Joy Vs. Happiness. What’s The Difference?

By Sarah Fader |Updated July 8, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Aaron Horn, LMFT

We all want to feel happy and fulfilled in our lives, but what does that mean? Joy and happiness are not the same things. Many people conflate 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," which necessarily implies that joy occurs for a brief, defined period of time, whereas happiness is a state of being that is, for the most part, on-going. There are a lot of ways to look at joy and happiness, but the most crucial distinction to keep in mind is that happiness is long-lasting, whereas joy is more of a fleeting feeling.

Want To Find More Happiness In Your Life?

Your Happiness is Up to You

As human beings, we seek out things that bring lasting joy or happiness, but for many of us, it takes some work to determine what leads us to be truly happy. 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's not realistic or fair to the other person. It puts a lot of undue pressure on the other individual to maintain their partner's mental health. Our happiness is our responsibility, and no one else is responsible for it except for you.

Achieving Your Life Purpose

One thing to look at is 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. It could be that you enjoy helping people, and there are a variety of avenues to pursue that through such as volunteer work, caregiving work, and work in the medical field. There are a couple of ways to get your brain pumping on this topic and start to think about what your purpose is and how to meet it in this lifetime.

I Can't Just "Be Happy."

You may have heard that old Bobby McFerrin song, "Don't Worry, Be Happy." That's a great sentiment, but unfortunately, that's not how happiness works. It would be lovely if we could snap our fingers and suddenly be rid of misery. It's not 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 aren't going to bring us closer to our goal of fulfillment. When someone says "be happy," that puts a lot of pressure on the other person receiving that statement. Happiness is a goal, and there are many steps involved to get to the destination.

Destination Vs. Affect

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; being content with who you are, what you have to offer the world, and how you can continue to grow. Joy, on the other hand, is a momentary effect or fleeting feeling. Happiness doesn't mean that you'll be happy all of the time; you'll still experience anger, grief, sadness, and a wide array of emotions, as we all do. Moments of joy can help you work toward happiness, but to find sustained happiness, you have to learn to be content on your own - even when those exciting moments aren't occurring, you'll be satisfied in stillness and peace.

Happiness and Joy Work Together

What you may not realize is that 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. Let's look into the pressure of being happy and why that's detrimental to people who are actively working on their mental health. There's a pervasive dialogue in our society that focuses on long-term happiness. We need to work hard to find a place of contentment. There's much that goes into finding a sense of emotional wellness, such as talking to a therapist, making the shift towards a more fulfilling career.

When you reach out to a skilled mental health professional and confess that you're unhappy, that's the first step toward finding your purpose. You're not alone in your discontent, and it's okay to admit that things aren't as you want them to be. What can you do to find happiness? One thing that you can work on is your mental health, which will guide you towards a state of prolonged baseline happiness or contentedness as opposed to fleeting joy. 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.

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 that you have many things are positive influences. It's time to take inventory of what you have and notice the things that contribute to joyous moments. Take some time to sit down and get out some paper and a pen. 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. You want to remember who you are and what brings you sparks of joy. How do you know what brings you joy? What if you're hitting a block and you can't seem to figure that out? That's okay, and there are things you can do to get over that slump and start understanding what makes you feel good.


Being happy can take some time, and if you're reading this, you're taking an essential step toward that goal. Learning about how to work towards happiness is helpful. Maybe you're struggling to achieve a sense of prolonged happiness, but you can be thankful for what you have in your life. An excellent place to start is with feeling grateful. When you're thankful for what you have in your life, you'll 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. Make a list of 10 things you are You can make your list extremely simple:

  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 write what makes you happy or grateful, no matter how big or small!

Mental Illness and 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. Your mental health matters, but remember that having a chronic mental health condition does not prevent you from achieving long-term happiness or moments of joy. If you're finding that your condition is hurting you, 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 have the right to find a sense of peace and happiness regardless of the mental health challenges you face.

Online Therapy Can Increase Your Happiness

Want To Find More Happiness In Your Life?

Online therapy is a fantastic place to start your journey toward happiness. You don't have to do this alone. A seasoned online therapist is there to assist you in finding ways to increase joyful moments and work toward a sustained level of happiness. The online counselors at BetterHelp are here to help you better understand what makes you happy and support you on your journey to living a fulfilling life. You may have some mental health issues that you find are preventing you from being happy in a sustained way. For example, those who struggle with clinical depression might find being happy painful. Remember that just because you are depressed doesn't mean you cannot be happy. It means that you have a real health condition, and therapy can help you cope with the feelings associated with clinical depression. Don't give up hope on 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.

Helpful mental health resources delivered to your inbox
For Additional Help & Support With Your Concerns
Speak with a Licensed Therapist
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.