Are joy and fun the same thing?

by | Jul 18, 2023 | Blog, Stress Management

Our relationship with language is interesting. When it comes to our pursuit of happiness, joy and fun are two of the first things that often come to mind. We all crave moments of happiness and seek ways to experience them, and we tend to use joy and fun interchangeably, as synonymous. Are they interchangeable? What if bringing awareness to this one subtle choice of words were a key to enhancing your life?

Joy and fun are both words used for emotions of happiness and enjoyment. The thing is, they stem from different sources and have distinct characteristics. I love how my co-host Stephanie sees the two: “Fun is the state of the ego, joy is the state of the soul.” 

What does that mean, and why does it matter?

All About Joy

Joy is a deep-rooted emotion that arises from within. It is a profound and lasting sense of satisfaction, contentment, and inner peace that transcends external circumstances. Joy emanates from a place of fulfillment and is often associated with a deep connection to your values, purpose, and relationships. It can be experienced during moments of gratitude, love, and spiritual connection, some of those can even be situations of sadness or “not so fun” – yet you experience joy. 

My father passed away several years ago and we had two celebrations of life for him. One in the Chicago area and one in the Los Angeles area. Both of those were joy-filled experiences for me. The stories that people shared reached right into my heart, it truly was a celebration of his life. We laughed and cried and I felt a deep, exquisite joy to be there. Those two moments in time will stay with me forever, they changed me. I would not categorize them as fun, and they were filled with joy.

Let’s Have Some Fun

Fun, on the other hand, is a lighter and more fleeting emotion. It is associated with amusement, pleasure, and lighthearted entertainment. Fun tends to arise from external activities, such as engaging in hobbies, playing games, or participating in recreational events. It brings temporary enjoyment and can be a delightful way to unwind and experience a sense of playfulness. Sometimes fun is also joyful, and sometimes it’s just on the surface.

Our culture’s addiction to ‘fun’ is often where we get caught. Marketing tells us ‘not to miss out’. Without a clear concept of where fun fits into your life, and that joy is what fills our souls and fulfills our longing for happiness, we believe the marketers and we chase fun.

At one point in my dance career, I was climbing into the upper rankings and got noticed by the ‘trendy’ crowd (yep, those exist in the dance world, too). I was invited to one of their parties and canceled on a good friend so that I could go. I was chasing what I thought would make me happy. Long story short, I had fun, and I left feeling empty. All the photos showed a great time. Everyone kept talking about how much fun it was. Yes, I’ll agree, it was fun – and it left me wanting, needing something else. Like when I stand in front of the fridge looking for something to eat when I’m not hungry – I was seeking something more. What worked for them wasn’t the right place/way for me to find my fulfillment. 

It’s Just Semantics

Or is it?

While joy and fun share similarities in the sense that they’re both associated with happiness, as you can see, they differ in their origins, nature and impact. Joy is that internal state that feeds and sustains us, it emerges from within oneself. Fun is the external, sugary donut that gives us a momentary high from which we can often crash later, it stems from external sources or activities and can be addictive. Joy can be sustained even in the absence of external stimuli, as it arises from a deep-seated contentment, while fun relies on external factors to make it happen.

Joy is that profound, long-lasting emotion associated with a deeper sense of meaning and fulfillment. Fun, on the other hand, is often temporary and fleeting, dependent on the duration and nature of the activity or experience. Joy is rooted in one’s core values and purpose, while fun is focused on immediate pleasure and amusement.

This is not to say that they are mutually exclusive, or that fun, in and of itself, is bad, wrong or evil. Far from it. There are several key points here:

  1. Fun can be a path to joy
  2. Most often there’s an overlap between joy and fun
  3. Bringing awareness to ‘fun’ allows us to deepen into experiencing joy
  4. Becoming conscious of ‘chasing’ fun gives us the opportunity to choose things that will be both fun AND joyful

As I’ve gotten older I value my time more and am selective about where I go, with whom, and to do what. I’m not interested in the ‘empty calories’ that I thought were so important at one point in my life – the outer accolades, being seen with the right people, or following the crowd. I consciously choose things that will have the fun/joy overlap.

In 2021, I had the privilege of visiting Sable Island in Canada. Sable Island is a national park off the coast of Nova Scotia which is both beautiful and a superbly challenging environment. It’s an ever changing sand landscape that is home to wild horses, seals, countless endangered species and species that can’t be found anywhere else. Only 200 lay people a year manage to get to the Island with guides. I chose an adventure that filled me with both joy and fun. 

Consciously choosing, or creating, moments of fun that include joy (for you) means you uplevel life and experience a greater sense of well-being and fulfillment.

Your Path to Greater Happiness and Fulfillment 

This is not about judgment, one being ‘right’ the other ‘wrong’, it’s about awareness. Noting the differences between joy and fun allows us to be more aware of our inner and outer lives and the importance of both. Marketing is a multi-billion dollar industry focused on making you think you’re not enough and you need what they are selling. Getting out from under that by bringing awareness to two simple words is one of the most empowering things you can do. 

Take a moment now and reflect on the difference between joy and fun in your life. 

  • Where have you experienced each?
  • Where have they overlapped?
  • Where have you experienced one without the other? 
  • Going forward, how does this inform your life and your choices? 

Remember, joy stems from within, and offers a profound and long lasting sense of contentment and fulfillment. Fun is external and associated with temporary enjoyment and light-heartedness. While joy provides a deeper connection to our inner selves, fun adds a touch of excitement and playfulness to our lives.  The key to the whole thing is to choose them with awareness.


In case this is the first time we’re meeting, I’m Maren, an executive life coach, speaker, dancer, and serial entrepreneur empowering you to step into your purpose and live your most fulfilled life. To learn more about how we can work together, one-on-one, to uncover your unique gifts and get you dancing with life, click here. For corporate trainings or inquiries regarding speaking engagements, please complete this form.

In case this is the first time we’re meeting, I’m Maren, an executive life coach, speaker, dancer, and serial entrepreneur empowering you to step into your purpose and live your most fulfilled life.

When you’re ready, here are a few ways I can help regardless of where you are on your journey to self discovery:

Book me to speak at your next event and inspire your team of high achievers to step into their purpose, master their mindset, amplify their impact, and find fulfillment.

Join the Dance with Life Program: Uncover your unique gifts and experience a more fulfilling way of success with my Dance with Life program. I’ve helped dozens of high achievers transform their lives. Learn how you can join this transformative journey.

Download my free guide – “Spinning Life in Your Favor”: Access three simple steps you can take TODAY to start dancing with life instead of slogging through it.

Listen to The Soulful Leader Podcast: Tune in to the Soulful Leader Podcast every Tuesday for inspiration, tools, and actionable tips for personal and professional growth.

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