Motivation and emotion/Book/2019/Life satisfaction

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Life satisfaction:
What are the main ingredients for life satisfaction?


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Life satisfaction is typically defined as the way people perceive their well-being and quality of life through varying[vague] factors. It is most commonly measured subjectively by the individual through the use of self-report survey questionnaires (Arslan, 2019). Life satisfaction has been strongly correlated to people’s emotions and has a significant influence over a persons[grammar?] mental health (Arslan, 2019).

The current research on the key contributors to life satisfaction plays a crucial role in our understanding of the emotions and motivations that drive us. Through this understanding we are able to take steps to further improve our life satisfaction and happiness.

By incorporating sound psychological theories into their research, psychologists are able to develop effective strategies to improve well-being and ensure individuals maintain these strategies throughout their lifespan. According to the Satisfaction with Life Scale, countries with the highest levels of life satisfaction typically have the best quality of life and fewer mental health issues[factual?]. For this reason, large economies continue to take steps to improve life satisfaction among the general public by changing policies and increase government spending in this area.

History and development of Life Satisfaction scales

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Life satisfaction scales have been widely used in a number[vague] of contexts in psychological research as well as by large organisations such as the CIA and UNESCO.

The Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS) is the most commonly used measure of life satisfaction and is currently backed by the most research. This scale has high levels of internal consistency, is widely applicable across all ages and can be generalized to wider populations (Diener, Suh, Lucas & Smith, 1999).

Contributors to Life Satisfaction

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It is important to understand the theories and supporting research that examine factors that contribute to life satisfaction so as to design simple interventions to improve life satisfaction on a global scale.


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The Five Factor Model of personality is one of the most well known theories of personality. The Five Factor Model is a widely used and academically supported model for assessing personality within the field of psychology. The five aspects of personality within this model are: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. Certain personality traits have been correlated with life satisfaction and scores on this scale can be used to accurately predict levels of satisfaction among individuals (DeNeve & Cooper, 1998). Agreeableness has been used to predict life satisfaction in relation to major depressive disorder and depressive symptoms. People with low levels of agreeableness are more likely to be ostracized by their peers, exhibit argumentative behaviors and experience more conflict (Hales, Kassner, Williams, & Graziano, 2016; Côté & Moskowitz, 1998). Lower agreeableness is correlated with shorter life spans and reduced mental health which typically results in poorer life outcomes and lower reported life satisfaction (Farnam, Farhang, Bakhshipour, & Niknam, 2011; Ozer & Benet-Martínez, 2006).

Although personality may seem relatively rigid and difficult to change, mood and emotions can be manipulated through psychological treatments and interventions to improve well-being. Experimental studies have successfully used cognitive based interventions to encourage supportive behaviors among participants to further improve life satisfaction (Mongrain et al., 2011). Mongrain et al. (2011) were able to increase the happiness levels of participants by encouraging them to engage in supportive behaviors and demonstrated that these improvements were easily maintained over time.

Similarly, higher levels of compassion have been linked with kinder feelings towards both the self and others and has been shown to boost positive emotions. Mindfulness techniques have become increasingly popular as an effective strategy to moderate emotions and improve life satisfaction. Some studies have explored mindfulness techniques to improve compassion and potentially increase levels of agreeableness (Fredrickson, Cohn, Coffey, Pek, & Finkel, 2008).


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Self-esteem is commonly used within satisfaction measures to assess well-being. The Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS) is the most common measure used by organisations around the world. Within this measure researchers are able to assess self-esteem across various nations. Higher levels of self-esteem are strongly correlated with higher life satisfaction thus further increasing positive emotions, especially in relation to the self. Self-esteem has since become one of the key indicators of overall life satisfaction and is a key factor within Lazarus' appraisal theory of emotion[factual?]. Within this model, self-esteem plays a significant role in appraisal of the self and a loved one which can impact on well-being. Researchers and clinicians have been encouraging treatments that focus on improving self-esteem and positive emotions, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

Despite the overwhelming amount of evidence noted above, it is important to recognize the potentially destructive pursuit of self improvement as can be damaging when taken too far and could lead to psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety and anorexia nervosa (Crocker & Park, 2004).

Theory of Positive Orientation has also become popular to assist in the improvement of self-esteem by encouraging a more positive outlook on life. Caprara, Alessandri and Barbaranelli (2010) focused on the triad of improving self-esteem, life satisfaction and optimism. They found that treatment was more effective when there was a focus on changing cognition as improvements in the triad generally followed as a result from the interventions (Caprara, Alessandri & Barbaranelli, 2010; Alessandri, G., Caprara, G., & Tisak, J., 2012).

