8 Positive Psychology Surveys, Measures, and Questionnaires

positive psychology tests and surveys

To advance the field of positive psychology, scholars and practitioners need to gather evidence on internal experiences that are fundamental to our individual and collective wellbeing.

Various surveys and measures have been developed to gain insight into these experiences, such as life satisfaction scales, gratitude scales, and ways to measure flow, just to name a few.

This article presents a collection of useful positive psychology surveys that deviate from some of the scales covered in our other articles.

But before we dive in, a quick note on terminology:

Whether a set of questions is referred to as an ‘instrument,’ ‘measure,’ ‘scale,’ ‘inventory,’ ‘questionnaire,’ or ‘survey,’ all of these terms ultimately mean the same thing. It is simply a list of questions or statements (otherwise known as ‘items’) designed to assess a particular psychological concept (sometimes referred to as a ‘construct’).

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download three Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises will explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology, including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.

Why Do We Need Scales?

When it comes to assessing people’s psychological experiences, scientists primarily get their information by asking questions administered through surveys.

Let’s take a moment to consider why.

Imagine you are a scientist who wants to understand and quantify a person’s overall life satisfaction. That way, you can compare life satisfaction scores between different people. How would you go about getting this information?

One option would be to follow your participants around for a few days, jotting down observations about their daily interactions, behaviors, and the amount of time they spend with a smile on their face.

Obviously, this would be an imprecise approach (not to mention time-consuming), as you cannot accurately quantify life satisfaction based on the amount of time a person spends smiling.

An alternative approach would be to administer some kind of test in the same way that one might administer a test to assess mathematical ability, perhaps on a fancy high-powered computer.

But again, this is a little far-fetched. What kind of ‘test’ could assess something as subjective as life satisfaction?

Finally, you might be able to hook your participants up to an expensive machine in a laboratory and pin life satisfaction down to a single physiological indicator, such as cortisol or sweat conductivity.

While some psychological experiences do have physiological parallels, such as when anxiety is assessed via cortisol, many do not (Bohnen, Nicolson, Sulon, & Jolles, 1991). For more on that, read our article on the Mind-Body Connection. It would be impossible to link a construct as broad and multi-faceted as life satisfaction to a single physiological indicator.

Thus, when considering the alternatives, it’s clear that questionnaires are the way to go.

The exception might be if you wanted to identify life satisfaction drivers without any pre-existing theory to drive your hypothesizing. In such a case, it might be appropriate to use a grounded theory approach, whereby you interview a small number of participants to obtain rich, qualitative information. That way, you could code the participants’ responses for themes.

 

A Note on Scoring

A note on scoringCalculating your score for any of the scales included in this article is simple.

First, check the scale for any reverse-scored items. These are often marked by an asterisk (*) or a bracketed (r). For these, you will need to flip your score to the reverse point on the scale.

For example, imagine you are responding to a scale assessing subjective happiness, and one of the items asks you to rate your agreement to the following statement on a 1-5 scale (where 1 equals strongly disagree and 5 equals strongly agree):

I seldom feel cheerful.”

Obviously, this item is measuring the reverse of happiness. If you respond to 2 (disagree) for scoring, change this to a value of 4. Now do the same for all of your reverse-scored items.

Next, sum all the scores and divide the result by the total number of items in the scale. You should then be left with a single value that falls within the minimum and maximum anchor points of the scale. That is, if you were responding to items on a scale ranging from 1-5, your final total should not be less than 1 or exceed 5.

The number you will be left with represents your score on that construct. For instance, after performing the above calculations, you may end up with a final score of 4.5 for the subjective happiness measure, suggesting that you are substantially above the midpoint (3) and probably a very happy person.

Also, keep in mind that some of the scales included here are made up of subscales. This means that the measured construct is theorized to be made up of two or more sub facets, which need to be measured separately using different groupings of items.

In these instances, you must calculate scores separately for each subscale, sum the totals for the subscales, and divide by the total number of subscales for a final score on the overall construct.

As an example, we can consider the Hare Self-Esteem Scale (Hare, 1975). This scale, which is thirty items in total, comprises three subscales, assessing adolescents’ self-esteem in relation to school, peers, and the home environment. Each of these scales contains 10 items.

Therefore, to get an overall score for an adolescent’s self-esteem, you would sum the total scores for each of the 10 items and divide the three results by 10. Then, you would sum the total score for the three subscales and divide by 3.

As you can imagine, doing these calculations separately for each subscale before arriving at a total for the composite construct is particularly important when subscales contain unequal numbers of items.

Now, let’s dive into the measures.

 

5 Measures of Positive Attitudes and Beliefs

1. The Adult Hope Scale (AHS)

Beginning with attitudes and beliefs, we’ll start with the Adult Hope Scale (Snyder et al., 1991) by considering the attitude of hope.

