Does anyone else have a problem with an insane lack of happiness in their empires?

It's so bad for me that I looked at social policies solely based on their happiness, but the few that do add happiness are tacked on things like resources and universities and trade lanes, which are slow to come by early in game (and even later, the population grows way faster than they do).

In war the AI sometimes gives up and hands over like 12 cities at once for peace (which I'd be stupid not to take), and even kept as puppets my unhappiness plummeted to -81 at one point (big map....) and I had to spend a lot of gold to quickly build the few happiness structures in the few towns that I didn't have them in.

So how do you do it? Do you limit your settling? What about conquering civilizations? Is there a trick to it or all I can do is speed-research coliseums and theaters and that other building?

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    Presumably if the computer is willing to offer you 12 cities, it would also accept if you removed some so that you only got the really good ones. Unless it is intentionally sabotaging your happiness, which would be impressive AI... – bwarner Sep 29 '10 at 23:35
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    An alternative strategy is to just accept having an angry population, since there are only two effective levels of unhappiness. – Larry Wang Sep 30 '10 at 1:17
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    I was going to say that if playing the game makes you unhappy, you should quit playing it. But never mind. – mmyers Oct 1 '10 at 22:09
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    Drinking Heavily. – aslum Jan 23 '11 at 2:54
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    How do you cope with unhappiness? Sugar helps a lot. Also wine. It's just like real life! – DanD man Feb 1 '11 at 16:12

11 Answers 11


In war the AI sometimes gives up and hands over like 12 cities at once for peace (which I'd be stupid not to take)

I think your conclusion here may be false. If those cities are going to drive your happiness into the ground, it may not be in your best interests to take all of them at once. There is no magical wellspring of happiness that will allow you to absorb an unlimited number of enemy cities into your empire without repercussions.

Use the following methods to increase happiness:

  • Build courthouses in captured cities. This negates unhappiness from occupation.
  • Get as many luxury resources as possible (by building the appropriate improvements on their tiles or through city-state allies). Look for resources just outside your borders and consider purchasing those tiles. Plan new city locations with an eye toward where you can get the most luxury resources.
  • Build happiness-producing structures: Circus, Colosseum, Theatre, Stadium, and Burial Tomb if you're Egyptian.
  • Build happiness-producing wonders like Hanging Gardens and Eiffel Tower.
  • Get social policies (there are many) that work with your existing empire to increase happiness. Look at how they generate happiness, and find the ones that match your style of rule. Don't try to change your whole empire just to eke a little more happiness out of a social policy.

In addition, use puppet cities to your advantage, and don't overextend yourself. If taking all those cities is going to cripple you, it may not be worth it. Is a vast, dysfunctional empire better off than a slightly smaller, functional one?

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    Courthouses take at least 6 turns to even begin building and can't be bought, and with the 12 city package comes a whole continent worth of resources. You have a point about Burial Tombs though, forgot about them, I'll give Egyptians a try! – Blindy Sep 29 '10 at 21:15
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    Yes, courthouses are slow and painful. Also, if your enemy is that desperate for peace, you've probably got them thoroughly out-gunned. Maybe you could eat them in two or three bites, instead of one? – sjohnston Sep 29 '10 at 21:23
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    I almost always start with puppets and when resistance is gone, I annex the city and purchase a courthouse so I never experience extra unhappiness from occupation. – Ben Collins May 17 '14 at 21:45

Have you considered leaving cities as puppets for a while?

Unfortunately, you will have take the cities with your military rather than taking them in a trade for peace. However, if a Civ is giving you a dozen cities for peace, chances are you have them beat and taking the cities will not be a problem. And for your trouble you get:

