Happiness 101: What Are The Differences Between Joy, Happiness, And Contentment?

by Doc Orman, M.D.

Happiness 101 Pt 1I know this is a blog about stress, but let’s talk about happiness this week.  Why happiness?  You could say the opposite of happiness is sadness, but you could also argue that the opposite of happiness is stress (unless you enjoy being stressed, that is).

PLEASE NOTE:  This series of blog posts about happiness is aimed at people who do not suffer from a serious mental health disorder or a chronic mood disorder such as chronic depression.  If you suffer from any such disorders, the information conveyed here may not apply to you.

Similarities Between Happiness And Stress

There are a number of similarities between happiness and stress.  For example, most people want to maximize their happiness and minimize their stress.  They want to be on the extreme positive end of this spectrum, while avoiding the negative end as much as they can.

Another similarity is that it pays to know exactly what you are dealing with when you use the word “happiness.”  It also pays to know where happiness comes from and where it does not come from.  This is very similar to the principles we’ve been exploring in this blog about knowing (with clarity) what “stress” really is and where it truly comes from for human beings.  So, you see, it’s not that far-fetched to want to dig into this topic of happiness more deeply.

What Is Happiness, And How Are Joy and Contentment Related To It?

When trying to understand how to clarify certain terms, especially when these terms have been used pretty loosely and somewhat interchangeably, I like to start off consulting a good old-fashioned dictionary for guidance.

So I went to the online Webster’s Dictionary, and here’s what I found: 

Joy:  The emotion excited by the acquisition or expectation of good; pleasurable feelings caused by success, good fortune, or rational prospect of possessing what we love or desire.

Opposite of Joy:  The emotion of sadness or sorrow.

Happiness:  An agreeable feeling or condition arising from good fortune.

Opposite of Happiness: unhappiness; emotions ranging from mild discontent to deep grief.

Contentment: The state of being satisfied (with what one has in life)

Opposite of Contentment: discontent; a longing for something better than one’s present situation.

The Happiness Spectrum

From this collection of definitions, I noticed that a picture was beginning to emerge.  At one end of the happiness spectrum (not happiness vs. stress, but a pure happiness spectrum), you have joy or elation, which are strongly felt positive emotions.  At the opposite end of the spectrum you have quiet and peaceful contentment, which is also very positive, yet it can be mostly devoid of emotion.  And then, everywhere in between, you have varying forms of happiness, for which a number of words (such as glee, bliss, cheerfulness, etc.) might apply.

This view of happiness— as a wide range of positive human experiences— also fits with another definition I found online and which I favor very much.  According to the online WorldNet Dictionary:

Happiness: The state of well-being characterized by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy.

Thus, I see both joy and contentment as just two specific forms of happiness, which make up the opposite poles of the pure happiness spectrum.  Happiness, therefore, can be viewed as the over-arching category, within which multiple different forms and expressions of happiness can be experienced by human beings.

So to provide a framework for our discussion about happiness this week, we can start with the following assumptions:

  1. Happiness always involves positive thoughts, feelings, or emotions. 
  2. Happiness is not just one thing—rather, it can take multiple forms and include multiple expressions.

Words Of Wisdom

As I was researching the topic of happiness online, I stumbled upon an excellent source for 1,581 quotations on this subject.  Many of these were very enlightening. So, I decided to share some of my favorites with you, hoping you too might find them inspiring as well.

I’ll include of batch of these quotes at the end of each of my three posts this week, and as you read through them, please make a note of the ones that moved you the most and then share your thoughts in the comment section below each post.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/happiness

“For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.” ― Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

“People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.” ― Abraham Lincoln

“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” ― Dalai Lama XIV

“Count your age by friends, not years. Count your life by smiles, not tears.” ― John Lennon

“Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.” ― George Burns

“Success is getting what you want, happiness is wanting what you get” ― W.P. Kinsella

“It’s been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will.” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

“Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.” ― Mother Teresa

“Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.” ― Guillaume Apollinaire

“Generally speaking, the most miserable people I know are those who are obsessed with themselves; the happiest people I know are those who lose themselves in the service of others…By and large, I have come to see that if we complain about life, it is because we are thinking only of ourselves.” ― Gordon B. Hinckley

“One of the keys to happiness is a bad memory.” ― Rita Mae Brown

“It isn’t what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it.” ― Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

“I’d far rather be happy than right any day.” ― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

“I must learn to be content with being happier than I deserve.” ― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

“The greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.” ― Martha Washington

“A mathematical formula for happiness: Reality divided by Expectations. There are two ways to be happy: improve your reality or lower your expectations.” ― Jodi Picoult, Nineteen Minutes

Special FREE Download Gift!

Free Downloadable Four-Book Stress Relief Library

To get your own complete download of this entire four-book Stress Relief Secrets REVEALED library, go to http://beststresshelp.com and download it right now. Also, when you get these four PDF e-books on your computer, don’t just let them sit there! Don’t promise yourself that you’ll eventually get around to reading them later. That usually doesn’t work, and it’s very likely you will never, ever get around to reading them. And the information they contain is way too valuable and useful for you to miss out on any of it.

Once you do download these four e-books, I’m going to send you an email every day, for the next seven days, to support you in reading them all.

Go to http://beststresshelp.com right now and submit your best email address. Then, you’ll get an email asking you to confirm your intentions. When this email arrives (if you don’t see it within 10-15 minutes, check your spam folder), please click on the highlighted link and you’ll go directly to the download page, where all four e-books can be downloaded as one composite .zip file.

Best wishes and happy reading (and learning)!

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

David Malam October 22, 2012 at 7:38 AM

Hello Dr Orman,
I would like to use some of your articles on my blog.
“Spiritual Happiness”
I ask your kind permission to do so.
Of course links and references to yourself/books etc. will remain.

With my warm regards,
David Malam
Business Doctors, Graz, Austria


Doc Orman, M.D. October 22, 2012 at 2:51 PM

David: You have my permission. Thanks.


David Malam October 22, 2012 at 4:41 PM

Thank You Very Much Dr Orman.
Warmest wishes,


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