Hope can be defined as:

…a positive motivational state that is based on an interactively derived sense of successful (a) agency (goal-directed energy), and (b) pathways (planning to meet goals).

(Snyder et al., 1991, p. 287)

The AHS is designed to measure hope according to the various sub facets of goal-directed behavior. The scale is related to a range of positive outcomes, including optimism, self-efficacy, and self-esteem (Snyder et al., 1991).

This measure has 12 items assessing agency and pathways to goal achievement. Each subscale contains four items, and there are four distractor items.

The distractor items are designed to disguise the critical items’ themes, which may otherwise make the purpose of the scale too obvious and motivate biased responding.

Likewise, when administering the scale, it is often referred to as ‘The Future Scale’ to help disguise hope’s critical theme.

Example items from each of the subscales are as follows:

Subscale Example Item
Agency (goal-directed energy) I energetically pursue my goals.
My past experiences have prepared me well for my future.
Pathways (planning to meet goals) I can think of many ways to get out of a jam.
There are lots of ways around any problem.
Distractor items I feel tired most of the time.
I am easily downed in an argument.

 

All items are presented on 8-point scales, where 1 equals ‘definitely false’ and 8 equals ‘definitely true.’

A copy of the full scale can be accessed from the Penn State Positive Psychology Center’s website.

 

2. Multidimensional Sense of Humor Scale

Thorson and Powell (1993) define a sense of humor as:

…a way of looking at the world; it is a style, a means of self-protection and getting along.

(Thorson & Powell, 1993, p. 13)

Given that humor is a complex topic with many sub facets, the Multidimensional Sense of Humor Scale is made up of four subscales.

These subscales assess general humor (humor production), coping and adaptive humor, humor appreciation, and attitudes toward humor, totaling 29 items (with a shorter 24-item version also available).

Example items from each of the subscales are as follows:

Subscale Example Item
General humor (humor production) Other people tell me that I say funny things.
My clever sayings amuse others.
Coping and adaptive humor Humor helps me cope.
Uses of wit or humor help me master difficult situations.
Humor appreciation I appreciate those who generate humor.
I like a good joke.
Attitudes toward humor People who tell jokes are a pain in the neck.
I’m uncomfortable when everyone is cracking jokes.

 

All items are presented on 5-point scales, where 1 equals ‘strongly disagree,’ and 5 equals ‘strongly agree.’

A copy of the full scale can be found in the original article, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

 

3. The Kindness Scale

Kindness can be defined in line with Kohlberg’s (1984) four stages of moral development. According to this theory, values and ethics are developed throughout interactions between people and their environment, so too do attitudes regarding the necessity of kindness.

Comunian’s 20-item scale (Comunian, 1998) captures attitudes toward kindness throughout these four stages using four subscales comprising five items each.

Example items from the scale, and definitions for each of the corresponding stages in Kohlberg’s theory, are as follows:

Subscale Definition Example Item
Stage 1 Interpersonal connections center around the focal individual’s subjective perspective in relationships. I am kind only if it is required of me.
I am kind only with friends.
Stage 2 The individual believes people need to be liked and understands the role of kindness in demonstrating liking. I am kind to people who were good to me.
I am kind when I am happy and feel good.
Stage 3 The self and other perspectives are considered and coordinated equally. I know how to be properly courteous with others.
I am kind because it gives me personal satisfaction.
Stage 4 A deeper level of perspective-taking develops, whereby kindness is understood within the context of a broader social system. I am kind to contribute to progress and improvement.
I am kind because people need kindness.

 

All items are presented on 4-point scales, where 1 equals ‘definitely false’ and 4 equals ‘definitely true.’

A copy of the full scale can be found in the original article, published in the journal Psychological Reports.

 

4. Spiritual Growth Scale

Next, let’s turn to spiritual growth.

Spiritual growth can be defined as:

Self-initiated actions and perceptions that serve to maintain or enhance the level of wellness, self-actualization, and fulfillment of the individual’s spiritual growth.

(Pinar, Celik, & Bahcecik, 2009, p. 184)

One widely used scale measuring spiritual growth comes from the Health-Promoting Lifestyle Profile II (HPLPII). This scale is commonly used in practice among healthcare workers.

This measure consists of six subscales assessing the degree to which adults engage in health-promoting behaviors, and one of the subscales pertains to spiritual growth.

The items in this subscale ask that respondents indicate the extent to which they engage in various behaviors/experiences, with examples being as follows:

  • Feel I am growing and changing in positive ways
  • Believe that my life has purpose
  • Look forward to the future

All items are presented on 4-point scales, where 1 equals ‘never’ and 4 equals ‘routinely.’

