On cloud nine: Idioms and phrasal verbs to express happiness

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by Liz Walter

My last post was all about sadness, so it is good to turn to a more cheerful subject: happiness.

Let’s start with the phrase I’ve used in the title: on cloud nine. Nobody really knows the origins of this phrase – one theory is that it refers to the cumulonimbus cloud that was number nine in the ‘International Cloud Atlas’ and rises higher than all other clouds, while another relates to one of the stages of enlightenment in Buddhist thought. Still, it’s enough to know that if you are on cloud nine, you are extremely happy. In fact, you are in seventh heaven (from the belief in some religions that there are seven levels of heaven, the seventh being the highest).

Several other happiness idioms rely on the metaphorical idea of being in a very high place. We can say that we are walking/floating on air, on top of the world or over the moon. Similarly, something that makes you feel happier is said to lift your spirits.

Moving away from height metaphors, In British and Australian English, we can say (rather sweetly, I always think) that someone in a generally happy mood is full of the joys of spring. If you are extremely pleased about something that has happened, you can say that you can’t believe your luck. In British English, we also say that we are thrilled to bits.

If someone has been sad but becomes more cheerful, we say that they cheer up or perk up. Something that brightens up your day makes you feel happier, and if you revel in a situation or an activity, you get great pleasure from it.

There are several rather strange similes connected with happiness: Brits and Australians are as happy as Larry or as happy as a sandboy and Americans are as happy as a clam. It is thought that ‘Larry’ is the undefeated boxer Larry Foley (1849-1917), and that ‘sandboys’ were youths whose job was to deliver sand for the floors of inns, and who were ‘happy’ because they were often rewarded with alcohol! The American version is probably a shortening of ‘as happy as a clam at high tide’, i.e. when no longer exposed to predators. All of these phrases are slightly old-fashioned now.

If someone is happy in an enthusiastic and lively way, we can say they are like a dog with two tails, and if they have a self-satisfied air, they are like the cat that got the cream. More crudely, if someone looks completely comfortable and happy in a situation, they are like a pig in muck.

Do let me know if you can think of any other nice happiness phrases, or any interesting ones from your own language.

41 thoughts on “On cloud nine: Idioms and phrasal verbs to express happiness

  1. Hi,

    Many thanks for this post! In Turkish, for example, we have “have one’s mouth at his/her ears”, which means that he/she is so happily smiling or laughing that the edges of his/her mouth almost touches his/her ears :))

  2. Hi,

    Many thanks for this post! In Turkish, for example, we have “have one’s mouth at his/her ears”, which means that he/she is so happily smiling or laughing that the edges of his/her mouth almost touches his/her ears :))

    Best wishes,

  3. borooje

    Thank you for sharing the story behind cloud #9. In french we say “je suis heureux comme un poisson dans l’eau” meaning I’m as happy as a fish in water!

  4. Mateusz

    Read Liz Walter,
    Many thanks for such a grand article. I have always appreciated your post, yet this one is somehow exceptional. It really made my day.
    The reminder about expression ‘full of the joys of spring’, in particular, was something I really needed today. Sun, being the universal source of joy and energy, it really makes sense to me.
    ‘Epiphany’ is another word my British friend taught me once.
    In Polish, for example, we often say ‘to laugh wholeheartedly’, ‘smile radiantly’ and ‘burst with happiness’.
    Kind regards,
    Mateusz

    1. Lizzie

      Lol. I can hardly believe my eyes! Mateusz? Are we meeting here again? If yes, this is amazing.
      By the way Liz, I enjoyed reading your post immensely. I stumbled on it just now while perusing several pages randomly, but you got me hooked at first sight! I’m making it a point to read all of your posts henceforth. And that’s not just because you’re my Namesake.

      Liz..
      I’d better use Lizzie for the purpose of creating a clear distinction. 😂

  5. Nelson

    In Colombia we speak spanish of course. So you can say “de maravilla”,; expression that in English means wonderfull or “On cloud nine”.

    Best wishes!

  6. Aftab Khattak

    wow…what a best post!!! In Pashto language we say Nan Kho Toot Ta Khatala Ye” meaning “today/now you are above the branches of Shahtoot (a plant with having edible fruit in summer season.)
    Figuratively, it means that someone is extremely happy.
    Secondly,in PASHTO we say “Nan Kho Po Jorho K Na Arzoyezay” meaning “today your body is coming out of your clothes(it’s literal) or today your clothes fall short of your body..thanks

  7. Ashley

    His/her/their exuberance can not be contained.

    I don’t actually know anyone who says that, but I love the images of pure, unadulterated joy that come to mind.

  8. soheila

    Hi,
    we say in Persian, melting sugar in his or her heart and also he or she does not recognise head from the foot when someone is so happy.

    thanks for sharing the post

    1. Liz Walter

      It’s not really a fixed expression in English, but it would certainly be understood. However, you’d have to say *as* happy *as* a child with a new toy.

  9. Richard

    Thanks for the informative combination of different cultural expressions of happiness… In my country, Liberia, we say “you look like you have found the president’s wallet”. This comes from the general belief that finding the president’s wallet has great remuneration..

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