Give Me History
Ancient History > Ancient Symbols > 24 Important Symbols of Happiness & Joy with Meanings

24 Important Symbols of Happiness & Joy with Meanings

In Europe, bluebirds have been frequently associated with happiness and good tidings.

It is said that that a picture is worth a thousand words. In an attempt to better and more quickly convey complex abstracts, ideas, and concepts, people of various cultures have made use of signs and symbols.

And this too goes in the case of emotions such as joy, merriment, and happiness.

In this article, we’ve compiled together a list of the 24 most important symbols of happiness and joy in history. 

1. Smile (Universal)

Smiling kids / Universal symbol of happiness and joy
Jamie Turner via Pixabay

In human cultures, among the most recognized signs of joy, pleasure, and happiness is the smile.

Smiling is actually known to carry a strong and positive psychological impact, with others perceiving you as less threatening and more likable. 

With that said, subtle differences do exist in various cultures in how a person’s smile is perceived.

For instance, in East Asia, smiling too much at another person is seen as a sign of irritation and suppressed anger.

Meanwhile, in some European countries such as Russia and Norway, a person smiling at strangers is often perceived as suspicious, lacking in intelligence, or American.  (1)

2. Dragonfly (Native Americans)

Dragonfly / Native American symbol of joy
Thanasis Papazacharias via Pixabay

Among many native tribes of the New World, the dragonfly was a symbol of happiness, speed, and purity, as well as transformation.

This symbolism isn’t unsurprisingly; the dragonfly spends much of its early life underwater and then becomes fully airborne as an adult.

This metamorphosis is perceived as one mentally maturing and losing the binds of negative emotions and thoughts that had constrained them. (2) (3) 

3. Rose (Greco-Roman Civilization) 

Rose / Symbol of Venus
Marisa04 via Pixabay

The rose was the symbol of Aphrodite-Venus, the Greco-Roman goddess most associated with love and beauty but also passion and prosperity.

Her cult may have likely had Phoenician in origin, being based on the cult of Astarte, which itself was an import from Sumer, stemming from the cult of Ishtar-Inanna.

The deity had a particularly important role in Roman mythology, being the ancestor of all Roman people through her son, Aeneas. (4) (5) 

4. Ship’s Rudder (Ancient Rome)  

An ancient roman anchor and rudder inside the archaeological museum of nemi in italy / Symbol of Laetitia
Photo 55951398 © Danilo MongielloDreamstime.com

In the Roman Empire, a ship’s rudder was frequently depicted alongside Laetitia, the goddess of happiness.

This association wasn’t random. Among the Romans, it was believed the foundation of their empire’s happiness lay in its ability to dominate and direct the course of events.

Alternately, the rudder could have been used as a reference to the empire’s dependence on grain imports from its southern regions such as Egypt. (6)

5. Dharma Chakra (Buddhism) 

Wheel at Sun temple / Buddhist symbol of happiness
Chaithanya.krishnan, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Dharma Chakra, depicted as an eight-spoked wheel, is a highly sacred symbol in many Dharmic faiths.

In Buddhism, it represents the Noble Eightfold Path – practices that lead a person to a state of true liberation and happiness known as Nirvana. (7)

The Buddhists have held a very specific view on what constitutes true happiness.

In the Buddhist context, it can only be achieved by overcoming cravings in all forms, achievable by practicing the Eightfold path. (8)

6. Shtreimel (Hasidism)

Shtreimel / Symbol of Hasidism
Arielinson, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The shtreimel is a type of fur hat worn by orthodox Jews, most notably by the members of the Hasidic sect, of which it has become a sort of symbol. (9)

Hasidism, also sometimes referred to as Chassidism, is a Jewish movement that emerged in the 18th century. 

An essential element to the Hasidic way of life is for a person to be joyful. It is believed that a happy person is much more capable of serving God than when being depressed or sad. 

In the words of the founder of the movement, happiness was considered “a biblical commandment, a mitzvah.” (10) (11)

7. Bluebird (Europe) 

Mountain bluebird / European symbol of happiness
Naturelady via Pixabay

In Europe, bluebirds have been frequently associated with happiness and good tidings.

In ancient Lorraine folklore, bluebirds were perceived as a harbinger of happiness.

