Ah, happiness. As elusive as it can be in real life, grasping the nuances of different Japanese words for “happy” can be almost as puzzling.
While I can’t help you find inner peace and happiness in real life, I can teach you 7 different ways to say happy in Japanese, how they differ, and when and how to use them.
To start, let’s go over the 2 most common ways to say “happy” or “happiness” as they tend to be the most confusing: 嬉しい (ureshii) vs. 幸せ (shiawase)
1. 嬉しい (Ureshii): Happy, Glad
嬉しい (ureshii) is probably the most common way to say you’re happy in Japanese. It describes the temporary happiness that comes on suddenly, such as when you find out you did well on an exam, got a promotion, or received a surprise gift from your friends.
Usage: 嬉しい is a versatile word that can be used by anyone and to anyone— from children to your superiors at work. There’s no rule on when it can and can’t be used, except where common sense dictates—you wouldn’t use this at a funeral, for example.
To express a feeling of unhappiness, you would say, 嬉しくない (ureshikunai).
(Kyō tomodachi kara choko moratta kara ureshiku nacchatte naita yo!)
My friend gave me chocolates today, and I was so happy I cried!
(Sensei in umai to homerarete, meccha ureshikatta.)
My teacher praised me, and I was super happy.
2. 幸せ (Shiawase): Happy, Content, Good Fortune
幸せ (shiawase) is another well-known word for “happy” but is much more nuanced than 嬉しい (ureshii). 幸せ describes a more profound sense of contentment from the heart— a feeling of needing nothing else.
You might use this when cuddling with a significant other, and all is well in your life. Or, if you’re an introvert, you might use it while enjoying a cup of tea and your favorite movie at home with your pet on your lap. “Ah, I feel so 幸せ.”
Usage: Just like 嬉しい, there are no hard and fast rules on when, where, or who you can use 幸せ with. Unlike 嬉しい though、you can use 幸せ at funerals if you were describing how the person who passed had lived a happy life. You could say:
(Kanojo wa shiawase datta.)
She lived a happy life.
The negative form is 幸せじゃない (shiawase janai), which would mean “not happy.” Again, this would express a deeper feeling of unhappiness than 嬉しくない, which tends to be more temporary.
You can also say 不幸 (fukō), which is the direct opposite of 幸せ and means “miserable” or “unlucky.”
Note: Young people often use 幸せ when eating delicious food to describe (or sometimes exaggerate) how amazing the food is.
(Itsuka shiawase ni naritai nā. Ganbarō.)
I hope to be happy someday. I’ll work hard.
2. りこ: このシチューめっちゃ美味しくない？
Riko: (Kono shichū meccha oishikunai?)
Riko: Isn’t this stew amazing?
Tarō: (Oishii! Maji shiawase sugiru.
Taro: It’s so good! I’m so happy I could die.
嬉しい (Ureshii) Vs. 幸せ (Shiawase): What’s the Difference?
Differentiating the two in conversation can be difficult for those learning Japanese. But if you keep the following 3 major differences in mind, you’ll be able to say you’re happy like a pro in no time.
- Ureshii describes more fleeting joy or happiness, while shiawase is used for a deeper sense of contentment and a feeling of lacking nothing.
- When speaking of long-term and lasting happiness, shiawase is more appropriate. For example, if you wanted to say, “I hope I’ll be happy someday,” you would say いつか幸せになりたい (Itsuka shiawase ni naritai). In general, you would never say うれしくなりたい (ureshiku naritai) in any situation.
- Past tense and continuity: if you use shiawase and ureshii in the past tense, each confers a slightly different nuance on your present.
Both 嬉しかった (ureshikatta) and 幸せだった (shiawase datta) can be translated to “I was happy.” However, while 嬉しかった means that you were happy at a point in the past (and may or may not be happy right now), 幸せだった usually conveys a sense of “I was happy, but I am no longer happy.”
