago