I’m designing a utopia but there’s one problem remaining.

The setting is one of a highly advanced human society. We’ve eliminated disease and allowed the natural environment to replenish. Individuals live for about 100 years on average with good physical ability for almost their whole life. Space travel is possible, and we’ve colonised mars and the moon. Nothing travels faster than light, so we’re restricted to this one solar system and because of the differences in gravity, anyone who visits one of the colonies will only stay for a short time.

The challenge I’m facing in building this world is about human psychology. What should the social system be like to ensure that people are happy?

I was thinking that people need to be challenged and maybe even deprived for the first part of their life to allow them to appreciate this world in their later years. Say that until the age of 20 people have very basic and stressful lives and are told by some figure of authority that they must work hard for the sake of their future. After 20 years, they’re told that they have succeeded. They’re then entitled to go out and have a happy life where they can work if they want to or just enjoy doing whatever they enjoy doing. It’s a lie and no one ever fails. For the rest of their life all individuals have a memory of unpleasant times, which allows them to appreciate pleasant things, and a sense that they have earned the life that they enjoy. The idea is that with those things they will be happy.

I don’t know if that’s the best design for a social system that allows people to be happy. It may be too simplistic… What are some alternatives?

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    $\begingroup$ This is a deeply philosophical question that has been addressed in science fiction, including R.A. Lafferty's Past Master and Cordwainer Smith's The Rediscovery of Mankind. I'm not sure there is one, true answer to the question of what makes people happy or even what happiness is. $\endgroup$ – Klaus Æ. Mogensen Oct 22 '19 at 11:48
  • $\begingroup$ Not a real answer but the World Happiness Report might give some insight in what people consider as happiness. $\endgroup$ – Backup Plan Oct 22 '19 at 12:06
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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site, Mas! Please note that the Worldbuilding SE is dedicated to providing detailed answers to specific questions you have while developing your fictional world. You've asked a really good question, but it might be too open-ended to fit the format/expectations of this community. "What are some alternatives?" is an incredibly broad topic, especially when it concerns a nebulous concept like "happiness." For example, some people find happiness through suffering, either their own or another's. As a result, this question may be too broad to be adequately answered here as is. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Oct 22 '19 at 12:41
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    $\begingroup$ Welcome comrade Lenin! You may want to become aware that many retrograde, reactionary elements will consider any top-down system which attempts to force-march them towards what the system believes to be plenary happinness as an unbearable tyranny. We have ways of dealing with such reactionary individuals, of course. Siberia awaits. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Oct 22 '19 at 13:32
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    $\begingroup$ Citizen! Friend Computer reminds you that Happiness is Mandatory. Please see your Happiness Officer for remedial happiness treatment! $\endgroup$ – asgallant Oct 22 '19 at 22:08

Happiness is not a destination, it's the way you travel.

Sure, being challenged and overcome this challenge will bring some happiness, as receiving a paycheck when you need the money for something nice. Still, it'll be fairly short as a state of being, and status quo will come back shortly.

You cannot cheat on happiness, it has to come from within, and as such not everybody will be able to reach it.

Ian M. Banks writes very interesting depiction of a futuristic culture (names "the Culture") kinda like yours, by which I mean that they don't need to work, have better bodies than us and near immortality. They can do pretty much whatever they want. Most of them finds a meaning in their live in hobbys or in participating in their society's in a way which they like or think is meaningful. Some of them are restless without knowing why, as if they needed something different to be happy.

Every person is different. You can create a world where everybody has everything to be happy, and there will still be heart breaks. There will still be (some) mortality. People will miss other people who decided they would travel far away.

What you need isn't some clever explanation of how people will achieve happiness. That's not a long term thing. What you need is to find a way which will permit people to stay happy, to find meaning and motivation... and this is something everybody has to find for themselves.

This, or some dystopian mean to make them happy whether they want it or not, like drugs, mind control or invasive surgery. You probably don't want that.

Personally, I very much like the concept of "rite of passage", and if you want to point out a cultural thing which could explain a lot of the happy-oriented mindset of a specific society, a rite of passage could be an important part of the explanation. It's kind of similar to the "they have a struggle they have to overcome" thing you mentioned, but less "we cheat them into thinking they did well so now they are happy" and more "they live through an experience which teach them deep truth about themselves, and with this new knowledge they are better prepared to find what is meaningful and important to them, thus being closer to the path which will bring them happiness".

You can engineer an environment which will help them to be happy. You cannot engineer happiness like you would engineer a one-size-fits-all t-shirt.