A full copy of the scale and scoring information can be obtained from the University of Michigan’s research repository.

 

5. The Meaning in Life Questionnaire (MLQ)

Meaning in life can be defined as:

…the sense made of, and significance felt regarding, the nature of one’s being and existence.

(Steger, Frazier, Oishi, & Kaler, 2006, p. 81)

In line with this definition, the widely used MLQ (Steger, Frazier, Oishi, & Kaler, 2006) was developed to help people understand perceptions about their lives pertaining to happiness and fulfillment.

The 10-item measure comprises two subscales. These assess (a) the presence of meaning in one’s life and (b) the search for meaning in life.

Example items from the scale are as follows:

Subscale Example Item
Presence of meaning I understand my life’s meaning.
My life has a clear sense of purpose.
I have a good sense of what makes my life meaningful.
Search for meaning in life I am looking for something that makes my life feel meaningful.
I am always looking to find my life’s purpose.
I am always searching for something that makes my life feel significant.

 

All items are presented on 7-point scales, where 1 equals ‘absolutely untrue’ and 7 equals ‘absolutely true.’

The full scale is freely available for educational, therapeutic, and research purposes in English. It is also available from Prof. Michael Steger’s website in a range of additional languages.

 

3 Measures of Positive Behaviors

1. Self-reflection

Scales and QuestionnairesTurning to behaviors now, we can consider the useful practice of self-reflection, which is defined as:

…an active and intentional process of becoming conscious of and understanding experiences in order to learn from them for the future.

(Lengelle, Luken, & Meijers, 2016, p. 100)

A popular measure for assessing a person’s tendency toward self-reflection is Trapnell and Campbell’s (1999) Private Self-consciousness Scale, which features self-reflection as a twelve-item subscale.

Example items from the scale are as follows:

  • I love exploring my “inner” self.
  • I often love to look at my life in philosophical ways.
  • I love to meditate on the nature and meaning of things.

All items are presented on 5-point scales, where 1 equals ‘strongly disagree,’ and 5 equals ‘strongly agree.’

A copy of the full scale can be found in the original article, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

 

2. Revised Self-Leadership Questionnaire (RSLQ)

Next, we’ll take a look at the concept of self-leadership.

Self-leadership can be defined as:

…a process through which people influence themselves to achieve the self-direction and self-motivation necessary to behave and perform in desirable ways.

(Houghton & Neck, 2002, p. 672)

Self-leadership combines self-regulation, self-control, and self-management with cognitive strategies, allowing people to lead themselves to desired outcomes.

To capture this, Houghton and Neck (2002) developed and validated the RSLQ. This scale comprises nine subscales, which can be further aggregated up to three dimensions that tap into the various dimensions of self-leadership. In total, the scale is made up of 35 items.

Example items from each of the subscales and dimensions are as follows:

Dimensions Subscale Example Item
Behavior-focused strategies Self-goal setting I establish specific goals for my own performance.
Self-reward When I do an assignment especially well, I like to treat myself to something or an activity I especially enjoy.
Self-punishment I tend to get down on myself in my mind when I have performed poorly.
Self-observation I make a point to keep track of how well I’m doing at work (school).
Self-cueing I use written notes to remind myself of what I need to accomplish.
Natural reward strategies Focusing thoughts on natural rewards I focus my thinking on the pleasant rather than the unpleasant aspects of my job (school) activities.
Constructive thought pattern strategies Visualizing successful performance I use my imagination to picture myself performing well on important tasks.
Self-talk Sometimes I find I’m talking to myself (out loud or in my head) to help me deal with difficult problems I face.
Evaluating beliefs and assumptions I think about my own beliefs and assumptions whenever I encounter a difficult situation.

 

3. The Self-Monitoring Scale

Finally, we’ll look at self-monitoring, which is defined as:

…the extent to which you consciously employ impression management strategies in social interactions.

(Sussman & Sproull, 1999, p. 159)

For example, someone effective at self-monitoring may be better at knowing when to laugh or appear somber in social interactions based on the behavior and nonverbal cues of those around them.

To assess self-monitoring, Snyder (1974) developed the Self-Monitoring Scale, which comprises 25 statements.

Example items from the scale are as follows:

  • I find it hard to imitate the behavior of other people (reverse-scored).
  • I guess I put on a show to entertain other people.
  • I’m not always the person I appear to be.

Unlike the other scales discussed above, this one is scored using a true-or-false format.

The respondent responds ‘true’ or ‘false’ for each item, which is then compared against a scoring key where every response that matches the key is assigned a score of 1. These values are then summed to produce a final score.

A copy of the full scale and scoring key can be found on the Cabrillo College website.

