Writing about abstract ideas can be tough. This lesson on an IELTS happiness essay shows you one way to go about it. The advice is to keep the planning process simple and to remember that ideas can come from words and examples. It also helps of course to keep a clear structure and make your writing cohesive.
Start with the question
As ever, the place to start is by looking at the question. It read
Happiness is considered very important in life. Why is it difficult to define? What factors are necessary for it?
This is what I call a double question question. This means we need to make sure that we answer both halves of the question or there will be a penalty. We need therefore to think about these
why it’s difficult to define
what the necessary factors are
The essay structure
The logical and easy thing to do with a question like this is to use one body paragraph for each question. That makes it clear to the examiner that you are answering the question fully. It also makes the essay easier to write of course. You don’t have to spend time worrying about structure too much.
Getting ideas for the happiness essay
This is where it may get harder. A lot of candidates find real problems in finding ideas for essays. Here I have two tips:
think personal – you’ll write better if you write about what you know about. Don’t worry, IELTS is not an academic test!
think vocabulary and examples – starting with words can get you ideas
Let’s see how this works.
Thinking about words
I start with some basic synonyms of happiness (adding in a few different word forms)
happiness – happy
pleasure – pleasurable – pleased/pleasing
joy – joyful
enjoyment – enjoyable
delight – delightful
ecstasy – ecstatic
peace of mind
contentment – contented
This doesn’t just help me with vocabulary for the essay, I also now have ideas. I see that there are different levels/forms of happiness – contentment is quite different from joy, but both are “happiness”. I see now
happiness is difficult to define because it is different things
Thinking about examples
This is another of my favourite “planning” techniques. I just think about what I know – me personally. It really is much easier to think about “what” and “who” than “why”. But once I have what and who (the examples), then the why part is fairly easy.
Here is what I came with. All I had to do was ask “What makes [me] happy?”
happiness is having a child
happiness is being in a good relationship
happiness is having enough money
happiness is having a decent job
happiness is staying at home
People I know
happiness is playing computer games
happiness is going out to parties ⇒ different characters
happiness is religious ⇒ cultural difference (?)
happiness is new clothes ⇒ age difference
happiness is visiting other countries
happiness is coming first
I could go on, but I already have almost too many words and ideas. I now need to make it simple enough for a 250 word essay. This gets me to
different things make different people happy ⇒ impossible to generalise
The outline essay structure
Before I start writing I need an outline of what my essay will look like.
happiness a complex concept – explanation why =difference – personal factors = money and love
difficult to define because different levels of happiness and different people are different!
lots of factors: guess love and money are most universal
need reason why
See the IELTS happiness essay
It is extraordinarily hard to find a single definition of happiness as many philosophers have discovered. This is partly because it is a complex concept and partly because individuals vary. Although it is equally difficult to be definitive about what factors are needed for it, money and a good relationship are two key components.
One reason why it is difficult to define happiness is that it comprises a variety of different states and emotions. At one level, it can be the gentle feeling of contentment which comes from being in a good relationship, but then it can also include for example the more immediate feeling of joy when one passes an exam. Another problem in defining it is that it can vary with culture, age and personal preference. For example, a young male from a privileged background in the UK may view it quite differently from an older female in Africa living in circumstances where the next meal is rather more important than the latest Xbox.
It is not really possible to list all the factors that are necessary to happiness. I would say, however, that the two most universal are probably having enough money and being in a good relationship. Money matters simply because a significant proportion of unhappiness is caused by poverty and it helps to have enough to get by on. Relationships matter because man is a social animal and we are most affected by the people we spend our life with.
In conclusion, I would say that although it is impossible to find one definition of happiness as it is so complex, it is possible to say that money and love are among the factors that help foster it.
See how the essay structure works
See how the essay follows a simple structure. It’s very easy to get over complex when one is writing about ideas.
See how I make the structure of my ideas clear
one reason why — another problem — for example
This is slightly more complex, but not very. Again, it should be clear how I organise my ideas and I use a little repetition to be clear
the factors — two most universal are probably having enough money and being in a good relationship—- money matters —- relationships matter
Introduction and conclusion
See how I mirror the language of my introduction in the conclusion. This is great for coherence and makes it much easier to write!
extraordinarily hard to find a single definition of happiness
I would say that although it is impossible to find one definition of happiness
To make it work well you just need to remember to vary the language a little.
Learn the vocabulary
There is a good rang of vocabulary in this essay. The words I highlight in this exercise and simple words used well. Those are the ones you want to borrow.
See how it links
This essay is very coherent and cohesive. As you work through this exercise look at the different ways I link the writing together. It really isn’t just a case of using “linking words”.
Note too how most every sentence starts with a linking phrase of some sort.
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