Outlook on life

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Outlook on life is primarily focused on one's perception and personal evaluation on life satisfaction. Typically, happier, more optimistic people have higher levels of life satisfaction[factual?]. Optimistic values and an overall positive outlook on life is commonly associated with better life satisfaction. At the opposite end of the spectrum, people who are more pessimistic are more likely to experience depression and other negative mental health issues (Caprara et al., 2009).

It is important to note that pessimism and pessimistic tenancies[spelling?] are often a symptom of depression and do not necessarily cause the disorder, although there is correlational evidence that links a pessimistic outlook to depression[factual?]. Pessimism and negative behaviors related to depression typically reduce as people engage in counselling or CBT treatments. Like most other emotional contributors to life satisfaction, optimism can be improved through psychological counselling treatments and interventions that incorporate the theory of positive orientation[factual?].

Figure 1. This is a image of a happy child and is an example of fulfilled life satisfaction.

Generally, life satisfaction tends to improve with age and wisdom acquired throughout the lifespan[factual?]. However, like most domains that attribute to life satisfaction this can vary greatly within different age brackets.

In a study that examined life satisfaction trajectories of older individuals, researchers found that life satisfaction varied greatly within a single age bracket (Palgi & Shmotkin, 2010). Researchers have found that adolescents, when compared to older participants, experienced lower life satisfaction which could likely be attributed to the amount of significant life experiences (Goldbeck, Schmitz, Besier, Herschbach & Henrich, 2007). Researchers have hypothesized the reasoning behind this is due to the limited life experience among adolescents, lower intelligence and higher insecurities (Goldbeck, Schmitz, Besier, Herschbach & Henrich, 2007). Similar age related results can also be found cross-culturally. A study that compared middle aged participants from the US and Japan found that both cultures of the same age group experienced virtually the same levels of life satisfaction and that perceived life satisfaction declined in the same way within the oldest age group (Hong, Charles, Lee & Lachman, 2019).

Life events and experiences

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Our life, and thus satisfaction with life, is largely shaped by our life experiences. These influences can be divided into two categories: everyday experiences and larger events. It is important to note that our experiences are not the sole contributor to our life satisfaction. Twin studies and studies examining people who have experienced many of the same things may have differing levels of life satisfaction (DeNeve & Cooper, 1998).

Although these experiences can influence perceived life satisfaction it is the personal interpretation of these events that have the most impact[factual?]. As discussed earlier people with more optimistic tendencies are more likely to experience improved life satisfaction following a certain life event than those who are more pessimistic (Caprara et al., 2009).

Seasonal effects

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Seasonal effects can vary from day to day and can be dependent on specific regions and weather patterns around the world. The effect of weather conditions alone have minimal impact on life satisfaction however it can contribute to decreased mood when paired with seasonal changes (Barrington-Leigh & Behzadnejad, 2017).

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a widely recognized phenomena in which people experience decreased mood or depressive symptoms typically during winter (Oginska & Oginska-Bruchal, 2014). SAD is occasionally experienced during the summer months in which anxiety is a common symptom as opposed to depression, however SAD is far less common during summer.

It is hypothesized that reduced natural light exposure causes or at least contributes to SAD and reduced mood during winter however this does not necessarily explain similar mood deficits during summer (Oginska & Oginska-Bruchal, 2014). Light therapy has been proven to improve symptoms especially during winter and is the easiest and most common treatment for this mood disorder. Anti-depressant medications, exercise and diet can also be beneficial in reducing symptoms and thus improving life satisfaction.


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Within groups, life satisfaction will still vary between each individual and is often influenced by their personal values and core beliefs. Personal values are values that motivate us to do actions that align with our core values (Jongman-Sereno & Leary, 2019). The Expectancy-Value theory supports this as the combination of an individuals attitude and cultural norms influence behavior. This is then influenced by the value that is placed on that behavior and the expected outcomes.

An example of this can be seen in individuals who value materialistic things over interpersonal values. They tend to report lower life satisfaction and well-being which generally gets worse as material values increase and are not met (Georgellis, Tsitsianis & Yin, 2008).

In collectivist cultures such as Japan or India, there is generally more social consensus of values that typically benefit the group over the individual. Suh, Diener, Oishi and Triandis (1998) found that the group values for life satisfaction were closely aligned to individuals emotions. They suggested that when individuals aligned themselves and embodied the values of the group they reported higher levels of life satisfaction (Suh, Diener, Oishi & Triandis, 1998). These findings are more pronounced in collectivist cultures however are still present in individualistic cultures and findings are typically supported by the expectancy-value theory. Similarly, people that belong to religious groups and value respect towards members within their group have higher reports of life satisfaction (Georgellis, Tsitsianis & Yin, 2008).


