Psychological well-being in adolescence has always been a focus of public attention and academic research. Although this concept has been widely researched in adolescent studies, researchers have approached it with different combinations of indicators. To name a few examples, Armsden and Greenberg  used self-esteem, life satisfaction and affect status to indicate adolescents’ psychological well-being; Shek [2,3,4,5] examined hopelessness, purpose in life and general psychiatric morbidity in addition to life satisfaction and self-esteem in a series of studies about psychological well-being of adolescents. Some other indicators have also been adopted, such as mental health , hope , anxiety [8, 9] and depression . Apparently, psychological well-being has been used as an umbrella term rather than a theoretical construct in these studies, which poses difficulties in systematically reviewing findings regarding adolescents’ psychological well-being. A lack of systematic approach to investigating psychological well-being may be due to the absence of sound theoretical framework of psychological well-being in adolescent studies. Therefore, it is meaningful to explore whether any established models of psychological well-being can be introduced to adolescent studies.
Conceptualising adolescent psychological well-being
Well-being is conceptualised in a variety of ways in different fields . In the field of psychology, most researchers agree that well-being indicates optimal psychological functioning and experience in life . Generally speaking, there are two philosophical stances in psychological research on well-being, that is, hedonism which underscores being happy; and eudaimonism which places more emphasis on being meaningful . Different theoretical models of well-being have been proposed in accordance with these two philosophical stances.
Based on hedonism, Diener  proposed the construct of subjective well-being (SWB) which refers to an individual’s affective and cognitive evaluations of life. They argued that the feeling of happiness and satisfaction with life is universal, even though what brings about happiness and satisfaction may differ across societies and cultures [14, 15].
On the other hand, eudaimonic theorists argued that it is important for individuals to have a sense of meaning and fulfilment in life . Taking this stance, Ryff  proposed a theoretical model of psychological well-being which comprises six different aspects of positive functioning, namely autonomy, environmental mastery, personal growth, purpose in life, positive relations with others and self-acceptance. This model was developed based on a thorough study of human functioning . It has been adopted in a large number of empirical studies conducted in various contexts , including three adolescent samples [18,19,20]. Considering that Ryff’s model was originally developed to reflect adults’ positive functioning , existing evidence seems insufficient to substantiate its application to adolescents. Therefore, it is reasonable to further explore if Ryff’s six-factor model can be applied as a sound theoretical framework for investigating adolescents’ psychological well-being. From a theoretical point of view, given that adolescents are going through a transitional period from childhood to adulthood, they are likely to share similar aspects of positive functioning as adults despite putting different weights on each aspect . For example, autonomy is considered as important for both adolescents and adults, but adolescents may express a much stronger need for autonomy than adults . Since Ryff’s model has given a comprehensive account of positive functioning, it is unlikely that it would have failed in reflecting important aspects of adolescents’ psychological well-being. Nevertheless, more empirical evidence is needed to demonstrate whether Ryff’s theoretical model benefits research in adolescents’ psychological well-being.
Measuring psychological well-being in adolescents
One issue that may potentially prevent researchers from adopting Ryff’s theoretical model is the inconsistent evidence of construct validity of its measurement. Ryff developed the Scales of Psychological Well-being (SPWB) which is composed of six sub-scales in accordance with the six factors of positive functioning, namely autonomy, environmental mastery, personal growth, purpose in life, positive relations with others and self-acceptance [21, 24]. Different versions of SPWB (20-item, 14-item, 9-item and 3-item) have been widely tested with adult samples in a variety of contexts. Yet the construct validity of the SPWB is contentious. While some studies reported relatively sound construct validity of the SPWB [17, 21, 25,26,27], the others have identified some potential problems, one of which is the uncommonly high correlations between four of the six sub-scales, namely environmental mastery, personal growth, purpose in life and self-acceptance [28,29,30,31,32]. In a recent study of the SPWB, Chen et al.  suggested that the factorial structure of the SPWB may vary depending on sample characteristics, such as gender , age [27, 35] and cultural background . The three adolescent studies which adopted the SPWB were all conducted in non-western contexts, that is, Iran [18, 19] and Hong Kong . While very little information of the construct validity of the SPWB was reported in the Iran studies, the Hong Kong study provided promising evidence of applying the SPWB to adolescents, despite some previous studies of the SPWB in Chinese contexts reported inconsistent findings of its construct validity [36, 37]. Accordingly, the present study made an attempt to validate the SPWB in a sample of adolescents in mainland China. The aim was twofold: to generate more empirical evidence of applying Ryff’s theoretical model to investigating adolescents’ psychological well-being; and to contribute to the debate of the construct validity of the SPWB in Chinese contexts.