, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 1-17
Date: 30 May 2007

Life Satisfaction is not a Balanced Estimator of the Good Life: Evidence from Reaction Time Measures and Self-Reported Emotions

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A widespread belief in happiness research is that measures of life satisfaction capture the variety of an individual’s experiences along a single favorable—unfavorable dimension. The current article points to a possible violation of this assumption. With a combination of data and theory it argues that life satisfaction is not a balanced reflection of subjective experiences because the evaluation that drives judgments of life satisfaction is tilted towards pleasure and away from engagement. We postulate that feelings of pleasure are overrated in statements of life satisfaction, whereas feelings of engagement are underrepresented. Feelings of engagement and interest are further supposed to be indicators of personal growth. Measures of personal growth and life satisfaction should thus be unrelated. Empirical evidence for our model is provided by self-report and reaction time data from a Norwegian convenience sample (N = 30). Detection latencies for pleasant stimuli correlated significantly with life satisfaction but not with measures of personal growth. Life satisfaction correlated significantly with pleasant experiences, but not with engagement. Personal growth correlated significantly with feelings of engagement. Life satisfaction and personal growth were uncorrelated.