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IELTS happiness essay

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

para 1

difficult to define because different levels of happiness and different people are different!

give examples

para 2

lots of factors: guess love and money are most universal

need reason why


reflect intro


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 relationshipMoney 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.

Paragraph 1

See how I make the structure of my ideas clear

one reason why — another problem — for example

Paragraph 2

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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7 Responses to IELTS happiness essay

  1. Katie September 16, 2015 at 9:59 am #

    Hi Mr Dominic

    Thank you very much for your interesting lesson. I have a question.
    Why do you use the phrase “This is partly because…” (the first line of the first paragraph of the sample essay) while “partly” is an adverb, not an adjective?

    Thanks in advance

    • Denis Frolov September 16, 2015 at 1:48 pm #

      Thanks a lot for examples.
      It is really an available way of explanation on how to write an coherent and step-by-step essay. It helps to understand the structure and method – thanks for effort..


    • Dominic Cole September 16, 2015 at 3:03 pm #


      The answer is that we use “partly” or “in part” as adverbs as they are modify the word/phrase “because……”. Why? That’s a really tough question to answer and sometimes the best way to learn grammar is just to see and recognise patterns in the language and not to worry of much about why. A partial answer risk that adverbs are not just used with verbs but are much more flexible than that.

      This is where a dictionary can help. Look at this form the Macmillan dictionary:

      You should see from there that “partly because” is a common combination and one you want to use yourself.

  2. nobal September 17, 2015 at 7:11 am #

    hii dominic …. u didn’t gave any exact clear definition to define happiness , instead u made it even more complex .. ! does it answer the question ? and one more thing , won’t it be better if someone just gave answer like …happiness means having all the luxuries in life to fullfill the individual’s desires …… ?

    • Dominic Cole September 17, 2015 at 9:58 am #

      The question is WHY is it difficult to define. That is what the first content para focuses on. The question does not ask you to define it.

  3. gagandeep kaur August 13, 2016 at 6:17 am #

    really helpfull

  4. minal August 19, 2016 at 9:00 pm #

    Hello sir, can u just give me some idea to improve my vocabulary and grammer.

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