A skilled job, good health and financial security are the keys to happiness, a government survey has found. The first attempt to rate the wellbeing of the population has revealed that three-quarters of the population rate their satisfaction with life at seven or more out of 10, according to results published yesterday. But the survey uncovered large differences between people in different occupations and of different ages.

Professionals including doctors, solicitors, nurses, teachers and police officers were most satisfied with their lives, scoring 7.6 out of 10 on average. These groups, A and B, account for almost a quarter (23 per cent) of the population. Professional workers were more likely than average to have regularly felt happy, energised or engaged with what they were doing in the preceding two weeks.

Least satisfied were those in group E, including labourers, state pensioners and the unemployed, making up 15 per cent of the population. They rated their satisfaction at 6.7 out of 10 on average. They were more likely than other groups to have felt depressed, unsafe or lonely in the past two weeks. But they were more satisfied than other groups with feeling part of a community - reflecting their dependence on it.

Shopworkers, plumbers, clerical staff and junior managers, in groups C and D, were more likely than others to give themselves five out of 10 - neither satisfied nor dissatisfied. But more of these workers - about 15 per cent - rated themselves totally satisfied, giving themselves 10 out of 10, than other groups. Overall, the survey of 3,600 people conducted for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs showed that fears about future financial security and concerns about the community are uppermost in people's minds. Satisfaction was highest with relationships and accommodation.

Age played a part in people's responses. Worries about money were lower in older people, but concerns about health were higher. In young people, this was reversed. Among those aged over 65, 92 per cent were fairly or very satisfied with their standard of living, and 80 per cent with their future financial security.

When asked what were the most important things affecting their lives, the most common responses were being able to spend time with friends and family, followed by good health and personal relationships.

Overall, 73 per cent of people said they felt happy every day or most days in the past two weeks. But 16 per cent said they felt like everything was an effort and 24 per cent complained of poor sleep. Groups A and B were much more likely to feel happy every day or most days than those in other groups, demonstrating the satisfaction people obtain from exercising skills. When asked if they felt engaged with what they were doing, 76 per cent said they did so every day or most days, compared with 58 per cent of group E.

The Environment minister, Phil Woolas, said: "These show, in line with previous research, that most people are generally satisfied with their lives.

"But it will come as no surprise that this is not uniform across the population - the most disadvantaged are clearly less satisfied with their circumstances than the rest of the population."

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