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Where Do Americans Find Personal Contentment?

Where Do Americans Find Personal Contentment?

If life were simple, then it would be easy. For most of us, it is a juggling act of many important people and issues, and succeeding in all areas at all times is nearly impossible.

Gallup investigated Americans' life challenges in December*, asking respondents to rate their satisfaction in each of 10 areas on a 1-to-10 scale. It turns out that some aspects of life are more vexing to most of us than others are. Most are highly satisfied with their families, and many seem content with their friends, their health, where they live, and their spiritual lives. Satisfaction drops a notch with respect to romance, and becomes more of an issue with personal growth, career, fun and recreation, and money.

A majority of Americans give positive ratings, ranging from 6 to 10, to all of the items tested. But only with family is a majority of Americans highly satisfied (62% rate family a 9 or 10). High satisfaction then drops to 47% for friends, and so on down the list to 14% for the lowest-rated item, money.

Satisfaction with family is quite broad-based. Regardless of age, gender, or household income category, roughly 6 in 10 Americans say they are highly satisfied with their families. But for the other dimensions rated, there are some notable demographic differences in satisfaction, particularly by age.


Working men and working women are about equally likely to say they are satisfied with their careers, but employees' satisfaction with their careers increases somewhat by age (from 19% among 18- to 29-year-olds to 32% among those 50 and older).


Men and women show little difference in their high-level satisfaction with money, but overall, women are less satisfied than men are on this dimension (64% of men rate money between 6 and 10 on the scale, vs. 54% of women). Satisfaction with money -- particularly high satisfaction -- increases with age; 8% of 18- to 29-year-olds are highly satisfied, versus 24% of those 65 and older.

Naturally, satisfaction with money is strongly related to annual household income. But even among Gallup's highest income bracket -- those in households earning $75,000 or more per year -- just 24% say they are highly satisfied with their money.


The most significant differences in satisfaction with one's health occur by age. A majority of young adults (56%) are highly satisfied with their health, but the figure drops to 27% among those aged 65 and older.


Women are more likely to be highly satisfied with their friendships than men are (52% vs. 41%). With regard to age, satisfaction is highest among the young and among seniors, while middle-aged Americans express slightly less satisfaction in this area. Perhaps this reflects the greater time pressures that people face in their peak working and child-rearing years.


Satisfaction with romance is more common among men than among women (46% of men are highly satisfied vs. 38% of women), and is strongly correlated with age (51% of 18- to 29-year-olds are highly satisfied, versus 30% of those 65 and older).

A reassuring 53% of married respondents say they are highly satisfied with the romance in their lives, versus only 28% of unmarried respondents.

Personal Growth

Women are more likely than men to say they are highly satisfied with their personal growth in life (30% vs. 21%). This item also correlates with age, with young adults being the most highly satisfied (37%), and the oldest adults being least satisfied (19%).

Where You Live

Americans' satisfaction with where they live rises significantly with age. Only 35% of 18- to 29-year-olds are satisfied with where they live, compared with 62% of those aged 65 and older.

Religion or Spirituality

Women are much more likely than men to feel highly satisfied with religion or spirituality in their lives (54% vs. 38%). Satisfaction in this area also jumps among seniors: 44% of those aged 18 to 64 are highly satisfied, versus 57% of those aged 65 and older.

Bottom Line

The array of results reported here invites the question: "Which aspects of life matter most?"

A special data analysis shows that satisfaction with money, romance, and fun and recreation are most closely linked with the degree to which people are satisfied with their lives in general. Friends and family also have a significant independent influence on general satisfaction. When career is included as a variable in the analysis (limiting the sample to employed adults), it is an important predictor, but also accounts for some of the impact of money, and fun/recreation would otherwise have on the overall satisfaction rating. Far less important are religion and spirituality, personal growth, where people live, and even health.

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,011 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Dec. 11-14, 2003. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

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