What Is Quality of Life?

Young woman journals on floor surrounded by house plants

Emilija Manevska / Getty Images


Quality of life is a highly subjective self-assessment of an individual’s overall well-being. Factors that affect quality of life include financial security, job satisfaction, and health.

Key Takeaways

  • Quality of life is an assessment of an individual’s overall well-being and life satisfaction.
  • Financial security, health, leisure time, and housing quality are some of the factors that contribute to quality of life.
  • One survey ranked Canada as the country with the highest quality of life in 2021 due to its good job market, political stability, and public education system. The United States ranked twentieth on this list.

Definition and Examples of Quality of Life

Quality of life refers to how an individual feels about their current station in life. It includes their perception of their overall well-being, as well as goals, expectations, and concerns. Multiple factors play into someone’s quality of life, such as their levels of job satisfaction, wealth, income, and leisure time.

  • Alternate name: Life quality
  • Acronym: QOL

For example, Sarah enjoys her job and earns a salary that provides plenty of disposable income, which she uses to go on vacations and pursue a variety of hobbies. She spends her weekends volunteering in her community, working on projects around her house, or relaxing with her friends and family. When asked, Sarah might report a high quality of life because overall she feels fulfilled and happy.

How Does Quality of Life Work in Relation to Money?

Many factors that play into quality of life are related to personal finance. While financial stability can be a predictor of good quality of life, experts have noted the importance of finding a careful balance between work and play. People who work long hours or multiple jobs often have less free time in which to enjoy those earnings through experiences with friends and family, hobbies, and vacations.

Other conditions of work can also play into quality of life. For example, some jobs might involve potential hazards such as chemicals or machinery, while others might involve extended trips away from home or seasonal schedule fluctuations. Each individual will have to consider how these challenges compare to the benefits that might accompany them, such as higher salaries, travel opportunities, extended time off, or job satisfaction.

When a household’s income is not sufficient to cover basic necessities like safe housing, healthy food, and child care, families must consider difficult trade-offs that can affect their quality of life. Conversely, higher incomes can allow access to amenities that can contribute to higher quality of life, such as gym memberships and counseling for health conditions. Having a higher income also allows people to afford to live in safer neighborhoods and obtain medical care more easily.


A 2010 study famously demonstrated that emotional well-being increased along with income, but only until about $75,000 annually. Higher incomes didn’t correlate with additional increases in happiness. However, the $75,000 figure is from 2010 and doesn’t take inflation into account.

Other Factors That Affect Quality of Life

Below are some additional factors that could affect your quality of life.

Commute Length and Type

The length of your work commute can have a significant impact on your quality of life. Long and complicated commutes, especially when sitting in traffic, are stress-inducing and can affect work performance. The stress of a lengthy commute can even outweigh the benefits of living in a pleasant neighborhood, according to some research.

However, not all commutes are equal. Slower transportation methods, such as walking and biking, have been positively linked to increased life satisfaction compared to driving or taking public transportation. Some research has also shown that walking or biking commutes are useful as a buffer to separate work and personal life. If you live near enough to your job to walk or ride to work, it could improve your quality of life.

Free Time

When work consumes too much of your time, it leaves less time for family and leisure activities—common outlets for joy, fulfillment, and rest. Overworking can also lead to stress, fatigue, obesity, depression, insomnia, and other health issues. These physical ailments can compromise your quality of life.


Work was the top source of stress cited by adults surveyed by the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey, while job stability was also in the top 10. Research has also shown that job loss can affect a person’s quality of life even after they obtain a new job. One study observed that while people began to feel more satisfied with their lives as they settled into their new jobs, they did not fully rebound to their pre-job loss levels of satisfaction.

Housing Quality

Poor housing conditions can be linked to lower quality of life. Being forced to relocate often, live in overcrowded housing, or become homeless can take a toll on people’s mental and physical well-being. Leaks, poor ventilation, unsteady infrastructure, and other types of disrepair can put people’s health and safety at risk, also contributing to decreased quality of life.

Those who live in secure housing in safer, wealthier neighborhoods generally have access to amenities that can improve their quality of life.

How To Improve Quality of Life

Strategies to increase your quality of life depend on your starting point. Someone struggling with financial insecurity or health issues will face different challenges and opportunities than someone whose main concern may be establishing better work-life balance.


Fulfilling essential needs, such as access to healthy food, safe housing, and health care, is a crucial first step to improving someone’s quality of life.

Research has also shown that good financial management behaviors—cash management, saving, and investing—can be correlated with increased overall life satisfaction. Strong financial savvy can also promote healthy relationships between partners.

Nonfinancial methods to increase quality of life include ensuring that you have enough non-work time to rest and to engage in meaningful relationships with others. Exercise is also known to improve physical and emotional well-being in several ways.

Notable Happenings

In 2021, Canada, Denmark, and Sweden ranked first, second, and third, respectively, on a list of countries with the highest quality of life, while the United States ranked twentieth. The study was based on a survey of more than 17,000 people around the world, using the weighted averages of scores on factors related to quality of life:

  • Affordability
  • Job market
  • Economic and political stability
  • Quality of public education
  • Relationships

Citizens in countries that scored lower on this study’s measures of quality of life typically struggled with personal safety and economic opportunity. Participants in Canada, the country with the highest quality-of-life ranking, praised the country’s good job market, political stability, and quality public education system.

Was this page helpful?
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Bhairav Prasad and Charu Thakur. “Chronic Overworking: Cause Extremely Negative Impact on Health and Quality of Life,” International Journal of Advanced Microbiology and Health Research. Accessed Dec. 10, 2021.

  2. Alois Stutzer and Bruno S. Frey. “Stress That Doesn't Pay: The Commuting Paradox,” The Scandinavian Journal of Economics. Accessed Dec. 10, 2021.

  3. United for ALICE. “On Uneven Ground: ALICE and Financial Hardship in the U.S.,” Pages 3-5. Click “Latest Report” to download PDF. Accessed Dec. 10, 2021. 

  4. Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. “Uneven Opportunities: How Conditions for Wellness Vary Across the Metropolitan Washington Region” (Download), Page 7. Accessed Dec. 10, 2021.

  5. Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton. "High Income Improves Evaluation of Life but Not Emotional Well-Being." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Accessed Dec. 10, 2021.

  6. Lars E. Olsson, Tommy Gärling, Dick Ettema, Margareta Friman, and Satoshi Fujii. “Happiness and Satisfaction With Work Commute,” Social indicators Research. Accessed Dec. 10, 2021.

  7. American Psychological Association. “Stress in America 2021: Stress and Decision-Making During the Pandemic,” Page 5. Accessed Dec. 10, 2021.

  8. Richard E. Lucas, Andrew E. Clark, Yannis Georgellis, and Ed Diener. “Unemployment Alters the Set Point for Life Satisfaction,” Psychological Science. Accessed Dec. 10, 2021.

  9. Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. “Uneven Opportunities: How Conditions for Wellness Vary Across the Metropolitan Washington Region” (Download), Page 8. Accessed Dec. 10, 2021.

  10. Monika Baryła-Matejczuk, Viktorija Skvarciany, Andrzej Cwynar, Wiesław Poleszak, and Wiktor Cwynar. “Link Between Financial Management Behaviors and Quality of Relationship and Overall Life Satisfaction Among Married and Cohabiting Couples: Insights From Application of Artificial Neural Networks,” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Accessed Dec. 10, 2021.

  11. Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School. “5 Ways Exercise Improves Your Quality of Life.” Accessed Dec. 10, 2021.

  12. U.S. News and World Report, BAV Group, and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “Quality of Life.” Accessed Dec. 10, 2021.

Related Articles