This is the first of a series of articles about expressing various emotions in Japanese.
When trying to learn how to talk about happiness in Japanese, it is important to understand that this word has different meanings in English and each of these translates to a different word or phrase.
When you want to express the momentary feeling of being happy or fulfilled, you can use the word うれしい(ureshii, 嬉しい), which is an i-adjective. One common pattern is to use it after なんて (nante) to describe something which makes you happy.
- I’m really happy that I can go to Japan!
You can also use うれしい with the verb もらえる (moraeru, to be able to receive) in order to express happiness that someone would do something for you. For example, this is a phrase you can use if someone compliments you.
- I’m happy to have you say that.
If you want to keep things simple, you can just say “ureshii” by itself to mean “I’m happy”.
When talking about another person’s emotions in Japanese, it is typical to use the “~そう” (~sou) form of the adjective since it means they look happy, but are not necessarily actually happy. For example:
- 彼女とうれしく話してるね。 <= Unnatural
- 彼女とうれしそうに話してる。 <= Natural
- (He) is talking to her happily. (or: “He looks like he is happy talking to her”)
The next type of happiness is a deeper, more profound one, which is associated with luck and fortune. You can use the word しあわせ (shiawase or 幸せ) for this, which is a na-adjective.
- I’m happy to be blessed with a wonderful family(
The word “幸せ者” (shiawase mono) means a fortunate or lucky person.
- You’re such a lucky person!
As with うれしそう, you can use the ~sou form to say 幸せそう which means someone seems to be happy.
- The baby was sleeping happily.
Interestingly, using “うれしそう” here just feels wrong for some reason, probably because deeper feelings are implied.
By the way, the line from the well-known song “if you are happy and you know it clap your hands” is usually translated as “幸せなら手をたたこう” (shiawase nara te wo tatakou).
Two related words are 幸福 (koufuku) and 幸運 (kouun) which mean “happy” and “lucky” respectively, though I feel these are less used in everyday conversation than 幸せ. It’s good to learn the Kanji “幸” since you can see it is used for many words related to happiness. Just don’t get it mixed up with “辛” which is used in the words “tsurai” (emotionally painful) and “karai” (spicy).
If you want to describe the emotion of another person enjoying an action done for them, you can use the term よころぶ (yorokobu, 喜ぶ).
- I bet he would be happy if you bought him that toy.
You can use the te-form of this verb at the beginning of a sentence to express you would be pleased to do something.
- I’d be glad to help you.
The noun form of よろこぶ is よろこび (yorokobi) which can be translated as “joy”.
Another useful word is 大喜び (ooyorokobi) which is when someone is really enjoying something.
When you are using the word “happy” in English to refer to some type of celebration, like a birthday, you should use the phrase おめでとうございます (omedetou gozaimasu). If you are speaking with someone you are close to, it’s safe to drop the “gozaimasu” part.
- Happy Birthday!
(お誕生日 = おたんじょうび)
Finally, sometimes you can use the adjective いい (ii, 良い), which means “good”, interchangeably with “happy”.
- Today was a happy day.
If you have any ideas for the next emotion I should cover, please let me know in the comments!