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What Makes Some People Hate Their Lives

New research on the most miserable, and how they got that way.

Key points

  • Scientists analyzed dataset with over 215,000 people from the United Kingdom to identify which people felt like they were the worst off of all.
  • Four different aspects of subjective well-being were measured.
  • Overall, 1.1% of people feel truly miserable about their life.
  • Truly miserable people shared different characteristics, such as not having a job and facing health issues.

How we feel about ourselves and our lives depends on a lot of different factors that are not always easy to understand. For example, some people may experience a lot of negative events such as job loss, sickness and relationship troubles but still, stay remarkably positive about themselves and their lives. Others have comparably great conditions like a job, good health, and a loving family, but still think "I hate my life." In general, however, some things are related to feeling miserable for the large majority of people. Those include, for example, having bad health, being lonely, and not having enough money to pay the bills.

A new study on feeling miserable

A new study by researcher Paul Dolan and co-workers, now published in the scientific journal Social Choice and Welfare (Dolan et al., 2021), focused on understanding what characterizes those people who feel the most miserable about themselves and their life of all.

The scientists analyzed data from a big cross-sectional dataset of over 215,000 people from an annual population survey in the UK. They focused on subjective well-being, e.g., how people think and feel about their lives. The people who participated in the survey were asked four different questions about their subjective well-being:

  • Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?
  • Overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?
  • Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?
  • Overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday?

The scientists found that out of the more than 200,000 people included in the sample, 5% reported low life satisfaction (question 1), 3.8% reported low values in feeling that their life was worthwhile (question 2), 8.9% reported low happiness the day before data collection (question 3) and 20% reported high anxiety the day before data collection (question 4).

Overall, 1.1% percent of all people investigated in the study reported low subjective well-being across all four questions. These 1.1% of study participants were classified as feeling truly miserable about their life by the scientists.

So what characterizes people who feel truly miserable about their life?

The scientists used advanced statistical techniques to find this out. They identified two large groups of miserable people. 77% of miserable people in the study belonged to the first group of miserable people.

Members of this group typically:

  • were older than 30 years
  • were single
  • neither worked nor had sought employment in a long time
  • were disabled
  • had health problems
  • lived in rented apartments or houses
  • had low levels of education

Importantly, it is the combination of these factors that are related to feeling miserable. For example, facing health problems is a more severe issue if someone lacks the financial resources to get proper medical treatment because they are unemployed.

There was also a second group that made up 19% of miserable people in the sample. People in this group also reported some health issues and a higher risk of disability than the average person and were also likely to be single. However, they had jobs and were younger and more educated than group 1. Together the two groups included 96% of the most miserable people.

The scientists suggested that identifying what characterizes people who feel very badly about their life could help policymakers and mental health professionals to help them more efficiently, e.g., by developing specific support programs to improve their lives.

Facebook image: Marjan Apostolovic/Shutterstock


Dolan, P., Laffan, K. & Velias, A. (2021). Who’s miserable now? Identifying clusters of people with the lowest subjective wellbeing in the UK. Soc Choice Welf.

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