Expand your active vocabulary: have more than a "happy" life

Simple, safe English is often not the best choice. Take, for example, the word happy. If you can read this blog post, you can use that word, but should you? 

There are two problems with using simple words like happy. Firstly, it's very general so the listener only has a vague idea of what you are talking about. Secondly, it may lead the listener to assume that your English is poor, that you don't have any better words than elementary-school vocabulary.

So, let's start with the word happy and look at how we can improve on it.

These words may not be new, but as you read, think, "how often do I use this word?" Words you use are your active vocabulary.

Human beings have all sorts of ideas about what makes us happy, and we have different words for them. A “happy” life for one person may not be the same as someone else’s “happy” life. 


“Success” means different things to different people. A life (or anything else, for that matter) is successful insofar as it matches that person’s goals. If you want to get rich and you do, then your life is successful. My goal might be to help people, regardless of how much money I make doing it. So the more people I can help, the more successful my life is. Remember that if you say that someone has had a successful life, you need to say what success means to them.

He always wanted to have his own business, so he worked hard at school so he could get a good job to learn what he needed and make enough money to start a business. His business did really well, and he had a very successful life.


The word “rich” doesn’t have to just refer to money. Sure, a rich life can mean being financially rich to a person who values wealth. But someone who values family, or making art, would describe their life as rich if they enjoyed a lot of those things.

She loved to make music, so she practiced hard and got into a great music school. She went on to become a well-known pianist and played all over the world. All that practicing led to a very rich life full of music.


A reward, in this case, is a positive feeling you get for doing something well. If you love to see new places, and you make enough money to be able to travel a lot, then you have a rewarding life. Traveling is your reward for working hard.

I’ve always loved to meet new people, and traveling is a great way to do that. I was fortunate enough to be able to afford to travel a lot over the years, so I’ve had a very rewarding life.


Satisfying is when you have a specific goal and meet it. What satisfies you? Getting a good grade on a paper? Having a top client love a proposal you’ve worked hard on? If you experience those things regularly, you’ll have a satisfying life.

She worked her way up to be a partner in the firm and has won many of their top clients with her excellent proposals. Her life is very satisfying.

Easy / Comfortable

In this case, these two words mean about the same thing and can be used interchangeably. If you no longer have to work very hard, then your life will be easy, and you can afford what you need to be comfortable.

I’ve worked hard and invested my money well, so I have an easy life.


I’ve worked hard and invested my money well, so I have a comfortable life.

There are so many ways to have a happy life! So instead of calling them all “happy”, try using these words to describe what makes it happy.

active vocabulary—the language you actively use. Take a look at this page about active English for more detail.