How well does satisfaction of basic psychological needs predict subjective well-being?

To assess a country's overall well-being, it is crucial to consider both objective factors and material resources. These may include access to healthcare, education, clean water, among other essential services. For further insight into this area of research, please read this. Alongside these objective measures, it is equally important to examine psychological aspects and their impact on individuals' overall well-being and satisfaction. Psychological factors have been found to play a significant role in this regard. In fact, recent studies have explored the relationship between basic psychological needs and subjective well-being across various European countries.

How well does satisfaction of basic psychological needs predict subjective well-being?

Martela et al. (2022) analyzed data from the European Social Survey on 27 European countries (n = 48,550). They looked at the relationships between four sets of variables:
  1. Demographic factors: age, gender, religiosity
  2. Basic psychological needs: the needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness
  3. Socio-economic position: income and subjective perception of one's place in society
  4. Indicators of well-being: happiness, life satisfaction, meaning, symptoms of depression

Nothing better predicts how good people feel

The researchers wondered what the relationships were between demographic factors, basic psychological needs and socio-economic position on the one hand and indicators of well-being on the other. The table below shows the relationships they found in their research.

Place in society.
Needs satisfaction.859.420.466−.682

This table contains standardized β coefficients

The table shows that the effect of psychological basic need satisfaction was strongly positive on happiness, satisfaction and meaning and strongly negative on depression. The effect of place in society and household income was positive and significant but rather limited. Age and gender also had significant but small effect sizes.

The effect of religiosity on life satisfaction and happiness was marginal, but it was associated not only with slightly higher sense of purpose (.046) but also with a higher sense of depressive symptoms (.116). The relationship between satisfaction of basic psychological needs and well-being persisted even after controlling for the influence of socio-economic status and various demographic factors.

Results in individual countries

The researchers then looked at the results in the 27 individual European countries. The result: In all countries, basic psychological need satisfaction was more strongly associated with happiness, life satisfaction, meaning and the absence of depressive symptoms than socioeconomic status and demographic factors.

Basic needs mediate the relationship between socioeconomic status and subjective well-being

The researchers also found that the relationship between socio-economic status and subjective well-being is largely explained by the fulfillment of basic psychological needs. Satisfaction of basic needs largely and sometimes completely mediated the effects of socio-economic position on well-being.


The psychological component never plays the only but always an important role in how we function and how we feel. The study by Martela et al. illustrates this. 
The results of this research concern Europe and individual European countries. But I'm willing to bet they apply more broadly. I also expect similar relationships between basic psychological needs and subjective well-being in other countries. I also expect such relationships in companies, government institutions, schools and families.
We do well to design our environments to meet the basic psychological needs of the people who function in them.