Life Satisfaction Print or save as PDF

How is it defined?

Life satisfaction entails “a person’s total assessment of the quality of his or her life” (McCabe, Bray, Kehle, Theodore & Gelbar, 2011). People’s overall satisfaction with life can include objective markers of their access to basic human needs such as adequate food, clothing, and shelter; subjective evaluations of their physical health and emotional states; and whether they have a sense of purpose in life (Diener, 2006; OECD, 2013; Twenge, Cooper, Joiner, Duffy & Binau, 2019; WHO, n.d., para. 1). Life satisfaction is a key marker of well-being and is essential for positive youth development, as children with high levels of life satisfaction benefit from a variety of positive social, behavioural and emotional outcomes (Proctor, Linley & Maltby, 2009).

Why is it important?

  • Students with high levels of life satisfaction report greater academic performance, interpersonal relations, and intrapersonal functioning than those with low life satisfaction (Gilman & Huebner, 2006).
  • Life satisfaction has a protective effect on student mental health which mitigates the negative effects of stressful events and experiences (Suldo & Huebner, 2004).
  • Support from teachers is strongly related to life satisfaction, highlighting the impact of teacher’s behaviours on student well-being (Suldo, Riley, & Shaffer, 2006).

How do we measure it?

In the OurSCHOOL elementary and secondary school surveys, students are asked to rate their life satisfaction on a scale from ‘0’ to ’10’, where zero means ‘extremely dissatisfied’ (‘extremely unhappy’ in elementary) and ‘10’ means ‘extremely satisfied happy’ (‘extremely happy’ in elementary). Students with a score above 6 are considered to have positive life satisfaction. The results are reported as “the percentage of students with positive life satisfaction.”

This question is identical to the one used in the World Values Survey to gauge levels of ‘happiness’ among countries (Helliwell & Wang, 2012). It is also used in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). This indicator allows a school to compare its results with other schools in a district, province, or state, and with national results for students in at least 80 other countries.


Diener, E. (2006). Guidelines for national indicators of subjective well-being and ill-being. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7(4), 397-404.

Gilman, R., & Huebner, E. S. (2006). Characteristics of adolescents who report very high life satisfaction. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 35(3), 311-319.

Helliwell, J. F., & Wang, S. (2012). The state of world happiness. In J. F. Helliwell, R. Layard, and J. Sachs (Eds.), World Happiness Report 2012 (pp. 10-57). New York: UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

McCabe, K., Bray, M. A., Kehle, T. J., Theodore, L. A., & Gelbar, N. W. (2011). Promoting happiness and life satisfaction in school children. Canadian Journal of School Psychology, 26(3), 177-192.

OECD (2013). OECD Guidelines on Measuring Subjective Well-being. OECD Publishing.

Proctor, C. L., Linley, P. A., & Maltby, J. (2009). Youth life satisfaction: A review of the literature. Journal of Happiness Studies, 10(5), 583-630.

Suldo, S. M., & Huebner, E. S. (2004). Does life satisfaction moderate the effects of stressful life events on psychopathological behavior during adolescence? School Psychology Quarterly, 19(2), 93-105.

Suldo, S. M., Riley, K. N., & Shaffer, E. J. (2006). Academic correlates of children and adolescents' life satisfaction. School Psychology International, 27(5), 567-582.

Twenge, J. M., Cooper, A. B., Joiner, T. E., Duffy, M. E., & Binau, S. G. (2019). Age, Period, and Cohort Trends in Mood Disorder Indicators and Suicide-Related Outcomes in a Nationally Representative Dataset, 2005–2017. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Advance online publication.

World Health Organization. (n.d.). Frequently asked questions. Retrieved from