  • Puppet cities do not cause nearly as bad of unhappiness as an annexed city.
  • Since you have to take the cities with units, you'll get the cities a lot slower, and spread out the impact on your happiness. Thus more time to react.
  • If you really want to control each city, you can annex them later. However, you can spread out the effect even more by annexing them one at a time, building a courthouse, then annexing the next AFTER the first is happy and useful.
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    I strongly recommend this. If you leave a city as a puppet for a while it will get larger and build all kinds of useful buildings - often even production-enhancing ones (such as the workshop). That means that later on, when you annex them, the courthouse will be built far faster than if you would have annexed them immediately. I've even reached a state once when annexing puppet-ed cities actually increased my happiness (though to be honest, I had the police state policy, evil me). – Oak Sep 29 '10 at 21:33
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    Yea most of the cities are puppets, but that's not enough. – Blindy Sep 29 '10 at 21:33
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    @Blindy It really sounds like you're just trying to take too many cities at once. (If I recall these from middle school correctly...) Empires can fail because they become: Too large to defend, too large to feed, or too large to govern. You just grew your empire larger than you can govern right then. – WillfulWizard Sep 29 '10 at 21:44
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    To be fair, there's no "too large to defend" in Civ5, the more cities you have the better the defense you can mount up is. Food is also a non-issue. And you'd think that having every city surrounded by 3-4 others would make people feel happy and safe, not borderline-suicidal.. – Blindy Sep 30 '10 at 20:30
  • @Blindy You sound as though you have never 1) Played a multiplayer game where the other players gang up on you when you get large and attack from multiple sides or 2) lived in New York City.---The food one I agree doesn't quite make sense. I don't remember for sure that is supposed to be food. – WillfulWizard Sep 30 '10 at 21:02

Though already answered, I am going to throw in my own two cents because managing happiness is one of the biggest challenges in Civ. V.

Step 1) Realize that unhappiness is inevitable. Cities will grow until unhappiness stunts their growth. Therefore, always be on the look out for ways to increase happiness.

Step 2) Luxuries are a major source of Happiness, especially during the early to mid-game. Be sure to mine, quarry, or build a plantation on every luxury within your empire's borders, and choose new city locations based on their proximity to new luxuries.

Step 3) Explore and meet your neighbors. Each individual type of luxury only gives your civilization the same +5 happiness, i.e. having 2 sources of silk does not give anymore Happiness than just having 1 source. However, if your neighbors have excess luxuries of their own, you can swap different luxuries giving each nation an extra +5 happiness. Word of warning, if the luxury listed has a one in the parentheses like this "(1)", then it is the nation's last bit of that particular luxury. AI civs will be very loathe to part with it and their price will go up.

Also, I have never seen the AI iniate an offer to exchange luxuries. The player needs to routinely check the diplomacy menu to see if any nation's have excess luxuries you might trade. Sometimes, you can pay several hundred gold in lieu of offerring a luxury of your own.

Step 4) Save your pennies to bribe City-States. Bribing city states have a lot of benefits, including extra food and culture. Now, if that city state is an ally, then also share their strategic resources and luxuries with you. So, browse the Diplomacy menu to see which City-States have luxuries you do not. This is a great way to pick up extra happiness.

Step 5) Build Coliseums, Circuses, and Theaters. These buildings take a long time to build, but are ultimately one of the few ways to garnish happiness on a widespread level. I mention these buildings for their economy, they give the best amount of happiness for the gpt maintenance.

Step 6) Control expansion. If your Happiness is already at 2 or 3, there is no room for another city until Happiness goes up (an exception might be made for a city that adds a new luxury to your empire). This also means do not acquire enemy cities when your happiness is already low. Since there is a Happiness ceiling on expansion, a player should only acquire enemy cities that are worth keeping in the long run. Otherwise, they should just be razed without ceremony. If necessary, a settler can always be dispatched to reclaim the location under more advantageous circumstances.

Step 7) Annex cities 1 at a time, and immediately build a court house. Puppet cities can be annoying with their tendency to build Barracks and Arsenals when they cannot build military units. Yet, an Annexed city will provide more than double than unhappiness as a normal city (at least 6 unhappiness plus population*1.2). Keep in mind that is on top of unhappiness it creates as a normal city. There are a lot of benefits to annexation, the process just needs to be planned out so as to not stifle the nation.

I did not discuss any nation specific buildings or strategies, but there are out there. India in particular gets a significant reduction to unhappiness caused by population.

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    lux resources only give +4 not +5 happiness – Geeo Jan 8 '14 at 15:48

Concerning the empire becoming too large, you have to adapt yourself to the situation. Here's an example from a game I played:

In 220 BC I had 27 towns. I was playing on a huge continent, with 18 empires, on the longest time rate.

