It's common wisdom among couples' therapists that one of the most common reasons relationships fail (after fights about money and child rearing) is unrealistic expectations of happiness. Love, as represented in film and popular culture, is invariably the giddy ecstasy that typically characterizes the first few months of a relationship. People seduced by this commercial image of romance often wonder what's wrong with them, or their partner, when day-to-day reality isn't like When Harry Met Sally.
This is true, too, of the "pursuit of happiness." Increasingly, psychologists are eschewing the word happiness in favor of the less fraught term well being. Well being, they argue, accounts for the fact that all human lives are a balance between aspiration and frustration – that there's no such thing as perfect happiness. Measures of well-being are challenging to develop, but typically they take into account factors such as health, income, and family size. Complicating the picture is the fact that the power of any given factor to affect well-being is culturally determined. Money may matter more to happiness in England, say, than in Mexico, and more in some British subcultures than others.
Still - well being promises to provide psychologists, and, increasingly, economists, with a more accurate and complex people of how people are doing than happiness ever could.