Recently one of our students asked us this question:
I was reviewing some of the words we have learned in Module One, and I need some clarification on the different words for happy.
So far I have learnt Kai1xin1, Kuai4le, and Gao1xing4. Could you please help me understand the distinction between these words?
And here is our answer:
Thank you for writing to us. You have raised an excellent point.
The problem with Chinese words is that sometimes they tend to be very similar – and might even have the exactly same meaning in English – but you would use them in different occasions.
1. If we go by meaning, 高兴 (GāoXìng) tends to express a one time occurrence or a short duration. We use it, for example, when meeting someone for the first time.
- 很高兴见到你。(Hěn GāoXìng JiànDào Nǐ.) – I’m very happy (glad) to meet you.
- 我很高兴来中国。(Wǒ Hěn GāoXìng Lái ZhōngGuó.) – I’m very happy (glad) I came to China.
快乐 (KuàiLè) and 开心 (KāiXīn) can also be for used to express a one time event and can also be used for to express short duration.
- 很高兴收到你的邮件。(Hěn GāoXìng ShōuDào Nǐ De YóuJiàn.)
- 很开心收到你的邮件。(Hěn KāiXīn ShōuDào Nǐ De YóuJiàn.) Both mean “I’m happy I got your email.”
Another example for 开心 (KāiXīn)
- 跟你在一起我觉得很开心。(Gēn Nǐ Zài YīQǐ Wǒ JuéDe Hěn KāiXīn.) – I’m very happy when I’m with you.
With 快乐 (KuàiLè) the meaning is ‘deeper’, so it’s used to express a more profound feeling of happiness.
- 她是一个很快乐的女孩儿。(Tā Shì Yī Ge Hěn KuàiLè De NǚHáir.) – She is a very happy girl.
- 我有一个快乐的童年。(Wǒ Yǒu Yī Ge KuàiLè De TóngNián.) – I had a very happy childhood.
2. If you look at the style, 高兴 (GāoXìng) is the most spoken of the three, followed by 开心 (KāiXīn) then 快乐 (KuàiLè). In the following sentence you could use any three of them, but each with a different connotation.
- 我今天很开心。(Wǒ JīnTiān Hěn KāiXīn.)
- 我今天很高兴。(Wǒ JīnTiān Hěn GāoXìng.)
- 我今天很快乐。(Wǒ JīnTiān Hěn KuàiLè.)
All of them mean “I am very happy today.” The difference is that 高兴 (GāoXìng ) is spoken Chinese and 快乐 (KuàiLè) is bookish/formal Chinese.
- 希望我们每天都很快乐. (XīWàng WǒMen MěiTiān Dōu Hěn KuàiLè.) I hope that we are happy every day.
You could use 开心 (KāiXīn) to mean almost the same, but such sentence with 高兴 (GāoXìng ) would be rather rare and very informal.
Lastly, 快乐 (KuàiLè) is often used with wishes:
- 祝你生日快乐！(Zhù Nǐ ShēngRìKuàiLè！) – Happy birthday!
- 新年快乐！(XīnNián KuàiLè！) – Happy new year!
- 周末快乐！(ZhōuMò KuàiLè！)－ “Happy weekend!” (Have a nice weekend!)
I hope that clears up the confusion a little bit 😉