What Happiness Is Not … happiness vs. fun

So, what is happiness?

In America, the Declaration of Independence claims it to be a guaranteed inalienable right. Songs and poems have been written of it. Blogs and books are named after it. Philosophers speculate on it. Psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists work with people who lack it. People everywhere, young and old, rich and poor, of every stripe, want more of it.

And yet its definition remains peculiarly difficult to nail down. Let’s begin, then, with the easier task of describing what happiness isn’t.

Does Happiness Equal Fun ?

It’s true that happy people have fun. But many people experience fun who are not happy. Happiness and fun, in other words, are not synonymous.

Fun is situational. “The movie was fun, especially that amazing climactic chase scene!” “The game was enjoyable because we had so much fun there!”

Generally, unhappy people can experience the adrenaline thrill of a parachute drop. But this blog is not about how to have more fun in life; it’s about happiness.

When the game is over and the car is bogged down in traffic, the fun is over. The fun situation ended, so the fun did too. But happy people are generally happy whether at a ballgame (having fun) or on the freeway (not having fun).

Unhappy people who never learned this truth spend so much of life spinning their wheels in the loose sand of disappointment while reaching for happiness by pursuing fun only to discover you can’t find happiness in a thing that doesn’t produce it.

Fun enhances life for those already happy. But for the unhappy, it’s a diversion from their unhappiness.

Pursuing fun while thinking it will produce joy and happiness can leave a bitter taste of defeat or surrender or resignation in the mouths of those who were taught the wrong life lesson about the nature of the happy life.

Resignation comes from the futility of the pursuit. It can never lead to a successful attainment of happiness, so many simply give up trying. Despair that so much effort has led to so little happiness can cause further bouts of unhappiness, besides.

A Nobler Pursuit

It’s perfectly fine to pursue fun. I even highly recommend it (in moderation, as in all things, of course). Just don’t confuse its pursuit with the nobler pursuit of happiness.

Pursuing fun requires nothing of the person who pursues it. But happiness requires personal growth and maturity and the exercise of spiritual, moral, emotional, and mental muscles. The pursuit of happiness causes us to change, to transform, degree by degree into a better person, into a happier person.


Whereas fun and excitement are fleeting things, happiness endures long after the thrill of the game is over. It persists beyond the limits of the excitement an activity produces. It outlives the duration of the thrill.

Whereas fun defines the moment, happiness defines the person

Happiness is taken with us, into fun moments and into the moments after the fun has long ago faded into a distant memory.

In other words, happiness is the foundation on which both a life of fun and a life of challenge is constructed. If that foundation is missing or seriously damaged, all the fun in the world won’t adequately replace what’s missing. Happiness is built. Fun is experienced.

So go build a life of happiness … and then the moments of fun will be that much more, well, fun!

What other problems of definition get in the way of happiness?

  • Do you agree that fun is not the same as happiness?
  • How are you doing in your pursuit?
  • Any secrets or tips to share?
  • I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!