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Culture can generally be categorized into one of two domains. An individualistic culture, in which the individual is valued over the group. Or a collectivist culture, in which the group and the collective goals are valued over the individual. There are a number of sub categories within this however these two are the most widely researched and findings are more easily generalized to the respective culture.

Individualistic cultures tend to exhibit more competitive behaviors as individuals strive to be better than or stand out from the group whilst limiting reliance on others. Within these individualistic cultures, individuals are more likely to experience loneliness and feeling excluded from the group (Georgellis, Tsitsianis & Yin, 2008).

Collectivist cultures generally promote higher social engagement and a collective pursuit of optimal life satisfaction (Oyserman, Coon, & Kemmelmeier, 2002). Between both cultures, the highest rates of life satisfaction usually arise from individuals who are more socially engaged (Uchida & Kitayama, 2009).

The facial-feedback hypothesis supports these findings as emotions and more specifically the expression of emotions is universal however the effectiveness of this in increasing life satisfaction would need to be explored further.


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Family can play a large role in life satisfaction and the level of satisfaction can vary greatly depending on the family unit and their influences. Families that value and emphasise effective, open communication tend to have higher reports of life satisfaction from each individual family member as well as the family unit as a whole (Sin & Lyubomirsky, 2009). These findings have been replicated in various studies around the world[factual?].

A Hong Kong based study examined effective communication interventions for families during dinner time and found that life satisfaction and family well-being improved (Ho et al., 2016). These results can be easily replicated in most family units as the interventions to increase supportive communication can be easily modified for any family thus supporting social functions of emotion and improving emotional regulation.

The overall life satisfaction of family members can impact an individual's life satisfaction. Chopik and O'Brien (2017) found that the health and happiness of individuals was highly correlated with the health and happiness of their partner. This [which?] study suggests that individuals whose family units are healthy with high levels of reported well-being are more likely to have higher reported life satisfaction when compared to families with lower overall well-being. This further applies to romantic partners, where individuals with happy partners experience higher life satisfaction and better general health (Chopik & O'Brien, 2017). The opposite can be seen in unhappy partners, where individuals experience more negative emotions and poorer health (Chopik & O'Brien, 2017).

Marriage and marital timing may also contribute to prolonged life satisfaction. Johnson, Krahn and Galambos (2017) examined marital timing as a predictor for happiness and life satisfaction later in life. They found that individuals that married "on time" or later in life experienced higher self esteem, especially for middle aged men. Johnson, Krahn and Galambos (2017) noted that higher life satisfaction was not a result of the marriage but the prolonged partnership as part of the lead up to marriage. Suggesting that partners in an existing relationship that decided to marry "on time" or later in life had higher reported life satisfaction compared to couples who married early[grammar?].


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An enjoyable and fulfilling career plays an important role in life satisfaction as the average person spends approximately one third of their life working.

The need to achieve self-actualization was famously theorized in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and makes up part of the top tier in his pyramid of needs. As each level of needs are met and a person feels fulfilled. When a person experiences fulfillment in their career they tend to report higher levels of life satisfaction and overall happiness.

Money is a large contributor to many individuals' perceived life satisfaction as people living in poverty or on an extremely low income typically experience higher levels of depression, stress and poorer life satisfaction (Kozan, Işık & Blustein, 2019). A correlation has been found between salary and life satisfaction in various nations around the world. However, increased salary does not make negative consequences disappear which is why salary is only one contributor to life satisfaction. Evidence in this area, for the most part, remains correlational (Kozan, Işık & Blustein, 2019). This evidence is weaker in developed nations as individuals are able to satisfy basic needs and have access to government resources even on an extremely low income (Cheung, 2018).

The current research suggests that employees that are paid a reasonable salary in an engaging and fulfilling job are less likely to experience financial stressors and negative mental health issues.

1 Who would likely have the highest levels of life satisfaction

Joe who frequently spends his entire paychecks on the newest gadgets.
Hannah who wants to start practicing mindfulness however can never find the time in her stressful life.
Jeremy who has high levels of agreeableness and finds fulfilment in his job.
Ashley who gets along well with her sister however has been ostracized by the rest of her family.

2 Which is more likely to improve happiness and life satisfaction in the long term

Buying the trendy new sneakers that are all the rage this season.
Spending quality time and engaging in supportive communication with loved ones.
Not going outside during winter because it is too cold.
Getting married three months into the relationship.


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Life satisfaction is the way in which people perceive their well-being and quality of life. It is usually subjectively measured using self-report questionnaires such as the Satisfaction with Life Scale. The main contributors to life satisfaction include: personality, self-esteem, outlook on life, age, life events and experiences, seasonal effects, values, culture, family and career. By engaging in self improvement techniques such as mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, individuals have been able to increase agreeableness, self-esteem and optimism. These improvements have been linked to increased levels of life satisfaction and meaningful relationships throughout the lifespan. Therapies that target both cognition and behavior have been able to improve emotional regulation and overall happiness. Our knowledge on life satisfaction will continue to grow as new research continues to build upon existing psychological theories in this area.

