What is the difference between happy and cheerful in this quote? I thought they was the same.

I am cheerful. I don't know if I'm happy. There is a difference, you know.

Tom Robbins


3 Answers 3


I like to think of it as the difference between "weather" and "climate".

Weather is what's going on right now. Being "cheerful" means that, right now, you're upbeat and feeling good. - Like if the weather is sunny.

Climate is what the overall weather is like for a region. While it may be sunny today, if the general climate is for cold, damp weather, the sunny day is unusual. Same with being happy. In this case, he's using happy to mean that he's not sure he's generally happy with his life but, for the time being, he's cheerful.

  • What about this example sentence on my IELTS book: "The hot weather always makes me feel happy and cheerful" ? Could I apply the same reasoning? Commented Jun 19, 2016 at 1:05

The definitions can be confusing since it would lead one to believe that to being happy is a condition of being cheerful.

Robbins is referring to "happy" as a general contented state of being. We all know the feeling when things are going our way, the sun is to our back, and everything is going smoothly and well.

Being "cheerful" is a state of not being angry mainly characterised by have outward displays of being happy, particularly having a smile. The definition of "cheerful" is a noticeable display of happiness.

It is possible to be cheery on the outside, having a facade, while being sad on the inside, thereby not showing ones true emotions. This is what Robbins is referring to.


Be cheerful no matter what happens...

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