Participatory research into how people living in material poverty define and experience well-being and ill-being is increasingly common in developed and developing countries. Such research highlights the importance of experiential aspects, such as being respected and able to preserve one's dignity, and having meaningful choices. Nevertheless, these findings rarely cover children's experiences and are often not contextualized or triangulated with other data. The paper will extend this exploration using data from qualitative research with a sub-sample of children aged 11–13 in three urban and rural communities, drawn from Young Lives, a long-term international research project investigating the changing nature of childhood poverty in four countries, including Ethiopia. Firstly, it addresses how understandings of a good life and what is needed to achieve one varies between communities and amongst children of different backgrounds living in those communities; for example, boys and girls and children from richer or poorer households. Secondly, the study examines how one's place in social relationships also contributes to how children perceive and understand what a good life is. The paper confirms the importance of allowing children to take at least a ‘partial role’ in measuring and monitoring their well-being (Ben-Arieh 2005, 575) and provides examples of how this might be done.