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Types of Happiness in Psychology

happiness psychology

5 Types of Happiness in Psychology

by Robert Gill, Jr.

The psychological understanding of happiness is undergoing new attention in philosophical inquiry. It is due in part to the recent developments in the science of happiness. This newer science refers to a social science field called positive psychology. It focuses on both the light and the dark sides of life but emphasizes our states of happiness. The types of happiness in psychology makes for an interesting and eye-opening read.

Kind of Happiness Meanings

Happiness is a constant topic of conversions because it is important to us. It leads us to wonder why we care so much, which psychological states of our happiness make the most sense.

Still, the importance of happiness as a prerequisite for a good life is hotly debated today as it has been for decades. Happiness has different meanings for various groups, as this article will reveal. Happiness, which most of us can agree, we all pursue, has a somewhat amorphous meaning. It means one thing to one group and another altogether different meaning to another group, as we shall come to understand.

We use happiness to define different things in different contexts and often have no clear notion of what we refer to. There is no simple answer to the question of what happiness is. Happiness types in psychology vary considerably. It may be that our interests in happiness is attached to a particular psychological kind. In that happiness can only be understood in terms of that particular happiness state.

Happiness Philosophy Theories

Happiness Philosophy Theories - Types of Happiness in Psychology
Greek philosophers contemplating the meanings of happiness.

Early philosophers were probably contemplating happiness in the great river valleys of the world in China, the Ganges, and Egypt long before the ancient Mesopotamia Code of Hammurabi (dated to about 1754 BC) and Aristotle’s dissertations on happiness around 360 BC. Many philosophers have segregated happiness theories into hedonism and life satisfaction.

The life satisfaction theory identifies happiness as having a good view of one’s life. In comparison, hedonists connect happiness with pleasant over unpleasant experiences. There are several other theories to consider. The third theory is known as the emotional state view.  Instead of identifying happiness with a pleasant experience, it recognizes happiness as an emotional condition called “emotional well-being.” Then there are the hybrid theories, chief among them identifying happiness with life satisfaction and pleasure or emotional state.

Many philosophers defined happiness as well-being throughout the centuries. Well-being dominated the historical literature through modern philosophy. It can be seen in translations of the ancient Greeks’ ‘eudaimonia‘ or the Latin’ beatitudo,’ though such translations are controversial.

As the observations of happiness matured over time, to be happy, focused on a type of psychological state or condition. Researchers now engaged in the “science of happiness” are not making value judgments when they proclaim individuals in their studies to be happy. Still, there continue to be as many interpretations of what happiness is as there are research studies. What follows is just a sample of them.

Eudaimonic Happiness

Yet another view of happiness is known as eudaimonia happiness. Eudaimonia is a Greek word containing “EU” (“good”) and “daimōn” (“spirit”). This word roughly translates to happiness or flourishing or prosperity.  Eudaimonic happiness is the deep internal contentment and fulfillment felt when four things are present in a person’s life:

  • Meaning
  • Authenticity
  • Purpose
  • Strengths

Eudaimonia is a sustainable feeling of deep inner contentment. The concept of Eudaimonia goes back to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Before this, Geek philosophers such as Socrates and Plato were already entertaining similar concepts. According to Plato, eudaimonia was the highest and ultimate aim of moral thought and behavior.

Modern-day positive psychologists are now taking these ideas based on ancient Greek philosophy very seriously in their quest to understand what seems most important for a good life. To practice eudaimonia, one needs to turn their attention to what matters to become the best version of ourselves.

Three Types of Happiness of Khazan

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A woman shopping for happiness? Then again, just maybe it is solely for pleasure.

In 2016, a study examined whether material items or experiences created the most happiness. Olga Khazan, author and Atlantic Monthly writer, offers a controversial overview (Three Types of Happiness) on her understanding of happiness based on this study. The outcome appeared to contradict previous thinking that experiences were more influential on our state of happiness than material items.

