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Satisfaction with Life Scale: What is it and what factors affect it?

Updated: Jul 2, 2020

At OnTrac, we sincerely believe that everyone's ultimate goal should be to "be happy". However, we also believe at OnTrac in the importance of setting SMART goals and breaking bigger goals into smaller pieces. This presents a problem because "being happy" is as far as you can get from a SMART goal as you can get. So we looked for a simple way to "measure happiness" that we could incorporate into the app. In our research, we came upon a tool known as the Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS) Chances are, many of you have never heard of SWLS. It is a 5 question assessment designed to measure a person's perception of their life satisfaction. It was developed by a team lead by Ed Diener from the University of Illinois. It's designed to measure the respondent's satisfaction with their overall life rather than individual facets of that person's life. In other words, the individual can weigh the impact of how much individual domains of a person's life such as health or personal finances affects their overall satisfaction when they answer the questions based on their own preferences. The SWLS has been validated to be a reliable measure of life satisfaction for a wide range of age groups and different scenarios.

We are including a pretty detailed description of the assessment tool as well as the score that is used for it below. Please note this information on SWLS is copyrighted by Ed Diener and usee is free of charge and granted by permission.

Satisfation with Life Scale (SWLS)

Instructions: Below are five statements that you may agree or disagree with. Using the 1 - 7 scale below, indicate your agreement with each item by placing the appropriate number on the line preceding that item. Please be open and honest in your response.

7 - Strongly agree

6 - Agree

5 - Slightly agree

4 - Neither agree nor disagree

3 - Slightly disagree

2 - Disagree

1 - Strongly disagree

____ In most ways my life is close to my ideal.

____ The conditions of my life are excellent.

____ I am satisfied with my life.

____ So far I have gotten the important things I want in life.

____ If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing.

Scoring: Though scoring should be kept continuous (sum up scores on each item), here are some cutoffs to be used as benchmarks.

31 - 35 Extremely satisfied

26 - 30 Satisfied

21 - 25 Slightly satisfied

20 Neutral

15 - 19 Slightly dissatisfied

10 - 14 Dissatisfied

5 - 9 Extremely dissatisfied

30 – 35 Very high score; highly satisfied Respondents who score in this range love their lives and feel that things are going very well. Their lives are not perfect, but they feel that things are about as good as lives get. Furthermore, just because the person is satisfied does not mean she or he is complacent. In fact, growth and challenge might be part of the reason the respondent is satisfied. For most people in this high-scoring range, life is enjoyable, and the major domains of life are going well – work or school, family, friends, leisure, and personal development.

25- 29 High score Individuals who score in this range like their lives and feel that things are going well. Of course, their lives are not perfect, but they feel that things are mostly good. Furthermore, just because the person is satisfied does not mean she or he is complacent. In fact, growth and challenge might be part of the reason the respondent is satisfied. For most people in this high-scoring range, life is enjoyable, and the major domains of life are going well – work or school, family, friends, leisure, and personal development. The person may draw motivation from the areas of dissatisfaction.

20 – 24 Average score The average of life satisfaction in economically developed nations is in this range – the majority of people are generally satisfied, but have some areas where they very much would like some improvement. Some individuals score in this range because they are mostly satisfied with most areas of their lives but see the need for some improvement in each area. Other respondents score in this range because they are satisfied with most domains of their lives, but have one or two areas where they would like to see large improvements. A person scoring in this range is normal in that they have areas of their lives that need improvement. However, an individual in this range would usually like to move to a higher level by making some life changes.

15 – 19 Slightly below average in life satisfaction People who score in this range usually have small but significant problems in several areas of their lives or have many areas that are doing fine but one area that represents a substantial problem for them. If a person has moved temporarily into this level of life satisfaction from a higher level because of some recent event, things will usually improve over time and satisfaction will generally move back up. On the other hand, if a person is chronically slightly dissatisfied with many areas of life, some changes might be in order. Sometimes the person is simply expecting too much, and sometimes life changes are needed. Thus, although temporary dissatisfaction is common and normal, a chronic level of dissatisfaction across a number of areas of life calls for reflection. Some people can gain motivation from a small level of dissatisfaction, but often dissatisfaction across a number of life domains is a distraction, and unpleasant as well.

