While scholars have believed for years that Samuel Beckett was futuristically inspired by the 1970s sitcom "Happy Days" for his play's title, recent research reveals that he really took it from Jack Yellen and Milton Ager's 1929 song "Happy Days Are Here Again." The claim that Willie's original name in Beckett's first draft was "The Fonz" remains unverified. Nevertheless, the title sets up two immediate themes of the play—the ways we define and experience our happiness and our days.

The play opens with a string of rituals that never go away. Winnie runs through a virtual baptismal each morning, praying and cleaning herself and her personal effects. These are the mundane rituals we all go through each day that, in Beckett's view, grind us into a world of stasis, as when Winnie examines her damp hands and says "No better, no worse, no change…No pain." Why we pursue these rituals in not yet clear, nor is the meaning of Winnie's burial, but the words at the end of the prayer may hold a clue: "World without end." Winnie is praying for a world that literally does not end, an infinite life, and her reliance on rituals reinforces this infinitude—rituals are by nature repetitive, and their repetition erases the distinction between past, present, and future. This effacement of different tenses creates a single temporality, an idea that will be explored in depth later in the play.

Happy Days is known as one of Beckett's more cheerful plays, due in large part to Winnie's nearly unflagging optimism. She praises not only the happiness of the day, but is grateful for what is not bad in her world. Still, her dependency on a number of external forces is well established and not all of her day is happy. She needs the attentions of Willie, who ignores her, takes a medicine that cures a variety of negations ("loss of/lack of/want of"), and wishes she could sedate herself with sleep. Most important, she seems eagerly aware of death's approach (the "happy day…when flesh melts"). Willie, on the other hand, the play's "brute beast," interrupts Winnie's existential queries with his animalistic nose blowing, and avoids the question of death with sleep or through vicarious news stories about death.

Various hallmarks of the Theatre of the Absurd are present here. The specific language of the play is crucial to understanding the ideas at stake. When Winnie confusedly says "poor Willie" after having previously read "pure" from the toothbrush, she exhibits the slipperiness of language and the way words can "fail," as Winnie often remarks. Even the language we do not hear in the theater is important. Happy Days is a difficult play to read for the numerous stage directions, but this is a necessary tactic of Beckett. Beckett emphasizes the stasis in Winnie's life with her literal paralysis below the waist, and the stage directions mark the ways she frenetically keeps herself busy with rituals. He defies a traditional theatrical rule of using motion to keep the audience engaged, and thus draws us into Winnie's own struggle—we, too, may be bored watching her being bored. Finally, Beckett's Absurdist humor, which often plays ribald comedy off the more profound philosophical drama, is evident here. Note the implication when Winnie tells the hidden Willie to work in "that stuff," presumably sunscreen and presumably onto his buttocks.