Satisfaction with Life Scale

Life satisfaction may be defined as a conscious, cognitive, global judgement of one’s own life. It is not an assessment based on externally imposed objective standards, but rather depends upon a comparison of one’s life circumstances to one’s own internal standards or criteria (Diener et al. 1985;  Pavot & Diener 1993; Pavot et al. 1991). The Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS) was created to assess a person’s global judgment of life satisfaction (Diener et al. 1985).

Diener et al. (1985) generated 48 self-report items related to satisfaction with life including items assessing positive and negative affect. Factor analyses were used to identify three factors including life satisfaction, negative affect and positive affect. All affect items were eliminated as were items with factor loadings of less than 0.60. The remaining 10 items were reduced to five on the basis of “semantic similarity” (Diener et al. 1985).

Respondents are instructed to rate each item using a 7-point scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). Item ratings are summed to provide a total score ranging from 5 to 35 where higher scores are indicative of greater life satisfaction. The SWLS takes a global approach to assessment. Because no specific domains are named within the scale and items are not specific in nature, the respondent remains free to consider the life domains or affective components he or she feels make the most important contribution to their subjective experience of happiness (Arrindell et al. 1999; Diener et al. 1985;  Pavot & E. Diener 1993).

The scale is short and simple to administer and score. It can easily be added to assessments using multiple measures with no significant increase in time (Pavot et al. 1991). The SWLS can be accessed for no cost at

Table: Characteristics of the Satisfaction with Life Scale


The scale is available freely and is simple to administer and score. With only five items, it takes very little time to complete. The scale has been evaluated for use in populations of varying ages (e.g., adolescent, young adult and senior). The original scale was tested in both college students and geriatric populations (Diener et al. 1985). Scale items are at the 6th to 10th grade reading level, which makes it comprehensible to most adults (Pavot & Diener 1993). The scale has been evaluated in several cultures and has been translated into several languages including Dutch, Taiwanese, Spanish, French, Russian, Korean, Hebrew, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, and Portuguese.

It has been suggested that social desirability may account for a large proportion of variance in the assessment of subjective well-being and may, in fact be an important component of well-being (Pavot & Diener 1993). However, Diener et al. (1985) reported a very weak association between SWLS scores and the Marlowe-Crowne scale of social desirability (r=0.02). 

Limitations. While the SWLS is a simple scale, interpretation of scores is not clear. The SWLS was not intended to provide an assessment of subjective well-being, only a single aspect of well-being. One cannot assume that SWLS scores provide a direct assessment of emotional well-being. In order to assess the broader construct of subjective well-being, assessment of negative and positive affect should be included (W.  Pavot & E.  Diener 1993). Furthermore, no published normative data for the SWLS could be located. Pavot and Diener (1993) identified numerous studies providing means and standard deviations for SWLS scores in a variety of populations and note considerable variation within different population subsets. However, scores may be interpreted in absolute rather than relative terms. In this case, it has been suggested that a score of 20 is regarded as neutral, while scores in excess of 20 represent satisfaction (21-25=slightly satisfied and 26-30= satisfied), and scores of less than 20 represent dissatisfaction (15-19=slightly dissatisfied and 5-9=extremely dissatisfied; Pavot & Diener 1993).

The SWLS does not appear to be affected by gender or age (Pavot & Diener 1993). Factor analyses focusing on factorial invariance across gender have demonstrated that the structure and measurement of life satisfaction are equivalent across groups. That is, the strength of relationships between items and the underlying construct is the same for men and women (Shevlin et al. 1998; Wu & Yao 2006). However, factorial invariance was not demonstrated on evaluation of the Spanish version of the SWLS (Atienza et al. 2003; Pons et al. 2000). Westaway et al. (2003) reported that SWLS scores were not related to either gender or age, but rather to employment status and level of education. Similarly, Neto (1993) identified significant main effects associated with both gender and socioeconomic status such that higher status and male gender were associated with greater satisfaction with life as assessed on the SWLS.


Although the SWLS is used to evaluate satisfaction with life in populations of adults with ABI, studies evaluating this scale within the ABI population are needed.


Summary-Satisfaction with Life Scale

Interpretability: Guidelines for absolute interpretation of scores are available. To our knowledge, no normative data is presently available for the SWLS. 

Acceptability: Scale items are at a suitable reading level for most adults and it takes a minimal amount of time for the subject to complete the measure in its entirety. 

Feasibility: This scale is brief, simple, and has a low-cost of administration.


Table: Satisfaction with Life Scale Evaluation Summary













++ (TR)

+++ (IC)






NOTE: +++=Excellent; ++=Adequate; +=Poor; N/A=insufficient information; TR=Test re-test; IC=Internal Consistency; IO=Interobserver; Varied (re. floor/ceiling effects; mixed results).