International Journal of Yoga - Philosophy, Psychology and Parapsychology

: 2013  |  Volume : 1  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 69--74

Relationship between Triguna theory and well-being indicators

Pulkit Khanna, Kamlesh Singh, Surbhi Singla, Vivek Verma 
 Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, Hauz Khas, New Delhi, India

Correspondence Address:
Pulkit Khanna
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology - Delhi, Hauz Khas, New Delhi - 110 016


The Indian perspective of personality deals with the tri-dimensional classification of Gunas (Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas) entailing physical, mental, and spiritual elements of personality. The present study aims to examine the relationship between Gunas and well-being indicators such as psychological capital, personality, life satisfaction, and subjective happiness. The study was conducted on two samples. Vedic Personality Inventory [1] and Mental Health Continuum-Short Form [2] were administered to both samples. The first sample consisted of 80 Indian professionals (males = 51 and females = 29) with mean age = 28.8 years (SD = 7.19) who were administered Psychological Capital Questionnaire [3] and Big-Five Personality Inventory [4] and the second sample consisted of 110 students (males = 82 and females = 28) with mean age = 21 years (SD = 2.72) who were administered Satisfaction with Life Scale [5] and Subjective Happiness Scale. [6] Across both studies, Sattva was found to be positively correlated with well-being. Rajas and Tamas were negatively correlated with well-being. Higher levels of Sattva and well-being were reported in the older age-group. Males scored higher on Rajas while no gender differences were found in well-being.

How to cite this article:
Khanna P, Singh K, Singla S, Verma V. Relationship between Triguna theory and well-being indicators.Int J Yoga - Philosop Psychol Parapsychol 2013;1:69-74

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Khanna P, Singh K, Singla S, Verma V. Relationship between Triguna theory and well-being indicators. Int J Yoga - Philosop Psychol Parapsychol [serial online] 2013 [cited 2024 Feb 22 ];1:69-74
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Psychologists over the years have defined human personality using many models and theories. The Guna theory of tri-dimensional classification of human personality emanates from Indian psychology (IP). The manifestation of the Gunas and their influence on the human mind and behavior has interested psychologists and researchers across the world. [7]

Indian psychology and perspective of personality

While IP is indigenous in origin, its appeal is universal. It has been said that IP is a "complex subject variously viewed as esoteric and spiritual, philosophical and speculative, practical and ritualistic, and of course, systematic and scientific understanding of human nature." [8]

The Indian perspective of personality refers to both the biological and psychological system. The psychological system dealing with the Trigunas was the focus of the present study. This system incorporates the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of personality. [9] The inherent richness of the triadic language of the Gunas offers a wider scope to understand human nature as contrasted with the bipolar descriptions of Western psychology. [9] With its focus on the innate qualities of the three Gunas whose varying balance embodies personality, the Indian perspective offers a deeper, holistic, and spiritual understanding of human nature. [9]

Understanding the three Gunas

The Guna theory originates from the Sankhya school of Indian philosophy which states that the entire physical universe or "prakriti0" is made up of three constituents - Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas. [10] These Gunas interact with the environment and are expressed as personality traits. In the absence of accurate English translations for the Gunas, Chakraborty equated the word "illumination" for Sattva, "movement" for Rajas, and "obstruction" for Tamas. [11] Gunas encompass all existence and actions, and there is a dynamic transformation of energy among them.

An individual's mood at any given time is a manifestation of the Gunas; each of which embodies a different way of internal feeling and outwardly relation with the world. [9] Each Guna can dominate other Gunas at all times. However, each moment is characterized by the dominance of one Guna over the others. It is also possible for a combination of Gunas to pervade a person.

Sattva Guna

Sattva is characterized by balance, peace, equanimity, and qualities such as cleanliness, truthfulness, dutifulness, detachment, discipline, contentment, and staunch determination. [12] Sattvic quality has been described as being "free from attachment and vanity and absolutely unruffled in success and failure." [13]

Rajas Guna

Prabhupada has described Rajas as an intermediary between Tamas and Sattva. [14] Rajas is intense, dynamic, passionate and is marked by agitation, anxiety, nervousness. Attributes of Rajas include intense activity, desire for sense gratification, little interest in spiritual elevation, envy of others, and materialistic mentality. [12]

Tamas Guna

It is manifested in dullness, lethargy, fatigue, and even depression. Qualities associated with Tamas include mental imbalance, anger, ignorance, arrogance, and helplessness. [12] Dasgupta explains "the quality of Tamas overcomes the illumination of knowledge and leads to many errors. Tamas, being a product of ignorance, blinds all living beings and binds them down with carelessness, idleness and sleep." [13]

