I take the terms happiness, utility, well-being, life satisfaction, and welfare to be interchangeable… Richard Ainley Easterlin, 2003

The feeder streams of happiness include:

  • Sense of control: you can actually change a situation

  • Sense of purpose: there are things you want to achieve

  • Self-efficacy: you're pretty confident you can do what's needed to get closer to your goals

  • Sense of progress: you are moving forward and getting closer to your goals

  • Social inclusion: other people care about you

  • Social intimacy: somebody really cares about you

  • Family: there are people with whom you feel deeply connected and will make sacrifices for

  • Social reciprocity: you are part of a web of deep caring and commitment

  • Social status: some people look up to you

  • Positive social comparison: at least you’re doing better than…

  • Health: you don't feel like shit

  • Predictability: you’re pretty sure the world will be much the same tomorrow

  • Safety: you don’t have to look around your shoulder all the time

  • Security: you can relax – eternal vigilance not required

  • Challenge: the reward is often in the overcoming

None of this is to imply that happiness is the be-all end-all. Or that more happiness is always better than less happiness. There are a lot of other things to care about than how we’re feeling at any given time.


Note: This is a modified version of a prior post: Happiness and Its Feeder Streams.


Argyleand, M. & Martin, M. (1991) The psychological causes of happiness. Chapter 5 in Subjective well-being: an interdisciplinary perspective Fritz Strack, Michael Argyle, Norbert Schwarz (Eds.) Oxford: Pergamon Press,  77-100.

Diener, E. & Suh, E. (1997). Measuring quality of life: Economic, social, and subjective indicators. Social Indicators Research, 40, 189–216.

Easterlin, R. A. (2003). "Explaining happiness." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 100(19): 11176-11183.