My continent was huge, the biggest of all three and I'd attacked and conquered all 5 civilizations that were on my continent. I had 5-6 cities on my own, with 21 puppets. You can't know how large this is without seeing it. As I'd captured lots of workers, I built lots of roads: when you have 20 workers and your Roman legion building roads, this is fast and your cities become much easier to defend. Since I knew I was now alone now on this devastated continent, I didn't need much defense. I could just work on my town.

It's worth mentioning that the game's happiness balance is a bit wonky, which is probably the cause of your "insane lack of happiness". Puppet cities don't produce much unhappiness: it's the people in your other cities that are the cause. For example, in my case, I had lots of gold tiles and all the possible luxury resources besides three(whale, pearls and ivory). I had 5 cotton tiles and 3 silver tiles, but they don't contribute any happiness after the first tile. It would be nice if they at least provided something.

With all six of my cities, I bought or made a Colosseum and a circus if I was able to.

Actually, I'm now at 1720 AD in the timeline and the only thing I did so far is work on happiness. I'm at 40+ town's (I made a new one to cover all land space) but the basic problem is that as soon as I got few happiness points, the town grew up another tier and I went back to negative. All my research and social branches are concentrating on happiness.

When I got the +20% happiness bonus, I had a huge jump from -3 to +12. Then when I made the Forbidden Palace, I went to +30 or so. This is when I started to annex all my puppets. Now that these cities are no longer puppets, they are mine and I'm producing buildings all across the continent. This is hard to keep up: one turn my income is +60 gold, the next it's -20 (this is an exaggeration, but you get the idea), but overall this is worth it. This is especially true during a Golden Age, where I go to +350 gold per turn.

Also, as a result of having all the maritime neutral allies, my food bonus is awesome, meaning my town grew up pretty fast. I see the other empire's best town has nine people; for me, nine is the average of all my towns, including my latest.

My army is still composed of legions and cavalry. I haven't ever needed to create a new one since the last two empires are far away and I only need to kill barbarians moving around. As for tech, I'm about to discover Tanks! In the year 1750, I'll be producing tanks, and I don't think their little gunmen will be of any match.

So overall, it depends on your surroundings. Can you balance lots of towns over short periods of time? If so, you're going to be pretty powerful. I'm about to reach 1500 points. I don't know how good that is, but if I look at the best computer with his 25 towns, he doesn't even have half of this.

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I agree with most of what has been said here, and I'll add this:

Unhappiness will drop by one per turn per city and will last for as long as the number of citizens in that city. This means that a 2 citizen city will be back on track faster than a 12 citizen city.

I often raze cities that are not in ideal locations and that are not producing enough gold. I keep as a puppet a city in a good location with lots of gold and other luxury tiles around. Once I even offered a city to a neighbor to keep him peaceful towards me; this payed off pretty well and reduced my unhappiness greatly.

Once I get into war and get many cities (from a peace treaty or by conquest), I make sure that they don't grow fast by removing food tiles and replacing them with trading posts. By doing this, I make more money faster for buying a coliseum or other happiness-related buildings in the cities I own -- 60 for accepting 10 cities for a peace treaty is the usual, should be close to 0 after 10 turns.

I always keep a captured city as a puppet; there's no need to annex them, even if you think it would be better to choose what to build there. It's better to raze it and send a new settler there (saving 5 gold/turn for not having the courthouse/city is a must for me).

I also change the lumber mill to a trade post, reducing the speed at which they get built. Having the extra gold also let you build the high-maintenance cost theater in your own city once you get to that technology.

Another reason to keep them as a puppet is to keep the quality of culture low enough to get the next policies, and they will usually build the monument and temple fast enough to give the extra push to get nice policies that give happiness.

I played over 15 games in the last five weeks, mostly on a huge map, and did a few conquest victories with minimal city annexation. The only good reason to annex a city is when you get on another continent and you want to pop out some new war unit or settler from it!

Having 6-12 cities on my own and having all the rest as puppets is sufficient; you don't need any more than that to win the game easily.

