Improving quality of life (QoL) is one of the main goals of many public policies. A useful tool to measure QoL needs to get a good balance between indicators guided by theories (top-down approach) and indicators defined by local people (bottom-up approach). However, QoL measurement tools often neglect to include elements that define the standard of living at local level. In this paper, we analyse the correspondence between human development index, as an indicator adopted by governments to assess QoL, and the elements defined by local people as important in their QoL, called here local means. Using a free-listing technique, we collected information from 114 individuals from Kodagu, Kartanataka (India), to capture local means defining QoL. We then compared local means with the indicators used by Human development report (HDR) of Karnataka, the main measurement tool of QoL in Kodagu. The list of local means included access to basic facilities and many issues related to agriculture and natural resources management as elements locally defining QoL. We also found that HDR does not capture the means defined by people as indicators of QoL. Our findings suggest an important gap between current QoL's indicators considered by public policies and the means of QoL defined by people. Our study provides insights for a set of plausible local indicators useful to achieve a balance between top-down and bottom-up approaches for the local public policies.