In the 19th century, inspired by these tales, many European writers and poets incorporated a similar theme in their works of literature.

In certain Christian beliefs, bluebirds were also thought to bring messages from the divine. (12) (13)   

8.  Shuangxi (China)

Chinese wedding ceremony teaware / Chinese symbol of happiness
csss, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Shuangxi is a Chinese calligraphic symbol that literally translates to ‘Double Happy’. It is frequently employed as a good luck charm, being employed in traditional ornaments and decorations, particularly for such events as marriage. 

The symbol is comprised of two compressed copies of the Chinese character 喜 (joy). It’s typically colored in red or gold – the former itself representing happiness, beauty, and good luck and the latter representing richness and nobility. (14) (15)

9. Sunflowers (West)

Sunflowers / Flower symbol of the sun
Bruno /Germany via Pixabay

Since their first discovery by the early European explorers, this magnificent flower took little time to grow immensely popular across the Atlantic.

The sunflower as a symbol holds many positive associations, including warmth and happiness.

Likely this may have arisen from the flower’s resemblance to the sun. 

It is a common sight for sunflowers to be presented or used as decoration on merry events such as weddings, baby showers, and birthdays. (16) 

10. Lily of the Valley (Great Britain)

Lily of the valley / British symbol of happiness
liz west from Boxborough, MA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Also known as the May lily, this springtime flower since Victorian times in Great Britain has come to symbolize happiness, with it having been among the most favorite plants of Queen Victoria as well as many other royals. 

In English folklore, it is told that when St. Leonard of Sussex managed to slew his dragon adversary, these flowers blossomed in commemoration of his victory everywhere the dragon’s blood had been spilled.

At one time, it was also used as a protective charm, with people believing it be able to ward off evil spirits. (17) (18)

11. Two Golden Fish (Buddhism)

Two golden fish / Buddhist fish symbol
Image courtesy: pxfuel.com

In Dharmic traditions, a pair of golden fish is an Ashtamangala (sacred attribute), with each fish representing the two main sacred rivers – the Ganges and Yamuna Nadi.

In Buddhism, in particular, their symbol is associated with freedom and happiness as well as the two main pillars of Buddha’s teachings; peace and harmony. 

This stems from the observation that fishes can swim freely in the water, with no worries of the unknown dangers that lurk in the depths.

In a similar fashion, a person must move around in this world of suffering and delusion with their mind in peace and free of worry. (19) (20)

12. Gye W’ani (West Africa) 

Gye W’ani / Adinkra symbol of joy, happiness, and laugher
Illustration 167617290 © DreamsidheDreamstime.com

In Akan society, adinkra are a set of symbols employed to convey various abstract concepts and ideas.

The Adinkra symbols are a ubiquitous part of West African culture, being found on their clothing, architecture, and monuments. 

The Adinkra symbol of joy, happiness, and laugher is the Gye W’ani, which means to enjoy yourself, do whatever makes you happy, and live your life to the fullest.

The Adinkra symbol is shaped like a Queen chess piece, likely because a queen lives her life without much worries or limitations. (21) (22)

13. Buddhist flag (Buddhism) 

Symbol of Buddhism 
CC BY-SA 3.0 Lahiru_k via Wikimedia

Created in the 19th century, the Buddhist flag is meant to serve as the universal symbol of the religion.

Each individual color on the flag represents an aspect of Buddha:

  • blue symbolizes the spirit of universal compassion, peace, and happiness
  • yellow represents the Middle Way, which avoids the two extremes
  • red represents the blessings of practice which are wisdom, dignity, virtue, and fortune
  • white conveys the purity of Dharma leading to liberation
  • orange depicts the wisdom in Buddha’s teachings. 

Lastly, the sixth vertical band, made from the combination of these colors refers to Pabbhassara – the Truth of Buddha’s teachings. (23) (24)   

14. Wunjo (Norse)

Wunjo rune / Nordic symbol of happiness
Armando Olivo Martín del Campo, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Runes were symbols used to write Germanic languages before the adoption of the Latin Alphabet.

With that said, runes were more than just a sound or a letter; they were a representation of certain cosmological principles or concepts.

