The Spiritual Well-Being (SWB) Scale was developed as a general measure of the subjective quality of life. It serves as a global psychological measure of one’s perception of spiritual well-being. SWB is understood to be wholistic. The scale is in­ tended to measure people’s overall SWB as it is perceived by them in both a religious well-being (RWB) sense and an existential well-being (EWB) sense.

Two points are highlighted in the concep­tualization of SWB. First, it is not the same as spiritual health or spiritual maturity, since these might be prescribed by different religions or denominations. Second, SWB in­ volves transcendence by focusing on well­ being in relation to that which lies beyond oneself, understood in two senses: religious and existential. Thus, the SWB scale is in­ tended to measure psychological dimen­sions, not theological ones.


By design, the construction of the SWB scale includes both a religious and  a social psychological dimension. The reli­gious, “vertical” dimension (RWBJ focuses on how one perceives the well-being of his or her spiritual life as this is expressed in re­lation to God. The social psychological, “horizontal” dimension (EWBJ concerns how well the person is adjusted to self, community, and surroundings. This compo­nent involves the existential notions of life purpose, life satisfaction, and positive or negative life experiences.

Based on these concepts, the SWB scale is a 20-item self-assessment instrument con­ structed of two subscales, one that repre­sents the vertical RWB dimension and one that represents the horizontal EWB dimension. Each subscale contains 10 items. All of the RWB items contain the word “God.”

The EWB items contain no specifically religious language, instead asking about such things as life purpose, satisfaction, and rela­tions with the people and situations around us. In order to control for response set bias, approximately half of the items are worded in a reverse direction so that disagreement with the item represents higher well-being.

Each item is rated on a 6-point Likert Scale with answer options ranging from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree,” with no midpoint. The items are scored from 1 to 6, with a higher number represent­ing more well-being. These scores are summed in order to yield three scale scores: one score for RWB, one score for EWB, and one score for total SWB. RWB and EWB scores can range from 10 to 60. SWB total scores can range from 20 to 120.

Practical Considerations:

The scale is easily understood, requires 10-15 minutes to com­plete, and has clear scoring guidelines. It is nonsectarian and can be used in a variety of religious, health, and research contexts.


The original sam­ple consisted of 206 students from Biola College, Westmont College, Pepperdine University, and the University of Idaho. Various initial studies employed over 500 subjects, including men and women (mar­ried and single), college and high school students, senior citizens, religious and non­ religious people, and people from large cities, small towns, and rural areas. Subse­quent research has included a wide variety of samples including people with AIDS, ter­minal cancer patients, nurses, sociopathic convicts, medical outpatients, outpatient counselees, people with eating disorders, sexually abused outpatients, and people in several Christian denominations.

Some normative data have been pub­lished that permit interpretation of scores in comparison to some identified populations (Bufford, Paloutzian, & Ellison, 199 l; Paloutzian & Ellison, 1991). Means and standard deviations for RWB, EWB, and SWB are typically reported separately. Although RWB and EWB are moderately cor­ related with each other (r = .32), scores for the two subscales can behave differently. Mean scores for several different religious (mostly Christian) groups ranged from 34 to 56 for RWB, 46 to 53 for EWB, and 82 to 109 for total SWB. Similarly, for various other groups the mean scores for RWB, EWB, and SWB, respectively were: 51, 48, and 99 for medical outpatients; 35, 40, and 76 for nonreligious sociopathic convicts; and 44, 38, and 83 for combined sexually abused, eating disorder, and outpatient counselees.


Test-retest reliability coeffi­cients for four different samples with 1, 4, 6, and 10 weeks between testing’s ranged from .88 to .99 for RWB, .73 to .98 for EWB, and .82 to .99 for SWB. The internal consistency reliability coefficients, based on data from over 900 subjects across seven studies, ranged from .82 to .94 for RWB, .78 to .86 for EWB, and .89 to .94 for SWB. These data indicate high internal consis­tency and reliability.


The SWB Scale appears to mea­ sure what is intended. Face validity is evi­dent by examination of the content of the items. Also, the authors report a factor analysis of the items, whose results yield factors that correspond to the two subscales. The RWB items cluster strongly together on one factor. The EWB items tend to cluster together on two subfactors that connote life direction and satisfaction. These results are generally consistent with the conceptual structure guiding the development of the scale. Some subsequent research may sug­gest a more complex factor structure (Led­ better et al., 1991).

