Social Indicators Research

, Volume 90, Issue 3, pp 397–408 | Cite as

Can We Compare Life Satisfaction Between Nationalities? Evaluating Actual and Imagined Situations

  • Friedel BolleEmail author
  • Simon KempEmail author


Do differences in reported life satisfaction between societies reflect real differences or do they reflect cultural differences in the way people rate their experiences? Study 1 showed that imagining better or worse life situations affected student respondents’ ratings of their own life satisfaction, as predicted by range–frequency theory. Study 2 investigated how German and Polish students rated their actual life satisfaction and how satisfied they would be under three imagined scenarios. Study 3 similarly compared Danish and Hungarian students. Both studies found significant differences in the rating of the hypothetical situations, and moderate correlations between ratings of satisfaction in the hypothetical situations and reality, but in neither study were national differences in actual satisfaction predicted by differences in hypothetical satisfaction. Overall, the results suggest that national differences in rated life satisfaction are real rather than reflecting differences in how satisfaction is rated.


Life satisfaction Scenario Imagined satisfaction National differences 



We are grateful to Anika Köhler, Geza Sapi, and Marta Sernec for their help in obtaining the samples of Studies 2 and 3. Simon Kemp gratefully acknowledges the sponsorship of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation for this research.


  1. Bolle, F., & Kemp, S. (2006). Categories of valuation. Paper presented at the 11th EURAS workshop on standardisation and networks, Hamburg, June 2006.Google Scholar
  2. Brickman, P., Coates, D., & Janoff-Bulman, R. (1978). Lottery winners and accident victims: Is happiness relative? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36, 917–927. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.36.8.917.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Diener, E. (2000). Subjective well-being: The science of happiness and a proposal for a national index. The American Psychologist, 55, 34–44. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Diener, E., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Beyond money: Toward an economy of well-being. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 5, 1–31. doi: 10.1111/j.0963-7214.2004.00501001.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Diener, E., Suh, E. M., Lucas, R. E., & Smith, H. L. (1999). Subjective well-being: Three decades of progress. Psychological Bulletin, 125, 276–302. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.125.2.276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Easterlin, R. A. (1995). Will raising the income of all increase the happiness of all? Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 27, 35–47. doi: 10.1016/0167-2681(95)00003-B.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Easterlin, R. A. (2006). Life cycle happiness and its sources: Intersections of psychology, economics, and demography. Journal of Economic Psychology, 27, 463–482. doi: 10.1016/j.joep.2006.05.002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Frey, B. S., Benesch, C., & Stutzer, A. (2007). Does watching TV make us happy? Journal of Economic Psychology, 28, 283–313. doi: 10.1016/j.joep.2007.02.001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Frey, B. S., & Stutzer, A. (2000). Happiness, economy and institutions. The Economic Journal, 110, 295–307. doi: 10.1111/1468-0297.00570.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Frey, B. S., & Stutzer, A. (2002). Happiness and economics: How the economy and institutions affect human well-being. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Kahneman, D. (2000). Evaluation by moments: Past and future. In D. Kahneman & A. Tversky (Eds.), Choices, values, and frames (pp. 693–708). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Kahneman, D., Diener, E., & Schwarz, N. (Eds.). (1999). Well-being: The foundations of hedonic psychology. New York: Russell Sage.Google Scholar
  13. Kahneman, D., & Krueger, A. B. (2006). Developments in the measurement of subjective well-being. The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 20, 3–24. doi: 10.1257/089533006776526030.Google Scholar
  14. Kahneman, D., & Snell, J. (1992). Predicting a changing taste: Do people know what they will like? Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 5, 187–200. doi: 10.1002/bdm.3960050304.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lucas, R. E., Clark, A. E., Georgellis, Y., & Diener, E. (2004). Unemployment alters the set point for life satisfaction. Psychological Science, 15, 8–13. doi: 10.1111/j.0963-7214.2004.01501002.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Parducci, A. (1965). Category judgment: A range-frequency model. Psychological Review, 72, 407–418. doi: 10.1037/h0022602.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Parducci, A. (1995). Happiness, pleasure, and judgement: The contextual theory and its applications. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  18. Poulton, E. C. (1989). Bias in quantifying judgements. Hove, UK: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  19. Schwarz, N., & Clore, G. L. (1983). Mood, misattribution, and judgments of well-being: Informative and directive functions of affective states. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45, 513–523. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.45.3.513.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Veenhoven, R., & Hagerty, M. (2006). Rising happiness in nations 1946–2004: A reply to Easterlin. Social Indicators Research, 79, 421–436. doi: 10.1007/s11205-005-5074-x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. White, A. (2007). A global projection of subjective well-being: A challenge to positive psychology? Psychtalk, 56, 17–20.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Europa University ViadrinaFrankfurt (Oder)Germany
  2. 2.Psychology DepartmentUniversity of CanterburyChristchurchNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations