Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Igniting a Discussion on Happiness


In my day job as an AP teacher I have the privilege of introducing students to literary works of merit. I look forward to their insights and perspectives.

Image result for f451 images are you happy

We have just begun Ray Bradbury’s classic dystopian tale of government control: Fahrenheit 451. This deceptively easy read contains complicated topics. One discussion topic is happiness. Guy Montag is not a happy fireman, or at least he was one until Clarisse asked him, “Are you happy?”

Image result for f451 images are you happy

So I put it to my students a discussion statement prompted by Clarisse: “Happiness is a choice, not a given.”

A lively discussion developed with a split between total agreement and a few who decided happiness was a complicated issue and they couldn’t come to complete agreement about it.

I then prompted them with this question: “What is the difference between happiness and joy?”

Their conclusions were opposite of my mine.

They said: “Happiness is long lasting, while joy is a temporary emotion.”

Hmm, I’ve always reckoned it to be the opposite. Happiness is a temporary state, dependent on outside circumstances, yet joy lives deep in our being, dwelling in our soul.

Nope. They didn’t buy that. Maybe I did have it wrong. I proceeded in the course of action that all teachers must do when wondering if what they are teaching to their students is baloney. I Googled it.

This is what I found: Joy or Happiness?

What are your thoughts? Is happiness dependent on outside circumstances? Does joy stem from emotional contentment from within?

Interestingly enough Guy Montag, F451’s protagonist, upon realizing he is not happy begins making decisions involving enormous collateral damage. Joy is never mentioned as Guy Montag seeks happiness. Does he find happiness or joy? I will have to reread it and decide if he actually did. And that’s why F451 remains a classic—it keeps asking the reader questions after the last page is turned.

Image result for joy vs happiness
What are your thoughts about joy vs happiness?

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8 thoughts on “Igniting a Discussion on Happiness

  1. I’m definitely on the side of joy being a long-lasting, slow-simmering emotion. Something you can feel even in the midst of difficulties. Happiness is fleeting.

  2. Couldn’t agree more, Pam! Happiness is mercurial. We can create conditions conducive to it, and adopt coping techniques for getting it back when circumstances steal it away. But true joy is transcendent. It’s based on that which can’t be taken away, and can even exist in the midst of suffering.

  3. It’s been a long time since I read Fahrenheit 451,I personally would agree with you in your definitions, I would also imagine that at a young age your students haven’t enough life experience to really appreciate the distinction.

  4. Teacher Camille on said:

    Thanks for sharing this unique post. First, i should definitely read the book! Second, I’ve always thought that joy is prolonged happiness. It’s like happiness plus peace inside us. 🙂

  5. Oh, do read the book and I hope you return with your thoughts about it!

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