I also won the game once by building the space shuttle by around 1950-2000 A.D. on a huge map with 10 cities of my own on difficulty level 4. There was no wars at all and I rarely had unhappiness, no less than -5 for a few turns. I kept a small but strong army just in case; it was easy to have advanced units as I focused on science.

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I agree with most of what's been said with a few caveats:

  1. Avoid Growth is a coarse way of managing citizen growth. A more precise adjustment can be reached by manually assigning citizens to minimize food while maximizing production, gold, culture or science. Manual adjustment should only be temporary until happiness reaches a comfortable point.

  2. Annexing a city can be very advantageous if that city has Wonders. Capital cities of large enemy civs should probably always be annexed as these cities tend to have the most Wonders and are the most developed.

  3. When entering a Golden Age, set cities' citizen allocation to gold to accumulate large amounts of gold so that later happiness can be increased quickly by buying happiness producing buildings. Also consider setting cities to Wealth Production although this depends on how many production points a city has as Wealth Production generates in gold only 10% of the city's Production points. Almost forgot, also eliminate unneeded roads and units to lower gold per turn expenses.

  4. Lastly, plan ahead. If Happiness goes down to around +3 concentrate on increasing happiness and/or controlling unhappiness:

To summarize:

  1. Increase Happiness by building/buying happiness producing buildings and Wonders, razing unproductive cities, buying and improving tiles with luxury items you don't have and trading for the same. You should have been developing the Piety Social Policies early in the game. I usually do Honor first then Piety.

  2. Control Unhappiness by manually allocating citizens such that food production is zero and no new citizens can be created. Avoid Annexing cities until Happiness recovers to about 10 or so.

Remember the more Happiness the quicker Social Policies become available. It is especially important to have high Happiness until the Piety Theocracy Social Policy has been developed.

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    Good advice, but I disagree on two things: (1) it's true that conquering cities with wonders is usually great, but you don't have to annex it to get the benefits, puppeting it is enough (see this related question), and (2) happiness does not increase the rate in which social policies become available, those two aspects are separate, unless you take the "excess happiness become culture" policy. – Oak Sep 18 '11 at 7:52

I've been having a think about this recently as I'm a bit fed up of the unhappiness problems in my games. It seems the trouble is I like building non-overlapping cities with big populations, but this is very hard to scale up to Huge maps.

Happiness comes from:

  • Buildings - scalable with number of cities
  • Special Policies - scalable with number of cities
  • 'Auxiliary' Sources - don't scale; ie. Wonders (like Notre Dame), luxuries and natural wonders.


Colosseum (2) + Theatre (3) + Stadium (4) = 9 happiness.

Let's say you get about 1 unhappy per population (I think the actual ratio depends on difficulty level and whether you're Gandhi) and ignore unhappiness from number of cities for now. That means that in the end game you can only have cities of size 9 or less without eating into your 'auxiliary' happiness. That seems very constraining to me as I aim for cities of 20 or more.

Add more buildings to this list by trying to place each city with access to stone (Stone Works gives +1 happy) and horses/ivory (Circus +2) and by picking social policies:

  • Honour: Defensive buildings give happiness (up to +4/city total!)
  • Piety: Some cultural buildings give happiness (can't combine with Rationalism)
  • Rationalism: Some science buildings give happiness (can't combine with Piety)
    etc. (policies change wildly when the game updates in my experience)

Special Policies

These three policies provide a direct happiness bonus for each city:

  • Liberty -> Meritocracy (+1/city; -5% unhappiness from citizens) [req. trade route]
  • Honour -> Military Caste (+1/city) [req. garrison]
  • Order [when opening this policy tree] (+1/city)

Together with the buildings above, this adds up to a maximum of about 18-22 happy per city, but a large part of that is capped by the amount of unhappiness the city causes - so it's not all that beneficial to build new cities to build more of these buildings just to increase happiness!

Note that this theoretical maximum is hard to achieve even towards the end of the game and even then is only roughly half as much population as a city can have worked tiles. I'd therefore recommend that when planning your cities' locations, don't worry about overlap or food shortages too much. Keep an eye on your 'maximal happy city size' as you develop the buildings' requisite techs and gain social policies. At some stages in the game you'll see cities are approaching this target value and it could be worth halting their growth by turning farms into trading posts, selling granaries and diverting the surplus food into building settlers.

