Happiness. A simple enough concept, and yet there are numerous words that describe the shades of this emotion in Mandarin Chinese.
In this post, we are looking at 开心 (kāixīn), 高兴 (gāoxìng), 快乐 (kuàilè), 幸福 (xìngfú) and 甜蜜 (tiánmì). Read on for definitions and example sentences…
开心 literally means “open heart”, a nice way to remember this kind of happiness. 开心 describes a joyful, cheerful emotional state. When you are fun, you are 开心.
Wǒmen wán de hěn kāixīn.
We had a really great time.
Gēn tā zài yīqǐ zhēn kāixīn
Being with him, [I’m] really happy.
Note: 开心 can also be used to mean “make fun of someone”
高兴 breaks down to literally mean “high” (高) and “excited” (兴奋), which offers a good clue as to the type of high-spirited happiness that 高兴 describes. It tends to be used to describe a person’s mood or a feeling in a given moment.
Jiàndào nǐ hěn gāoxìng.
Pleased to meet you.
Wǒ hěn gāoxìng wǒ huí jiā le!
I’m so happy to be back home!
Zhège hǎo xiāoxi ràng wǒmen hěn gāoxìng
This good news made us very happy.
快乐can be used to mean happy (adj) or happiness (noun). It generally relates to happiness of a longer duration than 高兴 and开心. For example, 快乐is often used to wish someone happiness on special occasions, the implication being that it is a sustained state.
Zhù nǐ shēngrì kuàilè!
I wish you a happy birthday!
Xīn nián kuàilè!
Happy New Year!
Nǐ bùkěnéng gěi kuàilè dìngjià.
You can’t put a price on happiness.
Graduating from the previous three, 幸福 describes a blissful or blessed, prolonged kind of happiness. It’s used to describe a person who’s “blessed” with a profoundly happy, content situation.
Wǒ yǒu yíge xìngfú de jiātíng.
I have a blessed, harmonious family.
Zhù nǐmen xìngfú.
I wish you blessed happiness (used for weddings)
Nǐ zhēn xìngfú
You really are blessed/ fortunate.
Literally “sweet honey”, most of the time 甜蜜 refers to the happiness of couples or lovers.
Zhù nǐmen àiqíng tiánmì.
I wish you happiness in love.
Ài shì yìzhǒng tiánmì de tòngkǔ.
Love is a sweet kind of torment.
These words, especially 开心 (kāixīn) and 高兴 (gāoxìng) can be used interchangeably depending on the context. The best way to gain confidence to use them correctly is to start by learning common set phrases, such as “玩得很开心” and “祝你们幸福” above. Listen out for them in your daily interactions or in movies, too. This way you’ll begin to get the hang of the distinctions in context, and you’ll be cheerfully pulling out your own sentences in no time.