The present study was a qualitative research study aimed to explore and describe the role of the lecturer in the subjective well-being of first-year education students. This research utilised secondary data that was collected for a prior study, comprising essays completed by first-year education students at the University of Pretoria. 125 students from randomly selected modules participated in the original study. The narratives concerned how the students described their lecturers as motivating and demotivating. The narratives, completed by male and female students, were selected based on lengthy, content-rich narratives. An inductive thematic analysis was completed to explore and analyse the data from a qualitative, interpretivist perspective. The five dimensions of the PERMA model (Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment) guided and were used as the theoretical framework of the present study to help understand students’ subjective well-being (Seligman, 2011). Three themes emerged from the students’ descriptions of their lecturers as motivating. The findings suggest that the students were motivated when their lecturers utilised effective teaching approaches, facilitated a positive student-lecturer relationship and when students felt satisfied with their learning. One theme emerged where the students described their lecturer as demotivating; this was the case when their lecturers used ineffective teaching approaches. All five dimensions of the PERMA model were identified when students felt motivated by their lecturers, while two dimensions of the PERMA model were identified when students felt demotivated by their lecturers. There is a need for lecturer training programmes aimed at increasing the awareness of the lecturers’ role in student motivation and student subjective well-being, as well as teaching practises that aim to promote student motivation. Consequently, student subjective well-being can be valuable to universities in improving students’ academic success as well as their subjective well-being.