Quality of Life Research

, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp 601–611 | Cite as

The relationship between negative life events, psychological distress and life satisfaction: a population-based study

  • Gunnvor MarumEmail author
  • Jocelyne Clench-Aas
  • Ragnhild B. Nes
  • Ruth Kjærsti Raanaas



Negative life events may increase psychological distress and reduce life satisfaction (LS). This study investigates associations between negative life events and both positive and negative indicators of mental health and explores the extent to which these associations are buffered by sense of mastery and perceived social support.


Data were obtained from a large (N = 4,823), nationally representative sample of Norwegians aged 16 and older. Psychological distress was measured by The Hopkins Symptom Check List (HSCL-25), LS by a single question on overall satisfaction with life and negative life events by a 12-item list of threatening experiences. Moderating variables, sense of mastery and social support, were measured using standard instruments.


Adjusting for age, sex, education and income, all of the negative life events were significantly associated with both psychological distress and LS, with the exception of events pertinent to bereavement. Of the life events examined, financial strain constituted the strongest predictor. Overall, negative life events were more closely associated with psychological distress than LS. Altogether, negative life events explained 22.3 and 11.4 % of the variance in psychological distress and LS, respectively. Sense of mastery, but not perceived social support, emerged as a moderating factor between financial strain and both psychological distress and LS.


Negative life events are associated with higher psychological distress and lower LS, but the strength of the associations varies across events. The impact of financial strain and conflict appears particularly strong, but may be moderated by self-perceived mastery.


Mental health problems Life stressors Psychological distress Well-being Life satisfaction 



Hopkins System Check List


Life satisfaction


Life threatening events


Subjective well-being



We would like to thank Statistics Norway for handling the data collection as well as the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, division of Mental Health for providing us with access to the data, workspace and support. Rune Johansen at Norwegian Institute of Public Health, division of Mental Health has contributed with useful advice with regards to the statistical analyses.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gunnvor Marum
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jocelyne Clench-Aas
    • 1
  • Ragnhild B. Nes
    • 1
  • Ruth Kjærsti Raanaas
    • 1
  1. 1.OsloNorway

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