See also

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Alessandri, G., Caprara, G., & Tisak, J. (2012). The Unique Contribution of Positive Orientation to Optimal Functioning. European Psychologist, 17(1), 44-54. doi: 10.1027/1016-9040/a000070

Barrington-Leigh, C., & Behzadnejad, F. (2017). The impact of daily weather conditions on life satisfaction: Evidence from cross-sectional and panel data. Journal Of Economic Psychology, 59, 145-163. doi: 10.1016/j.joep.2017.01.003

Caprara, G., Alessandri, G., & Barbaranelli, C. (2010). Optimal Functioning: Contribution of Self-Efficacy Beliefs to Positive Orientation. Psychotherapy And Psychosomatics, 79(5), 328-330. doi: 10.1159/000319532

Caprara, G., Fagnani, C., Alessandri, G., Steca, P., Gigantesco, A., Sforza, L., & Stazi, M. (2009). Human Optimal Functioning: The Genetics of Positive Orientation Towards Self, Life, and the Future. Behavior Genetics, 39(3), 277-284. doi: 10.1007/s10519-009-9267-y

Cheung, F. (2018). Income redistribution predicts greater life satisfaction across individual, national, and cultural characteristics. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 115(5), 867-882. doi: 10.1037/pspp0000164

Chopik, W., & O'Brien, E. (2017). Happy you, healthy me? Having a happy partner is independently associated with better health in oneself. Health Psychology, 36(1), 21-30. doi: 10.1037/hea0000432

Côté, S., & Moskowitz, D. S. (1998). On the dynamic covariation between interpersonal behavior and affect: Prediction from neuroticism, extraversion, and agreeableness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 1032–1046. 10.1037/0022-3514.75.4.1032

Crocker, J., & Park, L. (2004). The Costly Pursuit of Self-Esteem. Psychological Bulletin, 130(3), 392-414. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.130.3.392

DeNeve, K., & Cooper, H. (1998). The happy personality: A meta-analysis of 137 personality traits and subjective well-being. Psychological Bulletin, 124(2), 197-229. doi: 10.1037//0033-2909.124.2.197

Diener, E., Suh, E., Lucas, R., & Smith, H. (1999). Subjective well-being: Three decades of progress. Psychological Bulletin, 125(2), 276-302. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.125.2.276

Farnam, A., Farhang, S., Bakhshipour, A., & Niknam, E. (2011). The five factor model of personality in mixed anxiety-depressive disorder and effect on therapeutic response. Asian Journal of Psychiatry, 4, 255–257. 10.1016/j.ajp.2011.10.001

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Goldbeck, L., Schmitz, T., Besier, T., Herschbach, P., & Henrich, G. (2007). Life satisfaction decreases during adolescence. Quality Of Life Research, 16(6), 969-979. doi: 10.1007/s11136-007-9205-5

Hales, A. H., Kassner, M. P., Williams, K. D., & Graziano, W. G. (2016). Disagreeableness as a cause and consequence of ostracism. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 42, 782–797. 10.1177/0146167216643933

Ho, H., Mui, M., Wan, A., Ng, Y., Stewart, S., & Yew, C. et al. (2016). Happy Family Kitchen II: A Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial of a Community-Based Family Intervention for Enhancing Family Communication and Well-being in Hong Kong. Frontiers In Psychology, 7. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00638

Hong, J., Charles, S., Lee, S., & Lachman, M. (2019). Perceived changes in life satisfaction from the past, present and to the future: A comparison of U.S. and Japan. Psychology And Aging, 34(3), 317-329. doi: 10.1037/pag0000345

Johnson, M., Krahn, H., & Galambos, N. (2017). Better late than early: Marital timing and subjective well-being in midlife. Journal Of Family Psychology, 31(5), 635-641. doi: 10.1037/fam0000297

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Kozan, S., Işık, E., & Blustein, D. (2019). Decent work and well-being among low-income Turkish employees: Testing the psychology of working theory. Journal Of Counseling Psychology, 66(3), 317-327. doi: 10.1037/cou0000342

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Sin, N. L., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2009). Enhancing well-being and alleviating depressive symptoms with positive psychology interventions: A practice-friendly meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 65, 467–487. doi: 10.1002/jclp.20593

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Uchida, Y., & Kitayama, S. (2009). Happiness and unhappiness in east and west: Themes and variations. Emotion, 9, 441–456. doi: 10.1037/a0015634

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