Abstract Most of the applied research on capabilities and well-being makes use of quantitative data and research techniques. This paper examines the possibilities of qualitative data gathering to explore the theoretical richness (and complexity) of the capabilities framework. With this objective, the capabilities theory is translated into a framework that enables focus group discussions on well-being. It turns out to be surprisingly easy to discus issues related to the theory of capabilities, as the concepts are recognizable for the focus participants. Being able to choose and making trade offs is related to the concepts of well-being of the participants. Provided one has ‘the basic capability to cope with capabilities’, possibilities and choices increases well-being. These findings show that the capability framework can be fruitfully used for applied research on well-being and that qualitative data gathering creates opportunities that are complementary to quantitative techniques.