10 – 14 Dissatisfied People who score in this range are substantially dissatisfied with their lives. People in this range may have a number of domains that are not going well or one or two domains that are going very badly. If life dissatisfaction is a response to a recent event such as bereavement, divorce, or a significant problem at work, the person will probably return over time to his or her former level of higher satisfaction. However, if low levels of life satisfaction have been chronic for the person, some changes are in order – both in attitudes and patterns of thinking and probably in life activities as well. Low levels of life satisfaction in this range, if they persist, can indicate that things are going badly and life alterations are needed. Furthermore, a person with low life satisfaction in this range is sometimes not functioning well because their unhappiness serves as a distraction. Talking to a friend, member of the clergy, counselor, or other specialists can often help the person get moving in the right direction, although positive change will be up the person.

5 – 9 Extremely Dissatisfied Individuals who score in this range are usually extremely unhappy with their current life. In some cases, this is in reaction to some recent bad events such as widowhood or unemployment. In other cases, it is a response to a chronic problem such as alcoholism or addiction. In yet other cases the extreme dissatisfaction is a reaction due to something bad in life such as recently having lost a loved one. However, dissatisfaction at this level is often due to dissatisfaction in multiple areas of life. Whatever the reason for the low level of life satisfaction, it may be that the help of others is needed – a friend or family member, counseling with a member of the clergy, or help from a psychologist or other counselor. If dissatisfaction is chronic, the person needs to change, and often others can help.

The part that is common to each category

To understand life satisfaction scores, it is helpful to understand some of the components that go into most people’s experience of satisfaction. One of the most important influences on happiness is social relationships. People who score high on life satisfaction tend to have close and supportive family and friends, whereas those who do not have close friends and family are more likely to be dissatisfied. Of course, the loss of a close friend or family member can cause dissatisfaction with life, and it may take quite a time for the person to bounce back from the loss. Another factor that influences the life satisfaction of most people is work or school, or performance in an important role such as homemaker or grandparent. When the person enjoys his or her work, whether it is paid or unpaid work, and feels that it is meaningful and important, this contributes to life satisfaction. When work is going poorly because of bad circumstances or a poor fit with the person’s strengths, this can lower life satisfaction. When a person has important goals and is failing to make adequate progress toward them, this too can lead to life dissatisfaction. A third factor that influences the life satisfaction of most people is personal – satisfaction with the self, religious or spiritual life, learning and growth, and leisure. For many people, these are sources of satisfaction. However, when these sources of personal worth are frustrated, they can be powerful sources of dissatisfaction. Of course, there are additional sources of satisfaction and dissatisfaction – some that are common to most people such as health, and others that are unique to each individual. Most people know the factors that lead to their satisfaction or dissatisfaction, although a person’s temperament – a general tendency to be happy or unhappy – can color their responses. There is no one key to life satisfaction, but rather a recipe that includes a number of ingredients. With time and persistent work, people’s life satisfaction usually goes up when they are dissatisfied. People who have had a loss recover over time. People who have a dissatisfying relationship or work often make changes over time that will increase their dissatisfaction. One key ingredient to happiness, as mentioned above, is social relationships, and another key ingredient is to have important goals that derive from one’s values and to make progress toward those goals. For many people, it is important to feel a connection to something larger than oneself. When a person tends to be chronically dissatisfied, they should look within themselves and ask whether they need to develop more positive attitudes to life and the world.

Copyright by Ed Diener, February 13, 2006 Use is free of charge and granted by permission.

This research from Ed Diener and his team had a definite impact on how we designed OnTrac and what areas we wanted to focus on to achieve our mission of helping people achieve happier, more balanced lives by simplifying the process of achieving their life goals. More specifically, we incorporate SWLS and adapted it into our measurement of "happiness" within OnTrac itself so it was important to us to share this research with you.

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