Note that there is often controversy about the meanings of terms in academic research, and words deemed "synonyms" may not be truly identical in meaning. 

An extensive glossary can be found at this site


affect; affective state

feeling states such as emotions, moods, pleasure, pain

capabilities approach [or capability approach]

a policy approach that aims to promote capabilities or opportunities: roughly, the effective freedom to achieve good lives. (One slogan for the approach is "development as freedom.") Associated with Sen and Nussbaum, the capabilities approach was developed as an alternative to views that focus on promoting well-being on the one hand (welfarism), or resources such as income and wealth on the other. Policy, on this view, should secure adequate opportunities for people to achieve valued outcomes or activities--in the theory's lingo, "functionings." A major rationale for the capabilities approach is that it focuses on opportunities or freedoms, leaving well-being, happiness or other outcomes (functionings) for individuals to secure themselves. Some thus find less risk of paternalism in this approach.

Much confusion results from the common practice of referring to capabilities as "well-being", even though well-being involves functionings in this approach, and not capabilities. Since the approach was developed as an alternative to well-being policy, it is arguably misleading to refer to capability metrics as "well-being" metrics.


  1. well-being (synonym, ancient Greek). [Often translated as 'happiness' or 'flourishing'. Some commentators argue that 'eudaimonia' functioned in ancient ethics more like 'good life', as a generic term for whatever sort of life is choiceworthy on the whole.]
  2. a type of well-being involving nature-fulfillment, roughly along the lines of Aristotle's view; realizing one's human potential. [This is a contemporary usage that is arguably becoming standard in the psychological literature. It is not currently standard in philosophical literature, and may be problematic given that ancient views of eudaimonia often departed strongly from this definition.]

emotional well-being

being in a generally positive emotional state, or happy. 


  1. well-being (synonym). [There is some debate about whether these terms are genuinely synonymous, differing only in their connotations, or express different concepts. However, philosophical theories of "flourishing" and "well-being" are generally regarded as offering accounts of the same phenomenon: roughly, what it is for a person's life to go well for them.] 
  2. a type of well-being involving nature-fulfillment; realizing one's potential

good life

  1. a life that is choiceworthy or desirable, all things considered, typically including moral goodness as well as well-being.
  2. well-being (synonym): a life that goes well for the person living it.


  1. a broad state of mind, such as life satisfaction, pleasure, or emotional well-being, or some combination of such states. [This appears to be the dominant sense of the term in contemporary English, as well as in empirical research. It denotes a psychological condition, being happy. This is usually regarded as distinct from the specific, and typically short-lived, emotion of feeling happy.]
  2. well-being or flourishing: a life that goes well for the person living it. [This is an older and less common sense of the term, but is still in widespread use, especially in philosophical and theological writings. It tends to be associated with 'happy life', rather than 'being happy'. In this usage, the term embodies a value judgment, to the effect that the person is doing well, and better off than someone leading an unhappy life.]

happy, feeling

an emotion associated with smiling, and feelings like cheerfulness, joy or contentment. [Often confused with the longer-term state of being happy; on standard theories of happiness, feeling happy is considered to be, at most, one aspect of being happy.]

life satisfaction

an attitude of being satisfied with one's life. [More akin to a judgment than a feeling, though it may have emotional dimensions.]


a state or process of fulfilling goals that are implicit in one's nature, or the kind of being one is. [Commonly associated with ancient Greek views of well-being in the eudaimonistic tradition including Aristotle, the Stoics and others, as well as later theories resembling them.] 

synonyms: self-actualization; self-fulfillment; self-realization


an approach to a subject matter, such as well-being, that claims the phenomenon is at least somewhat independent of the individuals’ viewpoint. [There is much controversy, however, about how exactly to define objectivism.]

prudential value

the kind of value involved in well-being, having to do with what benefits a person, is good for her, serves her interests, makes her better off, or makes her life go well for her. [Distinct from other types of value, such as moral value, perfectionist value, or aesthetic value.]


  1. self-fulfillment (synonym). [More strongly connotes the realization of potential, and associated with the work of humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow.]
  2. nature-fulfillment (synonym)


  1. a variety of nature-fulfillment focusing on goals that are implicit in the constitution of the self: who one is, as an individual, rather than (say) one's nature as a member of the human species.
  2. nature-fulfillment (synonym).


  1. self-fulfillment (synonym). [More strongly connotes the realization of potential.]
  2. nature-fulfillment (synonym)

subjective well-being; SWB

a positive psychological response to one's life, including both affective states like pleasure or emotional well-being and more cognitive states like life satisfaction. [The term is variously employed, and often serves as an umbrella term for the different states commonly termed happiness. In some uses it refers just to one of these states, such as life satisfaction.]


an approach to a subject matter, such as well-being, that claims the phenomenon is wholly dependent on the individual’s viewpoint. [There is much controversy, however, about how exactly to define subjectivism.]


well-being (synonym). 'Welfare' has tended to be associated with subjectivist approaches to well-being and the utilitarian tradition, the term in contemporary philosophy is strictly synonymous with 'well-being.' Cf. Stephen Darwall's broadly Aristotelian theory of "welfare." 


the view that well-being (or welfare) is a fundamental aim of moral or political decision-making. Welfarism is often associated with subjective approaches to well-being such as hedonism or desire theories, but could involve any theory of well-being. Welfarism also need not commit one to utilitarian ethics, and indeed is probably compatible with most ethical theories. Many do object to the strong welfarism found in utilitarian and related theories, which holds roughly that well-being is the only fundamental moral concern. (Note that 'welfarism' is sometimes used to denote just the form of welfarism endorsed by utilitarians.) But Kantians and many others take well-being to be just one among other moral concerns, such as rights, and thus accept only weak welfarism. 

well-being; wellbeing

  1. a life that goes well for the person living it; doing well; flourishing; thriving; a happy life. [Concerns a type of value, commonly called "prudential value." This value has to do with what benefits a person.]
  2. informal: Subjective well-being. [Empirical research often appears to use 'well-being' as shorthand for subjective well-being, without committing to any value judgment about whether individuals are doing well or badly.]
  3. colloquial: a pleasant state of psychological and physical health. [This is not a standard usage in well-being research, but appears to be common in popular culture.]

synonyms: flourishing, good life, happiness, utility, welfare