Joy Vs. Happiness: What’s The Difference And How Can They Be Achieved?

Medically reviewed by Katrice Hollins, LCSW, LICSW
Updated January 25, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Most of us want to feel happy and fulfilled in our lives, but what does that mean, exactly? Joy and happiness are not the same things. Many people combine the words "joy" and "happiness," thinking that they have the same meaning, but there is a crucial difference between the two. 

The definition of joy is "a feeling that is evoked by wellbeing or good fortune," whereas happiness is defined as a "state of wellbeing." This implies that joy occurs for a brief, defined period of time, whereas happiness is a state of being that is, for the most part, ongoing.

Feelings of joy and happiness are attainable.

Destination Vs. Feeling

A simple way to look at it is that happiness is something to work towards in your life; it's an end goal or destination. You can envision yourself in the state of happiness by achieving the goal of internal fulfillment. Happiness is being content with who you are, what you have to offer the world, and how you can continue to grow. Happiness doesn't mean that you'll be happy all the time; you'll still experience anger, grief, sadness, and a wide array of emotions, as we all do.

Joy, on the other hand, is a momentary affect or fleeting feeling. These feelings are triggered by something specific, such as getting good news or receiving an act of kindness. While moments of joy can help you work toward happiness, to find sustained happiness, it’s important to learn to be content on your own.

Happiness and Joy Work Together

Happiness and joy work together to provide you with a sense of wellbeing. The trouble is that the people around us may not understand that being happy isn't an instantaneous process. The societal pressure to be happy can be detrimental to people who are actively working on their mental health.

There's a pervasive dialogue in our society that encourages short-term effort towards long-term happiness. It suggests that we can work hard now to find a place of lasting contentment. There's often much more than simple effort that goes into finding a sense of emotional wellness, though. And it can be a lifelong process.

If you’re feeling unhappy, know that you're not alone in your discontentment. It's okay to admit that things aren't as you want them to be. When you reach out to a skilled mental health professional with feelings of unhappiness, that's often the first step toward finding fulfillment. 

Here are some other suggestions that you can implement on your own or with the help of a mental health professional.

Taking Inventory

It can be helpful to take a moment to reflect on what's going on in your life. You may be surprised upon reflection to find many positive aspects. It's time to take inventory of what you have and notice the things that contribute to joyous moments. 

Write down five things that you want to achieve in your life. These are things to work towards so that you can gain the fulfillment that you want. Make sure that these things are significant to you; they should be things that feed your soul and purpose rather than external items.

Both joy and happiness are things that come from within. When you sit down to figure out what brings you joy, you are taking inventory of yourself. The goal here is to remember who you are and what brings you sparks of joy.


Being happy can take some time; if you're reading this, you're taking an essential step toward that goal. Learning about how to work towards happiness is helpful. An excellent place to start is with gratitude. When you're thankful for what you have in your life, you may begin to experience more moments of joy. 

There are small things to be grateful for, such as your morning cup of coffee, or spending time with a good friend. It doesn't have to be a big thing that makes you happy. Joy can derive from many small things. Start by writing a gratitude list each day for one week. Include 10 things you are grateful for. Consider this example:

  1. I'm grateful for my pets.

  2. I'm thankful for waking up in the morning.

  3. I'm happy I have a place to live.

  4. I'm thankful for my job.

  5. I'm grateful I have a beautiful family.

  6. I'm delighted that I live in a big city.

  7. I'm grateful for the food in my fridge.

  8. I'm thankful for my partner.

  9. I'm happy that I have a journal to write my feelings in every day.

  10. I'm thankful for this list!

A gratitude list doesn't have to be complicated or overwhelming. You are welcome to include anything that makes you happy or grateful, no matter how big or small.

Finding Happiness In Yourself First

You may have heard people say, "happiness comes from within," and there's a lot of truth to that statement. When you turn to other people to provide you with a lasting feeling of being happy, you will inevitably be disappointed. Some people who are involved in co-dependent relationships vehemently believe that their partner can give them a consistent sense of contentment, but that may not be realistic or fair to the other person. Instead, it can put a lot of undue pressure on the other individual to maintain their partner's mental health.

When considering your own happiness, you may want to evaluate your morals, ethics, and what gives you a sense of purpose in the world. Maybe, you have a nurturing spirit and want to work with children or have children of your own one day. It could be that you enjoy helping people through volunteer work, caregiving work, or work in the medical field. In the pursuit of happiness, it can be beneficial to think about what you feel that your purpose is and how you can work to meet it in this lifetime.

It would be lovely if we could snap our fingers and suddenly be rid of misery, but it's not often realistic or possible to do that. Happiness is a journey, and it's essential to remember that the mission isn't necessarily linear. We try different things to get to a place of contentment, and some things work while others simply aren't going to bring us closer to our goal of fulfillment. There may be many different steps (as well as some missteps) involved to get to the destination.

Mental Illness And Happiness

Happiness isn't the opposite of being depressed or having a mental health issue, and in fact, people with mental health conditions can experience happiness. Let's say you're living with a chronic mental illness, and you're finding it difficult to be happy. That's an understandable feeling, but it doesn't have to be the case.

You can be happy and have a mental health condition. One of the ways to do that is by seeing a mental health professional and maintaining a treatment plan. If you're experiencing uncomfortable symptoms, or you want to talk out some of your challenges, one place you can do that is in therapy. Whether you talk with a therapist in your local area or an online counselor, you deserve to find a sense of peace and happiness regardless of the mental health challenges you face.

Online Therapy Can Increase Your Happiness
Feelings of joy and happiness are attainable.

Mental health issues can prevent people from sustaining feelings of joy or happiness . These same issues can also prevent you from seeking help. Many people who experience symptoms of anxiety or depression, for example, withdraw from others. They could also have difficulty keeping a daily schedule of activities. 

This is where internet-based counseling can be helpful. With online therapy, you can meet with your counselor at a time that’s convenient for you and from the comfort of your home. You can also message your counselor at any time, so that you can record little moments of joy in your day and work with your therapist to create a plan for long-term happiness.

Studies have shown promise for therapeutic treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) delivered online, especially for those individuals experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression. Many people find that the convenience and comfort of at-home appointments outweighs any potential loss of connection from in-person sessions, and some even comment that they feel more connected with this more casual environment.


Remember that just because you are not happy right now doesn't mean you can never be happy. It may mean that you are experiencing a real mental health condition that can be addressed through therapy. There is hope for finding the joy and happiness you deserve. Search the network of experienced therapists here at BetterHelp and find an online counselor who is here to support your journey to happiness.

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