For instance, the letter Wunjo (ᚹ) signified joy, happiness, satisfaction as well as close companionship. (25)

15. Full Moon (Romans)

Full moon / Symbol of Anna Perenna
chiplanay via Pixabay

The full moon may have been the symbol of the Anna Perenna, the Roman deity associated with the New Year as well as renewal, long life, and plenty.

Her festivals were held on the Ides of March (March 15), which marked the first full moon of the Roman calendar.

Both public and private sacrifices would be offered to her on the occasion to secure a healthy and happy new year. (26) (27)

16. Thyrsus (Greco-Roman Civilization)

Dionysus holding a thyrsus / Symbol of Dionysus
Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A thyrsus was a type of staff made from the stem of giant fennel and often topped with a pine cone or grapevines.

It was the symbol and weapon of the Greco-Roman deity, Dionysus-Bacchus, the god of wine, prosperity, insanity, ritual madness as well as pleasure and enjoyment. (28)

Carrying the staff formed an important part of rituals and rites associated with the deity. (29)

17. Biwa (Japan)

Biwa / Symbol of Benten
Metropolitan Museum of Art, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

In Japanese mythology, Benten is one of the Shichi-fuku-jin – the seven Japanese deities associated with good fortune and happiness. (30)

Individually, she is the goddess of everything that flows, including water, time, speech, wisdom, and music.

Her cult is actually a foreign import, having her origin from the Hindu goddess, Saraswathi. 

Like her Hindu counterpart, Benten is also often depicted holding a musical instrument that being the biwa, a type of Japanese lute. (31)

18. Coca Plant (Inca)

Coca plant / Symbol of Cocamama
H. Zell, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Cocamama was an Andean deity associated with happiness, health, and recreational drug-taking, and her official symbol was the Coca plant.

According to Inca folklore, Cocamama was originally a flirtatious woman who was cut in half by jealous lovers and subsequently was transformed into the world’s first coca plant. (32)

In Incan society, the plant was often chewed as a recreational mild narcotic and was also used by priests in ritual offerings known as K’intus. (33)

19. Kartika (Buddhism)

Quartz Kartrika 18-19th century
Rama, CC BY-SA 3.0 FR, via Wikimedia Commons

A Kartika is a type of a small, crescent-shaped flaying knife particularly used in tantric rituals and ceremonies of Vajrayana Buddhism.

It is also among the most commonly depicted symbols of the wrathful tantric deities such as Ekajati, the protector goddess of the most secret mantra, and is associated with spreading joy and helping people overcome personal obstacles to the path of enlightenment. (34) (35)

20. Coyote (Aztec)

Coyote / Symbol of the trickster god
272447 via Pixabay

The coyote is a mid sized species of canine native to the Americas. It has a reputation of being greatly cunning thanks to its intelligence and adaptability. (36)

In numerous pre-Columbian cultures, the coyote was often associated with their trickster deity.  (37) 

In the Aztec religion, for instance, the animal was one aspect of Huehuecóyotl, the god of music, dance, mischief, and partying.

Unlike the depiction of the trickster deity in many Old-World mythos, Huehuecóyotl was a relatively benign god.

A common theme to his stories is of him playing tricks on other gods as well as humans, which would ultimately backfire and actually cause him more trouble than his intended victims. (38)

21. Brick (China)

Bricks / Symbol of Zhengshen
Image courtesy: pxfuel.com

In Chinese mythology, Fude Zhengshen is a god of prosperity, happiness, and merit.

He is also one of the oldest gods, and thus, a deity of deep earth (houtu). (39) While he bears no official symbols, one object that could be employed as his representation is the brick. 

In Chinese folklore, one poor family wanted to build an altar for him while he was still a minor deity, but they could only afford four pieces of bricks.

So, they used three of the bricks as wall and one as the roof. Unexpectedly, the family became very rich with his blessing.  

Zhengshen’s kindness is said to have moved Mazu, the sea goddess, so much that she ordered her servants to pick him up to heaven. (40) 

22. Cloth Sack (East Asia) 

Cloth Sack \ Symbol of Budai
Image Courtesy: pickpik.com

Many East Asian societies, even if not practicing Buddhism today, have had their cultures greatly shaped by the religion.

This includes many of their mythological figures. One of such is Budai (literally meaning ‘cloth sack’), more commonly known in the West as the laughing Buddha. (41) 

Depicted as a fat-bellied smiling monk carrying a cloth sack, his figure is associated with contention, prosperity, and abundance.

