Domains of Happiness (and Wellbeing)

The Happiness Surveys we are performing in 2017 evaluate the respondents feelings using 15 domains of Happiness and are performed on the Happiness Alliance survey and data management platform, which is provided as part of the Happiness Initiative.

Thank you, Happiness Alliance.


First, when we talk about “Happiness” we need to define what we mean by Happiness, Well-Being, and Health, and Mental Health.

Happiness. Emma Seppala, science director at Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, defines happiness as “a state of heightened positive emotion” and cites studies that show how higher levels of happiness can positively effect our personal and professional lives. (1)

Health & Mental Health. The World Health Organization defines Health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” “Mental health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” (3)

Wellbeing. Wellbeing has been defined in many ways by different people and organizations. For clarity, the definition we use at Lift Up Vegas is that put forth by Diener, Lucas, and Oshi in 2002, “A person’s cognitive and affective evaluations of his or her life.” (2) To use this definition, a person experiences a state of wellbeing when their evaluations of their own life are mostly positive.

So how is Happiness different from Wellbeing? Happiness is an emotion. Neurologists can physically measure differences in changes of emotional states. Wellbeing is measurable only by surveys such as ours, which allow the individual to subjectively evaluate his or her life in one or more of the domains of happiness.

The 3-legged stool analogy, the domains of happiness, and how they affect wellbeing.

Many people use Happiness and Wellbeing synonymously but that is an error. Happiness is the emotional positive state response that can be caused by a cognitive or emotional evaluation of one’s life, or state of Wellbeing. By increasing one’s overall feeling of wellbeing across the domains of happiness, one increases the frequency that an individual feels happy.

Using the 3-legged stool analogy and recent politics, we can explain how Happiness is the effect of the domains of wellbeing.

Imagine an individual who was generally happy because one had a good family life (Social Support), good job (Standard of Living), and was happy with the government, overall (Good Governance). These are just 3 of the 15 domains, but a 15 legged stool would look ridiculous.

With the recent election, many individuals are demonstrating how happiness is influenced by the domains of wellbeing.

Let’s look at a hypothetical couple, John and Jane Smith. John voted for Donald Trump. Jane voted for Hillary Clinton. Aside from their views on politics (Good Governance), both have similarly good jobs (Standard of Living) and are happy with their relationship (Social Support).

When Donald Trump won, John became happier, and Jane became less happy. Why?

John’s perspective. John’s cognitive perception of how his life would be affected by the presidential election gave him hope for the future – not only is he imagining more positive governmental changes (Good Governance), perhaps he is also imagining Trump will improve the economy (Standard of Living), and make other changes that would positively impact other legs on his Happiness stool. He’s riding high and feeling tall.

Jane’s perspective. Jane, meanwhile, feels like one leg of her stool (Good Governance) was completely broken off and flung to the wind. She’s imagining imminent nuclear war (Standard of Living) and perhaps other negative changes that would negatively impact other legs on her Happiness Stool. She’s feeling wobbly, off-balance, and very definitely unhappy.

As you can see from this example, the physical world did not change – it is each individual’s perception of the world that is what causes disparate states of happiness and wellbeing.

By addressing these domains of happiness, including educating individuals on becoming aware of the cognitive effect of their thoughts and how to influence them to be able to stay more frequently in a state of wellbeing (the election’s over – Jane needs to switch her focus to some of the other domains of happiness and move forward to avoid succumbing to anxiety and depression, and John, as a considerate husband, needs to not rub it in) we can improve the overall mental health and well-being of our community.

OK, so what are these domains?

The domains of happiness are areas of affect upon people’s sense of happiness. By increasing the sense of wellbeing in these areas, the overall happiness level of an individual or group increases.


Domains of happiness:
1. Psychological Wellbeing
2. Standard of Living
3. Good Governance
4. Health
5. Education
6. Community Vitality
7. Cultural Diversity and Resilience
8. Time Use
9. Ecological Diversity and Resilience
10. Community
11. Social Support
12. Affect (Feelings)
13. Satisfaction with Life
14. Spirituality
15. Sense of Purpose & Plan for Living (aka Life Purpose & Goals)

Why are there 15?

There 15 domains of happiness in the survey used by Lift Up Vegas.  This survey was created by Alice Vo Edwards, a local Las Vegas Valley resident, certified Life Coach, writer, and student in the PhD. Industrial / Organizational Psychology – Organizational Diversity and Social Change program at Walden University. It is based on the 13-point model heavily used, peer reviewed, and tested, from the Happiness Alliance.  The first 9 domains were developed by Bhutan and incorporated into the Gross National Happiness Index Survey. The Happiness Alliance added 10-13. Alice Vo Edwards, in her research for Lift Up Vegas in creating this study, further added 14-15 as domains in need of further study within the Clark County community.

There a 15 domains – that’s so many – how do we know which people are already happy with, and which they are unhappy about and need improvement in?

With the survey.

By surveying individuals and determining which of these factors are more problematic for a localized society such as Las Vegas, especially in comparison to other cities, we can begin to uncover systemic problems in our local environment which affect the overall wellbeing and level of happiness within our community, and focus our efforts on those areas that are in need of the most improvement.

  1. The Happiness Track by Emma Seppala
  2. Definition of Well-being cited from Diener, E., Oishi, S., & Lucas,R. E. (2002). Subjective well-being: The science of happiness and life satisfaction. In C.R. Snyder & S.J. Lopez (Ed.), Handbook of Positive Psychology. Oxford and New York : Oxford University Press.
  3. Mental Health Definition according to the World Health Organization