With shiawase datta, there’s often a sense of bittersweetness. As such, people going through a rough patch and reminiscing on better times would use this expression.
(Okanemochi ni nattara, ureshii koto ga attemo shiawase ni naru to wa kagiranai yo.)
Becoming rich doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be happy, even if some good things can happen.
5 Other Ways to Say Happy in Japanese
Now that we’ve gone over the two main ways to say happy/happiness in Japanese, let’s look at 5 other ways to express your joy.
3. 幸福 (Kōfuku): Happiness, Joy, Well-being
幸福 (kōfuku) is similar in meaning to 幸せ (shiawase). They even share the same kanji character. Kōfuku can be used as a noun or na-adjective to describe a sense of contentment and well-being. It is often used together with 感 (kan) to form 幸福感 (kōfukukan), “a feeling of well-being.”
Usage: kōfuku can be used in formal and informal situations, but it tends to be used more in formal contexts, such as writing or business.
(Kokoro ga kōfukukan ni michiteita.)
My heart was filled with happiness.
4. 満足 (Manzoku): Satisfied, Contentment
Manzoku describes being satisfied with something but does not necessarily imply being happy. Shiawase is beyond just being satisfied; you’re at the point of needing nothing else and have a general feeling of happiness.
Usage: manzoku is versatile and can be used in formal and informal situations.
The opposite of 満足 (manzoku) is 不満 (fuman), which means “dissatisfaction.”
(Kare wa genjō ni manzoku shiteiru.)
He’s satisfied with the status quo.
5. ハッピー (Happī): Happy
The katakana version of “happy.” This word tends to be used by younger people. It is most similar in nuance to 嬉しい (ureshii), which describes a fleeting sense of joy or happiness.
This version is also used in many phrases borrowed from foreign languages, such as:
- ハッピー・エンド (happī endo): happy ending
- ハッピー・バースデー (happī bāsudē): happy birthday
One major difference between the usage of ハッピー (happī) and 嬉しい (ureshii) is as a reaction in conversation. For example, if someone handed you a present, you might say, “あ、嬉しい! “to express that you feel happy. However, in the same situation, you would not be able to use ハッピー without sounding a little weird.
Usage: Because ハッピー is a casual expression, you should not use it in formal situations.
(Kanojo ni kōkyū baggu o katte agetara, kekko happī ni naru to omou yo.)
If you buy her an expensive purse, I’m sure she’ll be quite happy.
6. 喜び (Yorokobi): Joy, Delight
喜び (yorokobi) is a noun that means joy, delight, or pleasure. It comes from the verb 喜ぶ (yorokobu), which also means to be glad, delighted, or pleased.
To say you are feeling joy, you would say 喜びを感じる (yorokobi o kanjiru). However, it’s more common to say 喜んでいる (yorokondeiru) when describing someone who is pleased or delighted.
Usage: Yorokobi can be used in both formal and informal situations.
(Musume ni neko o katte agetara sugoku yorokondeita.)
My daughter was delighted after I bought her a cat.
(Kare to sugoshita sannenkan wa, yorokobi mo kanashimi mo atta.)
During my three years with him, I felt both joy and sorrow.
7. 浮かれる (Ukareru): To Be Overjoyed, To Be in High Spirits
Using a kanji that can also mean to float, 浮かれる (ukareru) is a verb that means “to make merry” or “to be in high spirits.” It can also be used in a negative sense to mean “get carried away with,” especially when paired with the suffix of ~すぎる (sugiru), to mean “too much.”
Usage: Ukareru is more casual than the other words on this list and is closer to slang. You should not use it with people older than you or in formal or business situations.
Kare wa osake nonde ukaresugi da to omou.
I think he’s getting way too carried away after drinking alcohol.
Now that you know how to differentiate these 7 words for happy in Japanese, you’re one step closer to the delight of mastering a new language. Hopefully, all the information in this article has made you feel one of the 7 different ways of “happy,” whether it’s satisfied or overjoyed!