Life satisfaction is a complex term and is sometimes used interchangeably with the emotion of happiness, but they are indeed two separate concepts. Life satisfaction is defined as one’s evaluation of life as a whole, rather then the feelings and emotions that are experienced in the moment.
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What is life satisfaction and how is it different from happiness?
Happiness is an immediate, in-the-moment experience, whereas life satisfaction is happiness that exists when we think about our lives as a whole, looking at the big picture.
This adds a little more clarity to the difference between the ideas of happiness and life satisfaction. It is not based on criterion that researchers deem to be important, but instead on your own cognitive judgments of the elements that YOU consider to be valuable.
Based on the research ‘The Study of Life Satisfaction’, quality of life is associated with living conditions, such as food, health, shelter, and so on (Veenhoven, 1996). By contrast, life satisfaction is defined as a state of emotion, like happiness or sadness.
In general, whatever level of satisfaction you are feeling, you can define and maximize your level of wellbeing if you choose which elements you want to engage in to flourish. Also, life satisfaction tends to be dependent on your emotional state.
According to Daniel Gilbert, professor of Psychology at Harvard University, the meaning of happiness is “anything we pleased” ( Gilbert, 2009). Our mood is always changing.
Contributors to life satisfaction
The sources of life satisfaction are not completely understood yet, but what is known, is that they are a complex combination of,
- collective action
- individual behaviour,
- simple sensory experiences
- higher cognition
- stable characteristics of the individual
- the environment
- chance factors
as Ruut Veenhoven states in his study of life satisfaction.
Variance in satisfaction between nations has been studied; it has been shown that living conditions are a major determinant of life satisfaction. That is, economically prosperous countries tend to experience it more when compared to poorer nations.
The correlation between income and life satisfaction is higher in poorer countries compared to more affluent countries. Life satisfaction tends to be higher in egalitarian countries; people will experience less inequality and be able to choose lifestyles that best fit their abilities and desires where equality is more prominently displayed.
Education is an interesting point when studying life satisfaction. As pointed-out from the variance in satisfaction between nations resource, more highly educated countries generally experience higher levels of satisfaction, but with this education comes opportunity for aversive consequences: loss of previous opportunities that comes along with achieving such education, job competition, or even lack of jobs. That being said, those more educated tend to experience more favorable events compared to adverse events.
Variables such as mental and physical health, energy, extroversion, and empathy have all been shown to be strongly correlated to satisfied individuals, but it is sometimes hard to determine whether these are products or causes of life satisfaction.
Our past experiences undoubtedly effect the way we think about our lives in terms of satisfaction. Establishing a satisfying life for yourself is not decided only by circumstances; it is also influenced by the way you think about and relate to the environment around you.
Measuring your life satisfaction
Beginning in the 1960’s when it became a big topic of discussion in research, life satisfaction was originally thought to be measured objectively and externally; the same way measuring heart-rate or blood pressure would be. Since then, it has become evident that life satisfaction must be measured subjectively rather than objectively; techniques commonly used include, surveys, questionnaires, and interviews.
Measuring life satisfaction isn’t just a way to see how happy people are with their lives, it’s also a way of determining how unhappy they are. By adding another, positive point of view stemming from the individuals subjective experience, clinicians and researchers can analyze what makes people happy and what makes them unhappy.
The Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS), created by Ed Diener, has been one of the more applicable measurement tests of life satisfaction. It consists of five statements (e.g. The conditions of my life are excellent) to which the participant indicates their agreement. This assessment doesn’t specify explicit domains such as financial or health satisfaction; it allows subjective evaluation of life as a whole.
Can you feel more satisfied with your life?
Yes. If you are not as satisfied with your life as you would like to be, you can do things to change this. Things such as having friends, goals, and a life story are shown to increase ones life satisfaction. You can look more in depth at these here, along with a couple of other ways to feel more satisfied with your life.
Relationships among the people you love can influence how satisfied you feel with your life. For example, studies in Western societies have shown that the mere presence of children to married couples does not automatically increase your life satisfaction. Rather, the good (or bad) relationships built with these children will alter your evaluation of it.
Satisfaction with life scale
According to the research conducted on the validity of life satisfaction scales, one of the main measurements is based on preferences and values of people (Diener, Inglehart & Tay, 2013). Though we share the same world, we can barely share the same value since we experience things and view life differently.
To measure your own life satisfaction, you can take Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS) here. It is a short 5-item instrument designed to measure global cognitive judgments with life. It takes just 1 minute to complete.
Income and education are shown to increase life satisfaction, but this is mainly because they are so highly valued in the world we live in today. Build relationships with loved ones, create achievable goals for yourself, and put yourself in situations where you can exercise your personal strengths and abilities; it will help you experience greater feelings of satisfaction. If you can do these things, you can benefit yourself and those around you.
Barker, E. (2014, March 15). How To Be More Satisfied With Your Life – 5 Steps Proven By Research. Retrieved May 26, 2015, from http://time.com/25208/how-to-be-more-satisfied-with-your-life-5-steps-proven-by-research/ here
Diener, E., Emmons, R., Larson, R., & Griffin, S. (n.d.). The Satisfaction with Life Scale. Retrieved May 27, 2015, from http://www.unt.edu/rss/SWLS.pdf here
Diener, E. (n.d.). The Satisfaction with Life Scale. Retrieved May 27, 2015, from http://www.ppc.sas.upenn.edu/lifesatisfactionscale.pdf here
Diener, E., & Pavot, W. (1993). Review of the Satisfaction With Life Scale. Retrieved May 27, 2015, from http://www.ksbe.edu/_assets/spi/pdfs/survey_toolkit/other_samples/pavot_diener.pdf here
Hsu, B. (n.d.). Happiness versus Life Satisfaction: What's the Difference? Retrieved May 28, 2015, from http://www.patheos.com/blogs/blackwhiteandgray/2012/10/happiness-versus-life-satisfaction-whats-the-difference/ here
Life Satisfaction. (n.d.). Retrieved May 22, 2015, from http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/topics/life-satisfaction/ here
Veenhoven, R. (n.d.). The Study of Life Satisfaction. Retrieved May 25, 2015, from http://www2.eur.nl/fsw/research/veenhoven/Pub1990s/96d-full.pdf here