"Triguna" and its correlates

In the Indian psychological literature, Guna theory is empirically tested and accepted. [15] The Guna constructs are backed by strong psychometric evidence such as reliability and validity which renders them compatible with empirical studies influenced by the Western style. [1],[12],[16],[17]

Further, the Guna theory is echoed in the Western categorization of values. Brown and Chatterjee [18] have focused on the similarity between Kohlberg's three level sequential model of cognitive development in socialization and the Guna theory. Kohlberg's work on the stages of moral development beginning from "Preconventional Morality" up to "Postconventional Morality" deals with the concepts of values, morality, justice, etc., which also find a mention in the Guna theory. [19] Maslow's reference to the presence of a certain degree of "sainthood" across all people is strongly reminiscent of the omnipresence of the three Gunas across all individuals. [20]

Mental health and well-being

Well-being has been understood as the process of pain avoidance and pleasure attainment (hedonism) and also in terms of focus on meaning and pursuit of fulfillment of the true individual nature (eudaimonia). [21],[22]

Although the clinical tradition views well-being through the lens of disorders, the psychological tradition focuses on the area of "subjective well-being" - a multi-dimensional evaluation of a person's life and includes cognitive satisfaction and affective evaluations of moods and emotions. [23]

The present study deals with well-being with reference to Keyes model encompassing three aspects of well-being under the same umbrella. [24],[25]

Hedonic/emotional well-being (EWB) primarily deals with pleasure attainment and pain avoidance, taking into account one's emotional experiences in a typical month. The concept of social well-being (SWB) broadly includes the aspects of social integration, social contribution, social coherence, social actualization, and social acceptance which indicate an individual's well-being about his social setting. Another integral component - Ryff's [26] model of psychological well-being (PWB) that includes autonomy, environmental mastery, personal growth, positive relations with others, purpose in life and self-acceptance is considered in the present study. This multi-component model of well-being was assessed by the Mental Health Continuum-Short Form (MHC-SF) [2] and used in the present study.

Rationale of this study

While substantial work has been done to explore the Western modules of personality; there exists a need to explore the indigenous Vedic theory of Triguna personality in relation with popular concepts such as Big-Five, well-being, PsyCap, life satisfaction, and subjective happiness. Different cultures have reported that characteristics associated with the three Gunas correlate with well-being (though using different models) in ways similar to those that are supported by this study. Greater the presence of Sattva, greater is the experience of Ananda (bliss). [27] Fruit and vegetable rich diets (a Sattvic quality) have been found to correlate with well-being. [28] The present study aimed to bridge this gap by focusing on the human temperament from a more holistic perspective.

Further, this study attempted to address the shortcoming of relying only on Western psychological constructs for understanding the psychology of indigenous peoples. [27] Instead of creating a forced equivalence with constructs borrowed from Western thought, studying human nature in terms of Guna classification may offer the scope to deal with some nuances inherent to nonWestern cultures.

Based on the review of the literature, it was hypothesized that Sattva would be positively correlated with well-being indicators, while Rajas and Tamas would be negatively correlated with well-being indicators.

 Materials and Methods


The present study was conducted in two parts involving different samples as explained below:

Sample 1: The first sample consisted of 80 Indian professionals from different organizations, including 51 males and 29 females (mean age = 28.8 years and SD = 7.19). Of them, 28 were married, 49 single, 1 separated, and 2 did not share their marital statusSample 2: The second sample included 110 Indian students - 82 males and 28 females (mean age = 21 years and SD = 2.72). These participants were enrolled in undergraduate, postgraduate or doctoral courses.

Tests used

Separate booklets containing tests, demographic information sheet and consent letter were prepared for sample 1 and sample 2. The following tests were administered to sample 1.

Mental health continuum-short form

The MHC-SF [2] contains 14 items, and it assesses three dimensions namely: EWB, SWB, and PWB on a 6-point Likert type scale. The internal consistency for this instrument was originally estimated to be > 0.80. [25] The present study found an overall test consistency of α =0.88, ranging from α =0.75 to 0.84 for the three aspects of well-being.

The Vedic personality inventory

The Vedic Personality Inventory (VPI) is the most extensively researched and validated psychological assessment tool based on the three Gunas. [1] It contains 56 items including 15 Sattva items, 19 Rajas items, and 22 Tamas items. Wolf reported that VPI has good internal consistency ranging from α =0.70 to 0.92 for the three Gunas. [1] Reliability values of α =0.74-0.79 were reported in the present study.