According to legends, Budai was a real historical figure with a gift for accurately predicting people’s fortune.

When he died, he is said to have left a note claiming himself to be an incarnation of Maitreya (future Buddha). (42)

23. Grain Ear (Baltics)   

Grain ear stock image / Symbol of Potrimpo
Denise Hartmann via Pixabay

Until well into the late medieval ages, much of what is today the Baltic region was inhabited by pagan cultures.

Not much is known about their culture and customs because the conquering Christian armies were only interested in converting the region. (43)

From the scant few resources that have survived, we have retraced what we can of how the pre-Baltic society has been.

Among the most important deities that they worshipped was Potrimpo, the god of the seas, spring, grain, and happiness.

In Baltic iconography, he was typically depicted as merry young men wearing a wreath of grain ears. (44)

24. Badger and Magpie (China)

In Chinese culture, the badger signifies happiness, and the magpie represents the joy connected with social aspects such as attending celebrations and merry events.

Portrayed together, the two animals symbolize happiness both on earth and in the heavens (sky).

However, if the magpie is depicted as being perched that it instead is meant to signify future happiness. (45) (46)

View Badger and Magpie artwork here, artwork by Bridget Syms.

Over to You  

Do you know of any other important symbols of happiness and joy in history? Let us know in the comments below, and we’ll consider adding them to the list above.

