Quality of life has become increasingly important as an outcome in medical research. The influence of health status is often emphasised, but other dimensions are important. In order to improve quality of life, there is a need to know what people themselves consider important to their perception of quality of life. The aim of this study was to investigate what older people consider to be important for their quality of life, and to explore the impact of gender, education and health status on individual perceptions. The study was of 141 randomly selected people aged from 67 to 99 years that formed a control sample for a study of suicide among older people. They were interviewed in person about their health, socio-demographic background and, using an open-ended question, what they considered to constitute quality of life. Their answers were grouped into eight categories, with social relations being the most frequent response, followed by health, activities, functional ability, wellbeing, personal beliefs and attitudes, their own home and personal finances. In addition, they were asked to choose from a ‘show card’ three items that they regarded as important to quality of life. Functional ability was the most frequently selected domain, followed by physical health, social relations and being able to continue to live in one's present home. Our conclusion is that social relations, functional ability and activities influence the quality of life of elderly people as much as health status.