Psychological capital questionnaire

Psychological Capital Questionnaire-24 [3] has 24 items that include six items for each of hope, efficacy, resilience, and optimism. Reliability ranging from α =0.88 to 0.89 has been originally obtained for this instrument. [29] The present study reported the alpha reliability for total PsyCap at α =0.84; ranging from α =0.63 to 0.84 for the constituent factors with the exception of "optimism" for which α =0.42.

Big-five inventory

The 44-item self-rating version of the Big-Five Inventory (BFI) [4] was used. It contained statements for the five personality factors (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) to assess the respondent's perceptions about his/her self. Typical internal consistency coefficients for the BFI trait scores have been reported to range from α = 0.75 to 0.90. [30] In the present study, internal consistency ranged from α = 0.88 to α =0.95 for different personality factors.

In addition to the MHC-SF and VPI explained above, the following tests were administered to sample 2.

Satisfaction with life scale

Satisfaction with Life Scale [5] is a 5-item self-report scale that measures global life satisfaction. While the scale was originally reported to have a coefficient alpha of α =0.87, the present study found the alpha reliability of the test to be α =0.75.

Subjective happiness scale

Subjective Happiness Scale [6] is a self-report scale comprising four items that measure global subjective happiness. Alpha reliability ranging from α = 0.79 to 0.94 has been previously reported for this instrument. [6] The present study found this instrument to have an alpha reliability of α = 0.79.


Correlation analysis between Guna and well-being scores across both samples was employed. Correlation was also studied at the level of both samples individually in terms of Guna scores and the other tests administered. Differences in mean scores on Guna and well-being across the variables of age and gender were also studied.

[Table 1] shows the correlation among the Gunas and different aspects of well-being based on the results of VPI and MHC-SF across both samples. Significant positive intra-test correlation was seen among all aspects of well-being. As regards VPI, Sattva was found to be negatively correlated with both Rajas (r = −0.19, p < 0.01) and Tamas (r = −0.41, p < 0.01) while Rajas and Tamas were positively correlated (r = 0.63, p < 0.01). Further, Sattva was positively correlated with each of EWB (r = 0.40, p < 0.01), SWB (r = 0.29, p < 0.01), PWB (r = 0.51, p < 0.01) as well as total well-being (r = 0.48, p < 0.01). On the other hand, both Rajas and Tamas were negatively correlated with all aspects of well-being.{Table 1}

Relation between Gunas and other well-being indicators

In sample 1, Sattva was positively correlated with PsyCap as a whole (r = 0.36, p < 0.01) as well as with efficacy (r = 0.27, p < 0.05) and hope (r = 0.49, p < 0.01). Rajas and Tamas were not significantly correlated with any aspect of PsyCap. As regards the relation between the Indian and Western model of personality, the correlations between Gunas and Big-Five reflected an interesting picture. Sattva was positively correlated with extraversion (r = 0.27, p < 0.05), agreeableness (r = 0.28, p < 0.05), conscientiousness (r = 0.40, p < 0.01), openness (r = 0.33, p < 0.01) and negatively correlated with neuroticism (r = −0.30, p < 0.01). Rajas was negatively correlated with agreeableness (r = −0.41, p < 0.01), conscientiousness (r = −0.38, p < 0.01), openness (r = −0.26, p < 0.05) and positively correlated with neuroticism (r = 0.41, p < 0.01). Tamas too showed a similar pattern of correlation, being negatively correlated with agreeableness (r = −0.27, p < 0.05), conscientiousness (r = −0.41, p < 0.01), Openness (r = −0.30, p < 0.01) and positively correlated with neuroticism (r = 0.36, p < 0.01). Both Rajas and Tamas were not significantly correlated with extraversion.

In sample 2, Sattva showed positive correlation with both life satisfaction (r = 0.24, p < 0.01) and subjective happiness (r = 0.24, p < 0.05). Subjective happiness was negatively correlated with Rajas (r = −0.38, p < 0.01) and with Tamas (r = −0.42, p < 0.01). However, life satisfaction was not found to be significantly correlated with Rajas and Tamas.

[Table 2] represents the results of the t-test to study if there were any significant differences in Gunas and well-being scores based on age of the participants. For ease of analysis, the participants from both studies were divided into two categories, up to 25 years (younger group) and over 25 years of age (older group). Since the information about age was not available for three participants from the total sample of 190, "N" in this analysis was 187. No significant difference was reported between the two groups on Rajas and Tamas. However, the older group scored significantly higher on Sattva than younger group [Table 2]. This finding indicated a rise in Sattvic element of personality with age.{Table 2}

The older group scored significantly higher than younger group on EWB, PWB as well as total MHC.