  • $\begingroup$ You're right. I considered some quick fix solutions like tweeking brains or substances, but that's not going to make for an interesting thought-provoking world. I was also thinking of something like the rite of passage that you described, but decided that 'we also need to cheat them into thinking they did well' (as you put it). If people realise that there was never any possibility of failure then they will have no durable sense of achievement that might underpin their lifelong happiness. $\endgroup$ – Mas Oct 23 '19 at 9:29
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    $\begingroup$ Stories thrive on conflict, that's why there are so many dystopian worlds in science-fiction and so little bright futures - and when there are, the stories often focus on something else entirely. So making an "imperfect" perfect world is a great way to set up some great conflicts, both emotionally and philosophically. Good narration can make wonders with this kind of setting. $\endgroup$ – laancelot Oct 23 '19 at 11:45

As a whole, there is no societal way to achieve this (many have tried) however as this is Sci-Fi there are a few technologies which could achieve this in part or be used to create a false utopia for conflict in your world.


At the less intrusive ends, each person grows up with an AI "Robo-Buddy" that can both function as a personalize therapist, confidant, and / or moral compass. It would be programmed to help with emotionally trying times, lead people to fulfillment, and dissuade humans from harmful behavior to themselves and others.

In a more intrusive fashion, AI begins to replace human constructs and relationships. AI could replace human governments, perfectly dictating policies and justice for the greatest benefit of all. All dangerous or monotonous work could be automatized, leaving only the exciting and challenging stuff. If you even wanted to work at all. Work becomes optional, robots produce enough wealth to provide for all of humanity. Pushed even further, robots begin to replace core human relationships. Parents, co-workers, friends, lovers. All could be replaced with different robots, perfectly tailored not to what you want, but what you need.


Basically, humans begin to build the best societies by first fundamentally changing themselves, be it by genetic engineering, changing chemical balances in the body, or evolution. Everything down this path with be controversial. At the less extreme ends conditions such as sociopathy, narcissism, and depression are 'cured'. Further in, start changing humans emphasizing 'good' traits, such as cooperativeness, empathy, caring and reducing 'bad' traits such as spite, xenophobia, greed, etc. At the extreme end, is of course, happy pills. Take two everyday and your sorrows will go away.

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    $\begingroup$ Heh heh. Live better chemically. Or, in the words of the novel Brave New World, the supply of soma must not be interrupted. $\endgroup$ – puppetsock Oct 22 '19 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. I like the idea of robo buddy. With a sufficiently deep understanding of human psychology, robo buddies wold be able to guide people to ensure that they grow in to well-adjusted individuals who can remain satisfied in a world that's liable to become sterile. Bioengineering is also something I considered. Sure it's theoretically possible to just tweek everyone's brain so that they're happy... but I'm trying to design an interesting world with lots of food for thought. Would seem like a cop out if I just used said that everyone was happy because of a tweek to their brains. Thanks $\endgroup$ – Mas Oct 23 '19 at 9:13

Much of your analysis is correct, although "deprived" is not a word I'd use.

People are happiest when their actions result in progress--they feel that their lives are under control that way.

When you take that ability to improve away from them people aren't ever really happy. Examples of denying their ability to improve might handing them everything as through inheritance or a purely socialist state or where a high cost of living where average salaries aren't covering basic living costs.

I suppose to make people happier I'd ensure that everyone started out in the same situation (No inheritance, no cash handouts) and I'd minimize required living expenses (Housing, utilities, healthcare, childcare, food, transportation,...) allowing people to actually see the benefit of the money they earn and give them the desire to earn more (knowing that it will benefit them directly and not just go to "Pay Bills")

  • $\begingroup$ I'm my world I imagine there will be very little jealousy because everyone is equally capable of having almost anything they want (within reason). There will be no money, no inheritances, no bills to pay. In fact the term 'cost of living' will be an anachronism that people will have to look up in the dictionary if they ever come across it in some historical document. The challenge in such as world is giving people opportunities to make real progress, when so much has already been achieved. $\endgroup$ – Mas Oct 23 '19 at 9:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Mas good--that fits right into what I was saying. So improving yourself must rely on a desire for luxuries, or perhaps some form of gaining rank (Like what makes video games addictive). You still need to be trying for something though--to have a goal and possibly competition. Perhaps this kind of competition could be virtual like in Ready Player One... $\endgroup$ – Bill K Oct 23 '19 at 16:22

You can achieve a basic happiness by guaranteeing the following 4 things:

  • Satisfying biological impulses:

So you would have to create a system where everyone can satisfy their biological impulses (food, comfort, sex, children, etc).

  • Achieving goals

To get what you want out of life, which will differ from person to person, but all the simple things should be manageable if the government is on your side.

  • Reaching rewards and goals, only after hard work:

They would all need to work arbitrarily hard for these and their other goals, because otherwise it would not bring the population as much happiness.

