Joy and happiness are both emotions where a person has feelings of contentment or satisfaction. But both these feelings may differ from each other based on the reasons causing the feeling and the nature of the feeling. J.D. Salinger, the author of Catcher in the Rye, once wrote, "The fact is always obvious much too late, but the most singular difference between happiness and joy is that happiness is a solid and joy a liquid."

Comparison chart

Happiness versus Joy comparison chart
Edit this comparison chartHappinessJoy
Meaning Happiness is an emotion in which one experiences feelings ranging from contentment and satisfaction to bliss and intense pleasure. Joy is a stronger, less common feeling than happiness. Witnessing or achieving selflessness to the point of personal sacrifice frequently triggers this emotion. Feeling spiritually connected to a god or to people.
Causes earthly experiences, material objects Spiritual experiences, caring for others, gratitude, thankfulness
Emotion outward expression of elation inward peace and contentment
Time frame temporary, based on outward circumstances lasting, based on inward circumstances
Example In the midst of life's ups and downs happiness is still present. Serving others, sometimes through sacrifice with no possible personal gain. Witnessing justice for the less fortunate. Feeling close to a god.
Analogy Happiness is a state. Think of it as a 100 story building and each level corresponds to a happiness value. And that happiness will persist for quite a long time Joy is that sudden burst of happiness. Joy is like the elevator in that building that takes you up to higher levels of happiness only for a small amount of time and back.
Life Happiness can be experienced from any good activity, food or company. Joy is a byproduct of a moral lifestyle.

Differences in Meaning

Calvin (from Calvin and Hobbes) jumping for joy.
Calvin (from Calvin and Hobbes) jumping for joy.

Joy is

  1. the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation: She felt the joy of seeing her son's success.
  2. a source or cause of keen pleasure or delight; something or someone greatly valued or appreciated: Her prose style is a pure joy.
  3. the expression or display of glad feeling; festive gaiety.
  4. a state of happiness or felicity.

Happiness is

  1. the quality or state of being happy.
  2. good fortune; pleasure; contentment; joy.
Joy seems to me a step beyond happiness—happiness is a sort of atmosphere you can live in sometimes when you’re lucky. Joy is a light that fills you with hope and faith and love. - Adela Rogers St. Johns, Some Are Born Great


Happiness may be caused by luck, good fortune, or other person-centric pleasures. Joy is caused by elation at a moment in time. Joy may not always be about oneself but be about others' contentment also. Happiness is about the self's pleasure. Happiness may dwell on materialistic, worldly pleasure while joy is derived from soul satisfying, emotional well being. While happiness comes from outside things, joy is about inner self. To quote an example here: If one wins a lottery of $10,000, they would be very happy but if that person works hard and sets up his business and earns $10,000, he would feel joy. Though the ultimate benefit is the same, the cause being different makes the final emotion different.

In the following video, Harvard psychology professor Dan Gilbert talks about how happiness can be "synthesized," or created.

Differences in Timeframe

Happiness may be momentary and may not last for a long time. This is because happiness is caused by reasons that may not influence long term contentment. Joy, on the other hand is more related to the inner self and may last for a longer period of time. When one feels happy, then he's happy for sometime over that subject, but when one is overjoyed by something then that feeling lasts to content him for sometime. An example to clarify this can be: A person eats a good meal at a restaurant and likes it, he is happy about it. But he will forget about it later.
But when one makes that meal themselves for the first time and likes it, then it is joyous. This joyful feeling will be remembered by that person for a long time.


Joy warms a person's heart while happiness merely pleases. This is also because of the difference in the reasons behind the two feelings. Happiness brings pleasure but Joy brings true contentment to one's heart.

Examples of happiness vs joy

Winning a lottery brings Happiness to a person. Giving birth to a child will bring joy to a person.

Antonyms of happiness and joy

One way to understand the difference between joy and happiness is to look at the opposites of the two feelings. The opposite of joy is fear while the opposite of happiness is unhappiness and misery.

Picture Gallery: Moments of Joy

Some moments capturing the simple joys and happiness that life has to offer.


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