The idea behind the study
One of the main ideas underlying the study was that the present situation with respect to a specific domain of life could deviate from what people see as ideal or from the best experience in the past. In such a case at least some people will be dissatisfied and would like to change this situation. Whether a change will occur in this situation does not only depend on their desires and efforts but also on the political and economic situation in the country in general. It might happen that for some people the situation will change, partly because of their own actions and partly because of other events, but whatever the reason for the change are, there will be a new situation and a new evaluation and the process will start from the beginning . This idea behind the data collection is very much in line with the 'Need fulfilment theory' or 'the discrepancy theory' which suggests that people get satisfied by fulfilment of their needs or the reduction of the discrepancy between their wishes and the reality (Diener, 1984). We have added an additional action component to these theories suggesting that people being unsatisfied with the present situation might try to take action to improve it if they see the specific domain of life as important enough to act. This point has been suggested by Frijda in his theory of emotions (1984). The action component used in our design includes the possibility of individual as well as collective action to improve the situation and so to reduce the discrepancy or to satisfy the existing needs or to increase the satisfaction and/or happiness. If no change in living conditions happened, one still can expect changes in the evaluation of the situation. People may adjust their wishes and ideals if they don't see any hope for actual change, and due to these adjustments their satisfaction can also change. This idea is in line with theories, which suggest adaptation of the aspirations to the realistically possible options (LaBarbera and Mazursky, 1983, Michalos, 1985 and Saris, 1996). This set of ideas was used to design the survey instrument to register the process of changes in human lives and the subjective evaluation of these changes. The objective situation and subjective evaluation of this situation have been studied for 5 major domains of life:
- Family life
- Housing conditions
- Household Finances
- Social contacts
This design can be presented graphically by the following diagram:
Besides measuring the current status of the objective living conditions and subjective evaluation of different domains in life, we collected retrospective data asking about living conditions and satisfaction in 1988 in order to get the comparison between the process in recent years and in the time before the changes of the political system.
Several theories suggest that people determine their satisfaction with life on the basis of a comparison with other groups. These reference groups can be people with similar abilities or the so called "average person in the country" (Andrew and Withey (1976), Campbell, Converse and Rogers (1976) and Harvey and Smith (1977). The comparisons are also possible with a fair/deserved or a needed living condition. We checked these ideas for one particular domain of life - the financial situation.
In this project some attention has been given to the actual living conditions but the emphasis was on the subjective experience of these changes evaluated as satisfaction of the respondents with the different domains of life and with life as a whole. The subjective experience of people was tracked through all waves of the survey from 1993 until 1999.