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

This month, Rituals is on a mission to make one million people happy but, let’s face it, we're complex beings who experience a wide range of positive, negative and neutral emotions. So, today, we’re focusing in on the emotions that are often considered to be interchangeable: happiness, joy, and fun. You might think they are pretty similar, but happiness ambassador Mo Gawdat begs to differ.


Yesterday, we shared Mo’s 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.


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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 then 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 incessant thinking that can overwhelm our brains. Unfortunately, though, fun doesn't last forever and it definitely doesn’t fix the underlying problems. It’s merely a distraction that we keep coming back to.


Of course, 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’.


Often, we think of joy as an emotion we experience during the bigger moments in life: when you buy your first home, on your wedding day, or when your child is born, but as the professor and author Brené Brown says, joy “comes to us in moments – often ordinary moments. Sometimes we miss out on the bursts of joy because we’re too busy chasing down extraordinary moments.” It’s possible to find joy in the everyday, 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.


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

Mo Gawdat.

Joy emerges from a deep understanding that life, ‘with its mighty wheels in motion, always behaves as it always has and it always will’. We’ll all hit bumps and pot holes 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.


...Find out where joy resides, and give it a voice far beyond singing. For to miss the joy is to miss all.

Robert Louis Stevenson

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


Want to train your happiness muscle? Join the Rituals Happiness Challenge, with Mo Gawdat, former Chief Business Officer at Google [X] and author of Solve for Happy. It’s a 14-day interactive journey that will transform your life and help you find true, long-lasting happiness.