How hard your people have to work would have to be established by your government. This amount would have to be standardized or there would be feelings of injustice and relative poverty.

  • Avoiding psychological pain:

Everyone would have to have some kind of mental health consultant that would shape the population's values, guarantee their self esteem, and sense of purpose, and so on.


And then with all these measures in place you could give everyone a basic level of happiness.

See, this is only the beginning because happiness is complex. The need for freedom, artistic expression, creativity will not be accounted for in the stated system. Freedom based happiness is not consistent with any kind of totalitarian order that can guarantee basic happiness. And any system that guarantees higher freedom based happiness cannot guarantee basic happiness. The two are mutually exclusive.


The only way to make everybody happy is to fulfill this simple plan:

  1. Embed in everyone's heads one simple thought of what happines is (like "you are happy if you have ZPhone")
  2. Justify this "happiness" definition (give everybody ZPhone)

It may be religion, material possession, lifetime event (ex., hajj) - you name it. See "Equilibrium" film as an example of how it can be achived (far from the best way in my opinion, but still an example).

In all other cases deversity of meanings of hepiness and life situations would lead to majority of people to consider themselfs unhappy (and others to be happy - I do not remember the name of this phycological paradox).

And happines has little to no corellation with wellbeing. Men dying in povetry from painfull cancer can feel happer than young richboy surfing at Hawaies (or it can be the opposite). So total happiness doesn't imply that everybody leaving in a decent and/or equal conditions.

  • $\begingroup$ I've heard of worlds like this. But normally consumerism is the thing that's held up as ideal thing that everyone should aim for. People are told that they will be happy if they have more stuff, and then ways of getting more stuff become available and the end result is a pretty nasty world. $\endgroup$ – Mas Oct 23 '19 at 9:17

Gradual access to resources

One alternative would be turning your initial proposed scheme of things completely around. When you design society that enables happiness for everyone, there must be certain technological and social level that makes it possible. To make young people live Spartan life you need some enforcement and attitudes toward education and upbringing that are not widely available. Member of highly developed society will not be suitable for the role of a hardhanded scoutmaster.

Considering this, I would stay with normal and liberal education without trying to inflict some artificial trauma. At the same time, there will be limitations imposed on young people in terms of access to means of travel, tools, entertainment and life choices. Nothing different as what we are trying to do today, but at the possibilities of post-scarcity society are much greater, the contrast between adult life and the childhood will be much bigger.

We don’t need to confine the young in the military boot camp, instead there will be invisible border between them and adulthood. Teenagers ID chip will prevent them taking off in a shuttle and hitting the moon while high on latest mood-altering chemicals. We are also not making everything available to them when they reach 20, otherwise there will be too many moon craters created during 20th birthday afterparties. There needs to be a system that releases access to high-energy technologies and activities gradually, based on some kind of grades or behavior log.

  • $\begingroup$ That might work. But I want to avoid giving people a chance to build up resentment of the system. They should either not know what the system is or they should fully understand the system and be fully free from it. If they are prevented from having access to everything society has to offer, they may start to resent the system and they might feel that it's patronising to be told that 'you can't have access to everything otherwise you won't be happy'. That would be my concern. $\endgroup$ – Mas Oct 24 '19 at 12:56

People Forget.

Once your people get to the no-work no-trouble level they will suddenly be very happy but that happiness wouldn't last. After a while (depending on individual when, it may be weeks, months but certainly not years) they forget the experience of troubles and misery almost fully (the part they dont forget is very little and negligible). Note that they do remember the trouble times just not what it felt like. Its like when you meet an old friend or visit a house you used to live in after a long while you suddenly remember the experience but before that you have almost fully forgot the experience.

People need to go through misery after a while. Thats a sad truth. Most that you can do is lessen the blow, may be just make them visit poors every month or let them BE poor for ten days every quarter year.

Your technological progress cannot really stop people from hurting each other, if not anything else people can very easily hurt each other emotionally.

Set up some punishments in place for undesirable behavior. Make punishments public - anybody can watch a punishment, just dont force people to watch punishments.

Our bodies and our minds are set to live in our world where misery is rampant, we can handle some, we get bored if we not get some in a while. Unless you are making angels who have perfect bodies and cannot think wrong you do have to put some misery in your world building.

  • $\begingroup$ Sure, but if I'm plunging people into misery every quarter then I don't think I've achieved my goal of happiness. I think people would resent that system. It makes them experience misery every so often and ppl would feel it's patronising when they're told that it's done so that they remember what it's like to be miserable. I was thinking that maybe people have to be implanted with the idea that periodic deprivation is good for the body or mind so that they voluntarily go without luxuries and even food and water sometimes, and that would be how they maintain the memory of going without. $\endgroup$ – Mas Oct 24 '19 at 12:49

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