I'm playing my first BNW game on a mid-level difficulty as Morocco. It's around turn 350, and I've fully completed the Piety and Patronage policy trees.

I've been having a hard time managing happiness all game. It usually hovers between -2 and 5. I build all the happiness buildings and try for the wonders (but I don't think I've been successful in getting any related to happiness). I don't understand how the AIs are able to have such huge empires - is it just their difficulty level bonus?

Throughout the game, I've been sandwiched between Iroquois and Ethiopia, both of which have outpaced me by ~20% total score continuously. Iroquois and I also shared a border with Mongolia, which was always weaker; when Iroquois decided it was time to conquer Mongolia I felt like I had to take it instead or else Iroquois would be way too close to my core cities. Same thing happened with Ethiopia and weaker Japan several hundred turns later - Ethiopia asked if I'd like to join it in war against Japan, and I felt that Japan's decline was a foregone conclusion, so I had to make sure as much of it ended up on my side as possible.

The problem with this strategy is that I'm now at -15 happiness. I haven't built any of my own cities in quite some time. I've tried trading with the AIs on basically whatever terms they ask to get more luxury resources and I've allied with as many city states as possible (although there are two nearby I'm not allied with, but now that my happiness is so low, I don't have a chance of getting enough gold to overtake Ethiopia in influence). What else can I do? Am I missing some big strategy?

Now that my happiness is hosed, my GPT is running around -20. I have the biggest army in the game, which I built up while by GPT was great. Now I'm wondering if I should donate a bunch of the older units to nearby city states to both help my GPT and gain influence with them. I have ~10 turns until I run out of gold.

tl;dr questions:

  • How can I minimize the happiness impact of conquest? Is it better to annex a city and immediately construct a courthouse? (I've been puppetting all but one.) When would you want to raze a city? I've never done it.

  • Is there some way to gain happiness that I'm missing?

  • Is there ever a legitimate strategy where your empire is Unhappy or Very Unhappy, or is that always a sign that you're doing something wrong?

Thanks! Let me know if I've omitted some important details.

  • If you hover over the happiness symbol at the top, where is most of your unhappiness coming from? Commented Jan 26, 2014 at 18:08
  • Have you tried reading this one? It's very helpful civilization.wikia.com/wiki/Happiness_(Civ5)
    – ido
    Commented Jan 28, 2014 at 0:00
  • Choose city states that you ally with - 'three-dot-triangle' type is the one that gives you happiness, focus on these. Also consider what luxuries city states will they give if you ally them. Also donate redundant military (there's a perk in ideologies that will grant 25 influence/unit instead of 5). Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 13:12
  • I believe that Order has a tenant that gives free courthouses in conquered cities, you could try that. However I typically use mods and idk if its in the base game Commented Jan 6, 2019 at 19:22

6 Answers 6


There aren't any strategies that have you sitting on significant unhappiness throughout the game - it is a serious detriment to your empire.

Conquest can produce some significant unhappiness. In my experience, it is almost always worse in the long run to annex a city. The happiness hit is overwhelmingly strong when you annex, and it's significantly less strong when you puppet. Puppeted cities will eventually build happiness buildings, although it can take a while.

Once you get past the "middle of the road" difficulty levels, happiness is kind of a key bellwether when it comes to expansion. I tend to only build a new city when I can take a happiness hit, and if I can gain access to at least one but preferably two new luxury resources. Strategic resources might trump this, in certain cases. It's very difficult to survive without Coal for Factories, for instance.

Razing a city can be a very legitimate strategy. If you conquer an enemy, and they have some tiny cities that are not near luxury/strategic resources, burn 'em to the ground. Expansion is the primary way you're going to get more powerful, and expansion is heavily limited by happiness. Hanging on to cities that aren't helping you become more powerful is a waste.

Unhappiness is a factor of both the number of cities and the population, so if you've gotten to a balancing point, you might consider setting your cities to "avoid growth" - this will up their production and down their food intake, in an attempt to keep them from getting bigger and producing more unhappiness.

Since happiness is generated by buildings you unlock through technology, science is an important key in maintaining your happiness balance. With Patronage, I'd expect you to be gifting/bribing city states to get access to their luxuries. You can also trade excess luxuries to other civs, if they've got something you need.

  • Happiness is essentially the population cap, IMHO. Commented Jan 26, 2014 at 18:11
  • 3
    @MarkRogers, indeed. It also limits the number of cities (especially with Gandhi as your leader). I seem to remember an interview with one of the designers essentially saying that's the point of happiness - to limit "infinite city sprawl."
    – agent86
    Commented Jan 26, 2014 at 19:07
  • Some example stats/calculations for what is worth it vs not would be nice...
    – Mufasa
    Commented Jan 28, 2014 at 22:23

The AI cheats to keep up.

Annexing is never a good idea unless you require immediate use to build something. You can purchase a courthouse immediately with gold to help if needed, but always have a courthouse be the first priority over anything except losing the city back to an opponent.

Hover your cursor over your happiness bar. It will tell you exactly where the deficits and gains are coming from. It sounds like your problem could be luxury resources. The games I have played have always been races for luxury goods in order to accumulate happiness and excess goods to both deny my opponents of them or to be able to trade them for unique resources they have and I do not. Sometimes it is important to get excess resources when playing computers to do 2 for 1 trades. Always only trade resources you have spares of or you lose the happiness benefit from goods traded away unless you have more.

I cannot remember if the skill changed in BNW (Not able to get in game right now), but the Merchant tree had an awesome benefit to provide extra happiness for each resource which has worked out really well for me in the past.