Auxiliary Sources

Since these can all be obtained while you have as many or as few cities as you like, they can be regarded as a static reserve of happiness. When you have very few cities, this is the main factor in happiness and you can rely on it without needing the policies and buildings above.

In bigger games, you can't rely on luxuries to keep all your cities happy, even if you have all of them. Still, in this situation the auxiliary sources provide:

  • a safety net for sudden drops in happiness (capturing a city; growth spurts)
  • a means to have a few cities bigger than the usual limit
  • excess happiness to save up towards a Golden Age

I think something that might have caught people out is that in the previous Civ games, wonders and luxuries generally gave a bonus to all cities (ie. the effect scaled with the number of cities), meaning you could plan to have hundreds of huge cities and hardly worry about buildings so long as you had the luxuries and some decent wonders. Now the opposite is true and you need to focus more on buildings and policies, and less on wonders and luxuries as you expand.

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This happens to me in every game I have played, simply because I tend to take a lot of cities by conquest.

A few ideas that didn't get a lot of attention in the other answers:

1) Play as Egypt. For large civilizations, the Burial Tomb is a great way to add happiness early. There is no maintenance cost, so you are gaining 2 happiness per city for a very small cost. It replaces a building that would otherwise give no happiness, so this feels close to free.

2) When you get behind on happiness don't be afraid to raze cities. In older versions of Civ I almost never did this because I risked the AI sending a quick settler in, and it also had diplomatic ramifications. At first, I played Civ 5 this way, but I realized quickly that it was too easy for happiness to get out of hand. Now, every time I gain a city by conquest I install a puppet government and leave it in place until the city attempts to build something I don't like. If my happiness threatens to drop below -8 I start razing my least productive cities. I know that I can always send settlers back to those locations, and doing so will save me some unhappiness as well as the 5 gold per turn from maintenance on a courthouse. Avoiding the -50% production that comes from happiness less than -10 must be done at all costs. Trying to build your way out of the penalty is extremely difficult and really puts you in a hole. Razing cities is still a last resort for me, but it isn't an automatic decision like it was in Civ IV.

3) Start building happiness buildings before making war. I will typically raise and army and start building happiness buildings immediately afterward. I know that the incoming cities will cause large amounts of unhappiness so I try to generate a large positive happiness bubble before I take the cities. I've found that being over +20 before the war helps neutralize the problem before it starts.

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Two excellent options to the peace for 12 cities:

Refuse, that civ is finished, your army can slowly roll through through the remaining cities and pile up immense XP. Throw up the courthouses, you won't be hit with the quick -50 unhappiness, and you can slowly manage your conquests towards happiness. Of course, this will require another hour of your life.

Take the deal, then sell a couple of peripheral cities to another empire. Make sure other civs have a lot of gold. Even at high difficulties they'll pay many thousands for a small city, so make sure they have it. They'll actually reject your "what will you give me" because they value it so highly, they think they're getting a deal, you can get 3000-6000 for size 4 cities. So you unload a little unhappiness and the 5000 should buy about 25 points of happiness buildings. Sell 2 cities, and you just bought yourself an entire, perfectly happy, civ, ready to go (and eventually they'll finish their courthouses, and be happier)

You'll have to do all the regular happiness maintenance stuff anyway

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I really like to use a social policy that gives +1 happiness per city connected with the capital, that make my hapiness go like +80 even when I conquer other empires, the happiness is always above 50. Anyway I have many cities(like 60) and 90% of them are connected to the capital. I also build in every city: a monument, a library, a circus,a collesseum; and a theatre in most of them.

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Go to the town you don't need to grow and toggle "avoid growth"... no growth, no unhappiness. There is no point in having all your cities go over like 10 citizens.

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    Number of citizens is only part of the unhappiness equation. Number of cities is also part. So even if all your cities had no growth set, you would still get more unhappiness if you acquired new cities, such as through the trade that the OP mentions. – bwarner Jun 9 '11 at 11:41

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