The study was conducted by researchers Aaron Weidman and Elizabeth Dunn from British Columbia University. The team provided its participants with twenty dollars. They allowed them to chose between either an experience type or material purchase. The study results reported that the subjects found more frequent momentary happiness from material items but more intense momentary happiness from the experience purchase.

Weidman and Dunn concluded, “Material purchases have an unsung advantage, in that they provide more frequent bouts of momentary happiness in the weeks after they are acquired.”

Khazan points out that the Weidman and Dunn study reflects a 2011 study conducted by Dunn and others (Shop Yourself Happy). The study set out to discover the most efficient way to shop to maximize happiness. Their premise was that most shoppers do not know what makes them happy, how happy a purchase will make them, and how long after the purchase, the happiness will last.

What they discovered was that many small purchases make people happier than one big one.  That may be because psychologically, we quickly get used to the things we have, whereas new things provide a positive boost.

Three Types of Happiness

These two studies appear to conclude that there are three types of acquisition happiness. These are different happiness types in psychology.

  • Anticipatory
  • Momentary
  • Afterglow

If the studies are valid, experiences seem to trigger anticipatory happiness and afterglow happiness. The third type of happiness—momentary happiness lasts longer with material goods because people use them longer than experiences.

The Happiness versus Pleasure Question

What these studies seem to be confusing is the concept of happiness versus pleasure. Happiness is a state of mind rather than a reaction to external stimuli. In contrast, pleasure is a feeling of enjoyment due to external stimuli. Happiness is internal, whereas pleasure depends on external factors. So here is where the confusion lies as happiness is long-lived, while pleasure is momentary.

Using this understanding of the two, it is not clear if the shoppers were happy, simply deriving pleasure, which would be a natural conclusion based on the definitions of happiness and pleasure. More studies are needed to be sure.


The Hindu Take on Happiness

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Hindu God of Happiness, Lord Ganesha

Another type of happiness philosophy is described in Hinduism. It teaches a more complex form of happiness. It also lists three types. To find happiness and spontaneous bliss, they must be achieved through the Gunas. Hindus believe that these Gunas are the three components of existence. They include tamas, which include impurity, lethargy, and darkness. The second type is rajas, which includes action and passion. Then there is sattva, which is composed of calm, intelligence, purity, and light. Every individual is a mixture of all three, Gunas.  However, only one dominates a personality, and therefore, is associated with the characteristic of that type of person.  The Gunas are used to reveal our understanding of happiness.  The three types of happiness are:

  • Tamasic happiness is based on deluding oneself. This state derives from ignorance, negligence, and laziness.
  • Rajasic happiness is a bit more unclear to the inexperienced bliss seeker. Most of us spend the majority of our time searching out and then recovering from rajasic happiness.
  • Sattvic happiness is the purest form of joy. Pain and sacrifice make it seem unattainable, however.

Hindu legend describes the seven steps leading to happiness as:

Step 1. Cultivate self-love

Step 2 Acting, putting goals into practice.

Step 3. Eliminate envy

Step 4. Resist resentment

Step 5. Do not steal

Step 6. Eliminate abuse in life

Step 7. Be grateful

In Hinduism, the seven steps are an evolutionary process leading to inner peace. That peace is the critical success factor for one to achieve ultimate happiness.

The 12 Steps to Happiness

Another approach to achieving happiness from Robert Gill, Jr’s book, Happiness Power follows along the lines of this infographic.

Happiness Philosophy Theories - Types of Happiness in Psychology

3 Types of Happiness

Martin Seligman, the pioneer of Positive Psychology, has a widely held theory about why happy people are happy. He developed his theories using the scientific method so that they are widely accepted among professionals.  His theory of learned helplessness is popular among scientific and clinical psychologists. He is credited as the father of Positive Psychology and its efforts to explore human potential scientifically.  These happiness types in psychology, according to Seligman, are experienced sequentially:

  • Pleasure and gratification
  • Embodiment of strengths and virtues
  • Meaning and purpose

According to Seligman, one progresses from the first type of happiness, pleasure, and gratification to strengths and virtues and then on to meaning and purpose. Siegelman authored Authentic Happiness, which was one of the first books talking about the science of happiness and showing us how we can apply it in our own lives to realize our potential for lasting fulfillment. In it, he demonstrates why happiness matters, what determines it, and how to create more of it in our lives.