 

A Note on Reliability and Validity

Before you commit to using any scale in research or practice, it is important to be aware of its psychometric properties–sometimes known as its reliability and validity.

Usually, researchers developing scales such as these above will subject the scales to evidence reliability and validity, including these results in their papers or websites.

While there are too many different types of reliability and validity to cover here, here are some useful resources to help you gain a basic understanding of scale psychometrics. With these, you can make the best choice about which scale suits your needs:

  • Reliability and Validity in a Nutshell by Bannigan and Watson (2009)
  • Scale Development: Theory and Applications by Robert DeVellis (2016)
  • A Review of Scale Development Practices in the Study of Organizations by Hinkin (1995)

 

A Take-Home Message

Whether it be to compare people’s propensities for cracking jokes or identify the sense of meaning in someone’s life, one thing is clear.

Psychologists (and scholars, and practitioners…) would be lost without their surveys and questionnaires.

This article provided just a small assortment of scales that range from being lesser-known to widely used, all developed by scientists and used in research.

Try some for yourself to see if any would be useful for your applications in practice. And if you do, let us know what you thought of them in the comments section below.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises.

If you wish for more, our Positive Psychology Toolkit© contains over 300 science-based positive psychology exercises, interventions, questionnaires, and assessments for practitioners to use in their therapy, coaching, or workplace.


  • Bannigan, K., & Watson, R. (2009). Reliability and validity in a nutshell. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 18(23), 3237-3243.
  • Bohnen, N., Nicolson, N., Sulon, J., & Jolles, J. (1991). Coping style, trait anxiety and cortisol reactivity during mental stress. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 35(2-3), 141-147.
  • Comunian, A. L. (1998). The Kindness Scale. Psychological Reports, 83 (Suppl 3), 1351-1361.
  • DeVellis, R. F. (2016). Scale development: Theory and applications (Vol. 26). Thousand Oak, CA: Sage.
  • Hare, B. R. (1975). The Hare Area-Specific Self-Esteem Scale. Unpublished manuscript. University of Chicago, Chicago, IL.
  • Hawks, S. (1994). Spiritual health: Definition and theory. Wellness Perspectives, 10, 3-13.
  • Heintzman, P., & Mannell, R. C. (2003). Spiritual functions of leisure and spiritual well-being: Coping with time pressure. Leisure Sciences, 25(2-3), 207-230.
  • Hinkin, T. R. (1995). A review of scale development practices in the study of organizations. Journal of Management, 21(5), 967-988.
  • Houghton, J. D., & Neck, C. P. (2002). The revised self‐leadership questionnaire. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 17(8), 672-691.
  • Kohlberg. L. (1984). The psychology of moral development (Vol. 2). New York, NY: Harper & Row.
  • Lengelle, R., Luken, T., & Meijers, F. (2016). Is self-reflection dangerous? Preventing rumination in career learning. Australian Journal of Career Development, 25(3), 99-109.
  • Pinar, R., Celik, R., & Bahcecik, N. (2009). Reliability and construct validity of the Health-Promoting Lifestyle Profile II in an adult Turkish population. Nursing Research, 58(3), 184-193.
  • Sussman, S. W., & Sproull, L. (1999). Straight talk: Delivering bad news through electronic communication. Information Systems Research, 10(2), 150-166.
  • Thorson, J. A., & Powell, F. C. (1993). Development and validation of a multidimensional sense of humor scale. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 49(1), 13-23.
  • Trapnell, P. D., & Campbell, J. D. (1999). Private self-consciousness and the five-factor model of personality: distinguishing rumination from reflection. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76(2), 284-304.
  • Snyder, M. (1974). Self-monitoring of expressive behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 30(4), 526-537.
  • Snyder, C. R., Harris, C., Anderson, J. R., Holleran, S. A., Irving, L. M., Sigmon, S. T., … & Harney, P. (1991). The will and the ways: development and validation of an individual-differences measure of hope. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60(4), 570-585.
  • Steger, M. F., Frazier, P., Oishi, S., & Kaler, M. (2006). The meaning in life questionnaire: Assessing the presence of and search for meaning in life. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 53(1), 80-93.


About the Author

Nicole is a behavioral scientist and writer based in Perth, Western Australia. Her research interests lie at the intersection between wellbeing, personal energy, and positive psychology, and her work appears in several top business journals, including the Journal of Organizational Behavior.

Comments

  1. MARK JOSHUA MINA FABULA

    As a Psychology major, this is very helpful in creating our Thesis Proposal !

    JazzMina Fabula
    Psychology Student

    Reply
  2. Andrew Proulx

    Excellent overview, thanks very much for taking the time to write this!
    Andrew Proulx MD

    Reply

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