Validity is also indicated by correlations between the SWB scale and other measures with which it ought to be associated on the­ oretical grounds. For example, people who tended to score high on SWB scored lower on loneliness, higher on self-confidence, and higher on intrinsic religious orientation. The SWB, RWB, and EWB scores were all positively correlated with a sense of pur­pose in life (Paloutzian & Ellison, 1982).

Subsequent research shows that RWB, EWB, and SWB are associated with a vari­ety of psychological, religious, health, and relational variables (Ellison & Smith, 1991). The authors report that a ceiling effect can occur in RWB and SWB scores in some religious samples, making it harder to dis­tinguish among subjects high in well-being in those groups. On the other hand, the scale is particularly sensitive at the low end. It may be a useful tool to point our attention to those experiencing spiritual distress or lack of well-being, and may assist as an instru­ment to assess global indications of distress in personal functions.

SWB Scale

For each of the following statements, circle the choice that best indicates the extent of your agreement or disagreement as it describes your personal experience:

  • SA = Strongly Agree
  • D = Disagree
  • MA = Moderately Agree
  • MD = Moderately Disagree
  • A = Agree
  • SD = Strongly Disagree
  1. I don’t find much satisfaction in private prayer with God.
  2. I don’t know who I am, where I came from, or where I’m going.
  3. I believe that God loves me and cares about me.
  4. I feel that life is a positive experience.
  5. I believe that God is impersonal and not interested in my daily situations.
  6. I feel unsettled about my future.
  7. I have a personally meaningful relationship with God.
  8. I feel very fulfilled and satisfied with life.
  9. I don’t get much personal strength and support from my God.
  10. I feel a sense of well-being about the direction my life is headed in.
  11. I believe that God is concerned about my problems.
  12. I don’t enjoy much about life.
  13. I don’t have a personally satisfying relationship with God
  14. I feel good about my future.
  15. My relationship with God helps me not to feel lonely.
  16. I feel that life is full of conflict and unhappiness.
  17. I feel most fulfilled when I’m in close communion with God.
  18. Life doesn’t have much meaning.
  19. My relation with God contributes to my sense of well-being.
  20. I believe there is some real purpose for my life.

Note: Items are scored from l to 6, with the higher number representing more well-being. Negatively worded items (#1, 2, 5, 6, 9, 12, 13, 16, 18) are reversed scored. Odd number items assess religious well¬ being; even numbered items assess existential well-being.


Ellison, C. W. (1983). Spiritual well-being: con­ceptualization and measurement. Journal of Psy­chology and Theology, I I, 330-340.

Ellison, C. W., & Smith, J. (1991). Toward an integrative measure of health and well-being. Jour­nal of Psychology and Theology, 19, 35-48.

Paloutzian, R. F., & Ellison, C. W. (1982). Loneliness, spiritual well-being and quality of life. In L.A. Peplau & D. Perlman (Eds.), Loneliness: A sourcebook of current theory, research and therapy. New York: Wiley Interscience, pp. 224-237.

Paloutzian, R. F., & Ellison, C. W. (1991). Man­ ual for the Spiritual Well-being Scale. Nyack, NY: Life Advance, Inc.

Subsequent Research:

Bassett, R. L., Camplin, W., Humphrey, D., Dorr, C., Biggs, S., Distaffen, R., Doxtator, I., Fla­ herty, M., Hunsberger, P. J., Poage, R., & Thomp­ son, H. (1991). Measuring Christian maturity: A comparison of several scales. Journal of Psychol­ ogy and Theology, 19, 84-93.

Carson, V. B., & Green, H. (1992). Spiritual well-being: A predictor of hardiness in patients with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. Jour­nal of Professional Nursing, 8, 209-220.

Genia, V. (1996). I, E, Quest, and Fundamental­ ism as predictors of psychological and spiritual well-being. Journal for the Scientific Study of Reli­gion, 35, 56–64.

Kaczorowski, J. M. (1989). Spiritual well-being and anxiety in adults diagnosed with cancer. The Hospice Journal, 5, 105-115.

Note: This is one of the most widely used scales for research and clinical purposes. In their 1991 manual, the authors report they have received over 300 requests to use the scale.


Bufford, R. K., Paloutzian, R. F., & Ellison, C. W. (1991). Norms for the spiritual well-being scale. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 19, 35–48.

Ledbetter, M. F., Smith, L. A., Fischer, J. D., Vosler-Hunter, W. L., & Chew, G. P. (1991). An evaluation of the construct validity of the spiritual well-being scale: A confirmatory factor analytic ap­ proach. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 19, 94-102.