4 Types of Happiness

Though Seilgle believes in three levels of happiness, early philosophers contemplated additional ones. For example, Aristotle distinguished between four different levels of happiness.

  • Happiness level 1: Laetus. Happiness from material objects
  • Happiness level 2: Felix. Ego gratification. Happiness from comparison: being better, more admired than others, and the like.
  • Happiness level 3: Beatitudo. The happiness from doing good for others and making the world a better place.
  • Happiness level 4: Sublime Beatitudo. Ultimate, perfect happiness

Aristotle acknowledges that our fortune plays a part in determining our happiness. He points out that happiness is affected by our material circumstances, such as our place in society and our appearance. He gives hope to all by stressing that just by living a full life according to our essential nature as rational beings, we are bound to become happy regardless.


7 Types of Happiness

In an article authored by Elizabeth Scott, MS, educated in family therapy and health psychology, believes in seven types of happiness.  She indicates that happiness can take many forms resulting from various behaviors and life circumstances. Though these are not actually considered happiness types in psychology we list them here because they are believed by many lay people:

  • Joy
  • Excitement
  • Gratitude
  • Pride
  • Optimism
  • Contentment
  • Love

She observes that happiness is one of the most common human searches but continues to be an elusive goal. Her premise is that giving to others, volunteering, and donating goods improves happiness. She believes that small acts of kindness not only make a difference in the lives of others but can have a positive impact on your own and lead you to great happiness.


31 Types of Happiness

The Secret Society of Happy People, founded in 1998, is an organization that celebrates the expression of happiness. The society encourages thousands of members from all around the globe to recognize their happy moments and think about happiness in their daily life.  The purpose is to give people advice for handling their unhappy moments and learning the lesson from each of them. It has identified 31 types of happiness. These include adjectives such as:


  • Amused
  • Anticipation
  • Awestruck
  • Balanced
  • Blessed
  • Celebrate
  • Cheerful
  • Confident
  • Content
  • Enthusiasm
  • Giving
  • Helpful
  • Honorable
  • Hopeful
  • Humor
  • Inspired
  • Joyful
  • Kindness
  • Lively
  • Love
  • Mellow
  • Motivated
  • Nostalgic
  • Optimistic
  • Peaceful
  • Playful
  • Relieved
  • Satisfaction
  • Social
  • Spiritual
  • Thankful

The purpose of the organization is to help people be happier, and its founder, Pamela Gail Johnson, has been accomplishing that for the past dozen or so years. You might want to check it out.



Happiness has been studied and pursued since ancient times. Though there are hundreds of happiness studies, there is still no clear definition of happiness. We looked at how happiness is defined in psychology, but there is no uniform agreement. We also looked at happiness in a religion, which showed significant differences from those studied in Western psychology.

We all pursue happiness, yet there is no one definition that we can all agree on. Is it just an internal feeling, a state of mind, or is it more? Thankfully research psychologists continue to look for answers in their studies. One day they may offer an answer that we all can agree. In the meantime, our pursuit of happiness continues.

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Robert Gill, Jr.

Robert Gill, Jr.

Robert Gill, Jr. is an author, publisher, entrepreneur, and businessperson. His most recent book, "90 Days to Your First Real Estate Investment Purchase," guides those with little money to invest in rental properties. His current book, "Happiness Power," describes the powers that happiness provides those that experience it. It will be released in January 2021. He has written non-fiction books and articles on subjects ranging from teaching, crafts, hobbies, and self-help and cooking to personal finance. He lives in Far Hills, New Jersey, with his wife and Lab, Ginger.

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