Happiness, joy, and fun - why knowing the difference is key

Let's face it. We're complex beings who experience a wide range of positive, negative and neutral emotions. So, today, we're focusing on the emotions that are often considered to be interchangeable: happiness, joy, and fun. You might think they are similar, but happiness ambassador Mo Gawdat begs to differ.


Yesterday, we shared Mo’Happiness Equation, a formula revealing the secret to happiness—that when your expectations are equal to, or more than, the reality of events, then you are happy. But how does being happy differ from fun and joy? Keep reading to find out the differences and how understanding the nuances can transform your life for the better.

Revealed: Joy and fun in relation to happiness 

Fun is defined in the dictionary as 'enjoyment, amusement, or light-hearted pleasure'. If you're in the right mindset, fun is wonderful, but if you're not happy, it can easily be leant on as an escape from day-to-day life, fears, and responsibilities. As the novelist, Will Thomas rightly said, "there is no fear when you're having fun". And so, many of us swap out true happiness for, what Mo calls, weapons of mass distraction: excessive partying, drinking, eating, and more.



Always remember: Fun and pleasure in any form are only ever a temporary state of escape - a state of unawareness.

Mo Gawdat.

Biologically-speaking fun has its place, of course! Sex brings us pleasure—and that urges our species to reproduce. But some seek fun as a way to numb their pain and suffering. And fun is an effective painkiller — it mimics happiness by switching off the constant thinking that can overwhelm our brains. Unfortunately, though, fun doesn't last forever and it doesn't fix the underlying problems. In the right mindset, fun is no bad thing but it should be seen as a happiness supplement rather than a painkiller. Next time you're having fun, ask yourself 'am I using this moment of fun as an escape?' 


Joy, on the other hand, is 'a state of uninterrupted happiness', notes Mo. 'I use the term joy loosely here because, unfortunately, the English language is not equipped with a term that describes this state accurately. Inner peace, stillness, calm—these are all close. Perhaps a mixture of all of them is closest, but none of them alone captures the true meaning'.  


It's possible to find joy every day, but like describing the scent of a rose to someone with no sense of smell, true joy is something you know when you experience it. Joy emerges from a deep understanding that life, 'with its mighty wheels in motion, always behaves as it always has and always will'. We'll all hit bumps and potholes on the road of life, but with a joyful mindset, you realistically expect a bit of harshness along the path. Understanding that joy can be found in the small moments, not just the big, that's when you will find it. 

True joy is to be in harmony with life exactly as it is

Mo Gawdat.

Reaching a state of pure joy, is not easy. It takes commitment and requires you to work on your happiness every day.  



Try writing a letter to your future self. As we now know from Day 3 of the Happiness Challenge, there is a formula for happiness - you are happy when life meets your expectations. Joy, however, is the practice of being happy more frequently, regardless of what life throws at you. Joy requires a lot of connection to yourself and the rest of the world. So, with that in mind, what would a life filled with joy look like to you?  


Write a letter to yourself ten years from now. Where will you be? What will you be doing? What are your hopes and dreams for yourself and your loved ones? It may feel awkward at first but stick with it. This is such a powerful exercise. Tip: If you need a starting point, look at your Happiness List from day one for inspiration. 


Click here for the Happiness Challenge.