Data

Self-reported life satisfaction

World Happiness Report
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What you should know about this indicator

  • The data gives the national average of survey responses to the 'Cantril Ladder' question, which asks respondents to evaluate their life on a scale from 0 to 10.
  • The exact wording of the question is the following: “Please imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?”.
  • The data is produced as part of the World Happiness Report, based on several rounds of Gallup World Poll surveys.
  • All figures are produced by the source using the Gallup survey weights to make the estimates representative at the national level.
  • The number of people and countries surveyed varies year to year, but typically more than 100,000 people in 130 countries participate in the Gallup World Poll each year.
Learn more in the FAQs
Self-reported life satisfaction World Happiness Report
Average of survey responses to the 'Cantril Ladder' question in the Gallup World Poll. The survey question asks respondents to think of a ladder, with the best possible life for them being a 10, and the worst possible life being a 0.
Source
World Happiness Report (2023) – processed by Our World in Data
Last updated
March 20, 2023
Next expected update
July 2024
Date range
2011–2022

Frequently Asked Questions

Can ‘happiness’ and ‘life satisfaction’ really be measured?

One way to gauge whether self-reports provide a valid measure of happiness or life satisfaction is to see how well they correlate with things that typically associate with contentment.

Such a correlation has been found, for example, with smiling and laughing.

Experimental psychologists have also shown that self reports of well-being from surveys turn out to correlate with activity in the parts of the brain associated with pleasure and satisfaction. And various surveys have confirmed that people who say they are happy also tend to sleep better and express positive emotions verbally more frequently.

The following table, adapted from Kahneman and Krueger (2006)2, provides a list of the variables that researchers have found to be related to self-reported happiness and life satisfaction.

The main conclusion from the evidence is that survey-based measures of happiness and life satisfaction do provide a reasonably consistent and reliable picture of subjective well-being.

Correlates of high life satisfaction and happiness

Smiling frequency

Smiling with the eyes ("unfakeable smile")

Ratings of one's happiness made by friends

Frequent verbal expressions of positive emotions

Sociability and extraversion

Sleep quality

Happiness of close relatives

Self-reported health

High income, and high income rank in a reference group

Active involvement in religion

Recent positive changes of circumstances (increased income, marriage)

Is ‘life satisfaction’ the same as ‘happiness’?

The most natural way to attempt to measure subjective well-being is to ask people what they think and feel. Indeed, this is the most common approach.

In practice, social scientists tend to rely on questions inquiring directly about happiness, or on questions inquiring about life satisfaction. The former tend to measure the experiential or emotional aspects of well-being (e.g. “I feel very happy”), while the latter tend to measure the evaluative or cognitive aspects of well-being (e.g. “I think I lead a very positive life”).

The chart below plots a measure of average happiness against a measure of average life satisfaction.

Along the X-axis we show data from the World Value Survey, which asks directly about happiness: “Taking all things together, would you say you are (i) Very happy, (ii) Rather happy, (iii) Not very happy, (iv) Not at all happy, (v) Don’t know.” Shown is the share of respondents who say they are ‘very happy’ or ‘rather happy’.

On the Y-axis is data from the Gallup World Poll, which uses the Cantril Ladder question and asks respondents to evaluate their life: “Please imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?” Shown is the average reported score.

As the visualization shows, these two measures are clearly closely related (countries that score high in one measure also tend to score high in the other), yet they are not identical (there is substantial dispersion, with many countries sharing the same score in one variable but diverging in the other).

The differences in responses to questions inquiring about life satisfaction and happiness are consistent with the idea that subjective well-being has two sides: an experiential or emotional side, and an evaluative or cognitive side. Of course, the limits between emotional and cognitive aspects of well-being are blurred in our minds; so in practice both kinds of questions measure both aspects to some degree. Indeed, social scientists often construct ‘subjective well-being indexes’ where they simply average out results from various types of questions.

Sources and processing

This data is based on the following sources

The World Happiness Report is a publication of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, powered by the Gallup World Poll data. The World Happiness Report reflects a worldwide demand for more attention to happiness and well-being as criteria for government policy. It reviews the state of happiness in the world today and shows how the science of happiness explains personal and national variations in happiness.

Life evaluations from the Gallup World Poll provide the basis for the annual happiness rankings. They are based on answers to the main life evaluation question. The Cantril ladder asks respondents to think of a ladder, with the best possible life for them being a 10 and the worst possible life being a 0. They are then asked to rate their own current lives on that 0 to 10 scale. The rankings are from nationally representative samples over three years.

[Text from World Happiness Report website]

Retrieved on
March 20, 2023
Citation
This is the citation of the original data obtained from the source, prior to any processing or adaptation by Our World in Data. To cite data downloaded from this page, please use the suggested citation given in Reuse This Work below.
Helliwell, J. F., Layard, R., Sachs, J. D., De Neve, J.-E., Aknin, L. B., & Wang, S. (Eds.). (2023). World Happiness Report 2023. New York: Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

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Citations

How to cite this page

To cite this page overall, including any descriptions, FAQs or explanations of the data authored by Our World in Data, please use the following citation:

“Data Page: Self-reported life satisfaction”, part of the following publication: Esteban Ortiz-Ospina and Max Roser (2017) - “Happiness and Life Satisfaction”. Data adapted from World Happiness Report. Retrieved from https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/happiness-cantril-ladder [online resource]
How to cite this data

In-line citationIf you have limited space (e.g. in data visualizations), you can use this abbreviated in-line citation:

World Happiness Report (2023) – processed by Our World in Data

Full citation

World Happiness Report (2023) – processed by Our World in Data. “Self-reported life satisfaction – World Happiness Report – World Happiness Report” [dataset]. World Happiness Report, “World Happiness Report (2023)” [original data]. Retrieved June 15, 2024 from https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/happiness-cantril-ladder