I typically do not raze cities that provide me any sort of long term benefit (even if it is small). Think of how long it takes to get a city going (really going, not just plopped down). Eventually my captures are most likely an asset that you can stage units from or provide me with resources/GPT. Puppet them until you can buy a courthouse OR if you have the spare happiness to let it slowbuild. Conquering multiple cities at a time will really hurt your happiness and sometimes there are just points in the game where you may need to dip negative in order to obtain a long term high positive.

I don't really mess with Patronage... I just conquer the City States as they are typically well developed with little downtime until courthouse is up. When you have enough money to be donating to City States you can typically afford it without the patronage benefits anyways. I usually play between Traditional/Liberty/Piety/Merchant/Autocracy Skill Trees.


The AI gets a sizable happiness boost to keep them competitive against us humans. Happiness is indeed the expansion cap the designers devised to defeat infinite city sprawl (ICS): spamming out cities to quickly acquire land. As futurehermit says in his CivFanatics signature, "Land is power. Land is power. Land is power."

The Honor social policy branch has one or two happiness-related policies:

  • +1 city :) and +2 culture for each garrisoned unit
  • +1 city :) for each Barracks

I've been playing with the Communitas mod for quite some time, so forgive me if the second one isn't entirely correct. I think in the mod it's every military building including Armory and Military Academy, but maybe that is the same in the standard game.

Another option to razing cities is to trade them to rivals for gold or luxuries. This can be really fun if you can gift them to one rival who is an enemy of another that neighbors the city in the hopes that this will trigger mayhem. The AI is horrible at determining the actual value of a gifted city and will merrily accept a city they have no hope in defending or turning into a good city.

  • 2
    Trading cities to trigger wars are hilarious, especially when you're doing it against 2 rivals that might consider beating you up.
    – Calyth
    Commented Jan 28, 2014 at 19:59
  • Upvote for the strategy of selling junk cities to rivals for luxury instead of razing. Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 13:10

If you weren't trying to play a conquest type game, you could also attempt to make friends with a city state by completing some of their quests. Killing some barbarians and taking out the encampment is a pretty good way to curry some favour with a city state, and if you managed to make enough cash to keep them around, their luxury is your luxury.

You may also consider not going full hog with the conquest - i.e. not picking up too many cities. Also, razing the city will reduce the population, namely the unhappy population. Just don't do it all in one shot.

The AI will ask for an arm and a leg if you ask to trade for their last copy of a luxury resource; by the same token, don't trade your last copy unless it's really worth it (or you're already improving another copy and it's a few turns away)


The other answers are worth reading, but I find that I can keep happiness high by:

Maintaining alliances with city states, especially mercantile

Most city states will give you one, maybe two luxury resources. Mercantile states provide an additional resource on top of this, meaning you can expect to get 2 or 3 resources, which translates into up to 12 happiness. On average, I probably get anywhere between 3 to 8 resources from city states exclusively. There is also the Commerce policy with increases this to +6 happiness per gifted resource from city states. Wow!

Note that if you're competing with other civilizations who aggressively value city states (eg Greece), it can strain relationships. In addition, forming alliances with city states is useful because they form a territory buffer against your enemies.

Forming or utilizing religion

This is probably one of the biggest new features in Brave New World (imo), and it is a very effective tool to master. The desirable traits of forming a religion are the buildings: Mosques, Cathedrals, Pagodas, and Monasteries. Pagodas are the most valuable as they provide +2 culture, faith, and happiness, followed by Mosques, which provide +2 culture, +3 faith, and +1 happiness. Note that happiness from religious buildings is considered local happiness (see below).

Note that you don't necessarily need to form a religion to take advantage of this! On lower difficulties, you can easily grab Pagodas or Mosques first, if you beeline for religion. However, the AI usually prioritizes them, and religiously aggressive civilizations such as the Celts, Portugal, and Spain will snatch up all the good buildings and spread their religion around -- this means that you don't need to focus on it, and it will come to you eventually (although note that the cost per building will increase as you progress through the ages; getting a religion early is most effective).

(As an aside, many of the religious traits seem to enforce a faith/culture/happiness trinity across some form of buildings in your empire - monuments can provide +1 of each, and the aforementioned buildings provide +2 of each ... generally. If one gets taken by the AI, it's possible to get a "good enough" solution by upgrading your temples to provide happiness, for example.)

Local happiness buildings

This goes without saying, but buildings such as Colosseums, Zoos, and Stadiums will provide +2 happiness to your city. Note that this is local happiness which means that it cannot exceed the population. If you found a city with 1 or 2 people, it doesn't make sense to throw all your money at buying all the improvements to mitigate the unhappiness.

Because you (usually) get -1 happiness per population anyways, I like to think that these improvements offset the population, whereas luxury resources and national and world wonders offset the number of cities you may build.


There are a number of social policies and civilization-based perks that deal with happiness. In addition, natural wonders provide a permanent +1 global happiness to your empire when discovered!


I know this is a very old question and all, but in none of the answers Ideology pressure is mentioned.

As you probably know, after building 3 factories or after entering the Modern Era, you get to choose an ideology. Which ideology you choose should not just depend on which tenets you like most, but also which one would give you the least amount of pressure from the other players.

Ideology pressure relates to the state of the other players' cultural influence over you. Cultural influence is generated by another players tourism, basically tallied up against your total culture pool. The closer the total tourism output of another player gets to your total culture, the higher their influence.

Basically, if someone has a higher level of cultural influence over you than you have over them, they enforce ideology pressure to you. The result of ideology pressure is a huge amount of unhappiness. This means that if you choose a different ideology than other players who have a high cultural influence over you, you will suffer a lot of unhappiness.

Our Civilization 5 god Marbozir has a really nice video explaining in detail how ideology pressure works and how to prevent and cope with it.

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