The positive correlation between Sattva and well-being [Table 1] was reinforced by the finding that both were found to be significantly higher in the older group.

[Table 3] shows no significant difference in Sattva and Tamas between males and females. However, Rajas was found to be significantly higher in case of males as compared to in females. There was no significant gender difference in scores of mental health (well-being) and its constituent factors.{Table 3}


Our findings about the correlation between Gunas and well-being across both studies supported literature reporting that EWB was positively correlated with PWB and SWB. [31] In the case of VPI, Tamas was correlated negatively with Sattva and positively with Rajas across both samples. These findings were aligned with Vedic knowledge that Sattva is related positively to well-being, while Tamas is largely antagonistic to well-being. The inverse relationship between Sattva and Tamas found in our study has also been reported in other research on the Gunas. [16],[12],[31] Sattva has been reported to be positively correlated with EWB, PWB and SWB while Rajas and Tamas were negatively correlated with all well-being indicators. [31]

The finding of the present study wherein the older group scored significantly higher on Sattva when compared to the younger group can be understood better in the light of existing literature that supports universal maturational changes in adult personality. A decline in aggression and an increase in control has been reported on the basis of a longitudinal study of twins over 10 years period. [32] There appears to be a decline in neuroticism and enhancement of positive personality traits from early adulthood to midlife. [33] Older adults have been found to differ from younger adults in terms of better impulse control and moral responsibility. [34] While these findings do not emanate from IP per se, the personality characteristics like positivity, impulse control and morality in which they report an increase from younger to older adults correspond with Sattvic personality characteristics. In this sense, the present study provided a culturally sensitive reinforcement to existing evidence in the area. Further support for this finding came from the use of VPI in the Western context which showed that the scores on VPI goodness subscale (goodness was substituted for Sattva to make it more relevant for Western sample) correlated positively with increased age. [35] Herein, test-retest reliability ranging from 0.73 to 0.89 was obtained for the subscales of VPI. [35] This reinforces the stability of assessment of these traits.

As regards the older group being higher on well-being as compared to the younger group, these findings were aligned with research [36] that suggests that the cognitive aspect of subjective well-being is positively correlated with age. Some studies have reported that with increasing age, adults feel greater happiness and satisfaction with their lives and also report higher levels of some dimensions of PWB. [37],[38] Older adults tend to find their activities more enjoyable and less stressful than younger people. [39] It was found that males scored higher on Rajas as compared to females. Bem's sex role inventory classified characteristics like "aggressive," "ambitious" and "competitive" (all of which correspond to Rajas) as being masculine as opposed to feminine. [40] Gender differences on account of adopting socially appropriate gender roles could potentially explain why males scored significantly higher than females on Rajas. The conventional Indian gender role stereotype of the male assuming the characteristics of aggression, ambition and pursuing material goals (dimensions of Rajas) and the consequent self-fulfilling prophecies in social behavior could explain higher Rajas in males as compared to females in the present study. [41] Reinforcement for this explanation came from research that the country or environmental context of the study influences the gender differences in competitiveness and risk-taking - both of which are attributes associated with the Rajasic personality. [42],[43],[44],[45] Thus, there is a need to be careful so as to not generalize the findings from Western culture to other different cultural contexts and vice versa.

 Conclusion and Future Direction

The present study was a step ahead towards integrating the holistic Indian approach of personality with widely used Western concepts. However, this study had certain limitations. The predominance of males in both samples hindered a fair gender-based comparison of test scores. Moreover, all participants were limited to urban, educated population.

Future research involving more diverse and representative samples is required to attain conclusive evidence about the relation between Gunas and well-being indicators and its trends across different segments of the population. Existing literature pertaining to Guna profiles of participants showed that mean Guna scores were different across different cultures. The American sample [35] showed significantly higher Sattva score and lower scores on Rajas and Tamas in comparison to Indian and Czech samples. [31] Since Sattva and well-being were found to be highly correlated, they plausibly shared some percentage of variance. Further, America has been ranked higher on happiness (which is related to well-being) than Czech Republic and India. [46] The moderating and mediating variables accounting for such trends remain to be studied by future research. The Indian module may potentially emerge as another model to understand human nature and personality. Future work in the area can look at a holistic picture integrating different indigenous components, including Ayurveda, Yoga, folk medicines, etc., and their impact on body-mind processes.


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