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The Difference Between Joy and Happiness.

The difference between joy and happiness

"Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions." Dalai Lama

There seem to be many awareness days in the wellbeing calendar this month, but one that stands out for me is the “International Day of Happiness” on the 20 March. As the weather (hopefully) gets warmer, we naturally gravitate outside after the long winter months, and I think this naturally lifts our mood. So why is it important for employers to have a happy workforce? Well simply because they are more productive. A recent study by Oxford University showed that a happy workforce is 13% more productive, click HERE to read the full article.

Before we look at ways we can live a happier, more joyful life I wanted to explore and understand the difference between the two as they can often get mixed up.

The Definition of Joy vs. Happiness

Most of us want to feel happy and fulfilled in our lives, but what does that mean? I think the Better Up website perfectly captures the meaning of these terms, but as you will see they are often confused. In fact in writing this blog there were many opposing views on the subject. The Better Up website defines joy as: “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, but happiness is a state of being that is, for the most part,


By the reverse, I thought it also worth sharing a different perspective from Katherine Atherton at Embark Behavioural Health who sees things another way. She defines joy and happiness as:

“Happiness is a feeling of contentment or satisfaction in the present moment, based on what we do and how we behave. It can be fleeting, as it is based on external factors and reflects something happening to you.”

Joy on the other hand, “Is a deeper emotion than happiness that comes from within – from a sense of purpose and meaning, it is a more long-lasting state of being.” Katherine Atherton, Embark Behavioural Health

As we have seen above the two emotions really do often get confused, but ultimately we are all striving to lead a fulfilled, content and happy life. Feeling happy or joyful is often as a result of a dopamine hit, initially triggered by a fleeting experience or event that is temporary. To enable us to live a more joyful and happy life we must first start by understanding ourselves, what gives us purpose and feelings of contentment. Living a more joyful and happy life can take practice and sometimes requires a mindset shift, but with this understanding, insight and being more authentic to ourselves, it can be achieved.

How can we live a happier more joyful life?

By paying attention and being mindful of the smaller moments of happiness and joy, we can move towards a more contented life. We talk a lot about our wellbeing pillars and by focusing on them in our workshops we can start to create more happiness amongst our teams. Here are some examples of how happiness and joy can be triggered, in the workplace:

1. Exercising regularly. When we exercise we release endorphins which can help us to relieve pain, reduce stress and boost our wellbeing.

2. Being outside in nature and moving your body can help you to recover from stressful events, it reduces our cortisol levels and muscle tension. It is also a great way to connect and socialise with others; in the workplace walk and talk meetings are becoming ever increasingly popular for this reason.

3. Socialising and spending time with friends and family. By creating a connection, community and sense of belonging, it can make you feel a sense of purpose. There are many ways this can be achieved in the workplace, perhaps by having team social events or setting up groups such as “Women in Leadership”.

4. Volunteering or doing meaningful work can also help us to have a sense of purpose and focus. It is brilliant to see that so many organisations now coordinate CSR days, enabling teams to give something back to those worthwhile causes in the local community.

5. Doing things you enjoy. Once you understand your true authentic self, finding and focusing on those activities you enjoy will help increase the number of happy and joyful experiences.

6. Meditation or writing a journal can also help us to reflect, appreciate how lucky we are and on the positives around us.

7. Being in alignment with company values. It is important for organisations to create a psychologically safe environment for their teams, by showing them respect, giving them autonomy and showing that they are valued.

In Summary

To live a content, happy and joyful life a mindset change is sometimes required. By proactively developing resilience and focusing on the areas that create happiness we can make a change. To mark the International Day of Happiness on 20 March at 1pm, I would like to invite you to join myself, Jenny and Andy in a panel discussion on this topic, click HERE to reserve your spot.

Alternatively, if you would like to see how we can bring more joy and happiness to your workplace please get in touch!


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