References    

  1. Gorvett, Zaria. There are 19 types of smile but only six are for happiness. BBC Future . [Online] 2017. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20170407-why-all-smiles-are-not-the-same.
  2. THE SACRED SYMBOLISM OF THE DRAGONFLY. Sundance . [Online] 5 23, 2018. https://blog.sundancecatalog.com/2018/05/the-sacred-symbolism-of-dragonfly.html.
  3. Dragonfly Symbol . Native American Cultures . [Online] https://www.warpaths2peacepipes.com/native-american-symbols/dragonfly-symbol.htm.
  4. Homer. Iliad. 762 BC.
  5. Venus and the Cabbage. Eden, P.T. s.l. : Hermes, 1963.
  6. Laetitia . Thalia Took. [Online] http://www.thaliatook.com/OGOD/laetitia.php.
  7. Geotz, Hermann. The art of India: five thousand years of Indian art,. 1964.
  8. Bhikkhu, Thanissaro. A Guided Meditation. [Online] https://web.archive.org/web/20060613083452/http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/guided.html.
  9. Shurpin, Yehuda. Why Do Many Chassidim Wear Shtreimels (Fur Hats)? [Online] https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/3755339/jewish/Why-Do-Many-Chassidim-Wear-Shtreimels-Fur-Hats.htm.
  10. Breslo, Rabbi Nachman of. Likkutei Maharan. 
  11. Dvar Torah for Elul. [Online] http://www.breslov.org/dvar/zmanim/elul3_5758.htm.
  12. Bluebird Symbolism & Meaning (+Totem, Spirit & Omens). world Birds . [Online] https://www.worldbirds.org/bluebird-symbolism/.
  13. Maeterlinck’s symbolism: the blue bird, and other essays”. internet Archive . [Online] https://archive.org/stream/maeterlinckssymb00roseiala/maeterlinckssymb00roseiala_djvu.txt.
  14. Lucky Colors in China. China Highlights . [Online] https://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/culture/lucky-numbers-and-colors-in-chinese-culture.htm.
  15. A Special Time for Double Happiness. The World of Chinese . [Online] 11 10, 2012. https://www.theworldofchinese.com/2012/10/a-special-time-for-double-happiness/.
  16. What is the Meaning of a Sunflower: Symbolism, Spiritual and Myths. Sunflower Joy . [Online] https://www.sunflowerjoy.com/2016/04/meaning-sunflower-symbolism-spiritual.html.
  17. Lily of the Valley Flower Meaning and Symbolism. Florgeous . [Online] 7 12, 2020. https://florgeous.com/lily-of-the-valley-flower-meaning/.
  18. Smith, Edie. What Is the Meaning of Lily of the Valley? [Online] 6 21, 2017. https://www.gardenguides.com/13426295-what-is-the-meaning-of-lily-of-the-valley.html.
  19. The Comprehensive Guide for Buddhist Symbols. East Asian Cultures . [Online] https://east-asian-cultures.com/buddhist-symbols.
  20. About The Eight Auspicious Symbols. Buddhist Information . [Online] http://www.buddhistinformation.com/about_the_eight_auspicious_symbo.htm.
  21. GYE W’ANI> ENJOY YOURSELF. Adinkra Brand . [Online] https://www.adinkrabrand.com/knowledge-hub/adinkra-symbols/gye-wani-enjoy-yourself/.
  22. Gye W’ani (2019). Passion Adinkra . [Online] http://www.passion-adinkra.com/Gye_W_ani.CC.htm.
  23. Buddhist flag: Symbolic colours of enlightening teaching. North East Now . [Online] https://nenow.in/north-east-news/assam/buddhist-flag-symbolic-colours-of-enlightening-teaching.html.
  24. Buddhist Flags: History and meaning. Buddhist Arts . [Online] 9 19, 2017. https://samyeinstitute.org/sciences/arts/buddhist-flags-history-meaning/.
  25. Wunjo . Symbolikon . [Online] https://symbolikon.com/downloads/wunjo-norse-runes/.
  26. 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Anna Perenna. Wikisource . [Online] https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/1911_Encyclop%C3%A6dia_Britannica/Anna_Perenna.
  27. Anna Perenna . Thalia Took. [Online] http://www.thaliatook.com/OGOD/annaperenna.php.
  28. William Smith, William Wayte. THYRSUS. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890). [Online] http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0063:entry=thyrsus-cn.
  29. Euripides. The Bacchae. Athens  : s.n., 405 BC.
  30. Shichi-fuku-jin. Encyclopedia Britannica. [Online] https://www.britannica.com/topic/Shichi-fuku-jin.
  31. Temple Myths and the Popularization of Kannon Pilgrimage in Japan: A Case Study of Oya-ji on the Bando Route. MacWilliams, Mark W. 1997.
  32. COCA-MAMA. God Checker . [Online] https://www.godchecker.com/inca-mythology/COCA-MAMA/.
  33. INKA GODDESSES. Goddess-Guide.com . [Online] https://www.goddess-guide.com/inka-goddesses.html.
  34. Bangdel., John Huntington and Dina. The Circle of Bliss: Buddhist Meditational Art. Columbus  : Columbus Museum of Art, 2004.
  35. Simmer-Brown, Judith. Dakini’s Warm Breath: The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism. 
  36. Harris. Cultural Materialism: The Struggle for a Science of Culture. New York  : s.n., 1979.
  37. HUEHUECOYOTL. God Checker . [Online] https://www.godchecker.com/aztec-mythology/HUEHUECOYOTL/.
  38. Codex Telleriano-Remensis . Austin  : University of Texas, 1995.
  39. Stevens, Keith G. Chinese Mythological Gods. s.l. : Oxford University Press, 2001.
  40. Sin, Hok Tek Ceng. Kitab Suci Amurva Bumi . 
  41. Dan, Taigen. Bodhisattva Archetypes: Classic Buddhist Guides to Awakening and Their Modern Expression. s.l. : Penguin, 1998.
  42. he Chan Master Pu-tai. Chapin, H.B. s.l. : Journal of the American Oriental Society, 1933.
  43. Foreword to The Past: A Cultural History of the Baltic People. s.l. : Central European University Press, 1999.
  44. Puhvel, Jaan. Indo-European Structure of Baltic Pantheon. Myth in Indo-European antiquity. 1974.
  45. Animals’ Symbolism In Decoration, Decorative Arts – Chinese Beliefs, and Feng Shui. Nations Online . [Online] https://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/Chinese_Customs/animals_symbolism.htm.
  46. Animal symbolism in Chinese art 兽 shòu. China Sge . [Online] https://www.chinasage.info/symbols/animals.htm.

Header image courtesy: Image by Mickey Estes from Pixabay

The Editors of Give Me History

The editors of Give Me History work with specific content that they’ve had considerable expertise within academic projects or study. The contents of this article have additionally been reviewed by external experts before publishing.

Cite this article

The Editors of Give Me History, "24 Important Symbols of Happiness & Joy with Meanings," Give Me History, November 14, 2020, https://givemehistory.com/symbols-of-happiness-joy.

Add comment