Wednesday, February 26, 2014

"Happiness": What does it mean to you? by Frank Black

“HAPPINESS”:  What does it mean to you?

(F. Black)


      I know what most of you are thinking.  You may be thinking:

“What now?”  “What a lame topic to write about.”  “I know where you’re going with this.”  …….   Please bear with me dear readers. 


      Over time the meaning, the connotation of words change.  Such it is with the word “HAPPY” [or “HAPPINESS’].  One of the most famous uses of the word “Happiness” is in our own Declaration of Independence.  It was chiefly penned by Thomas Jefferson and was ratified on July 4, 1776.  You are all too familiar with these words: 


“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” 


The word “happy” or “happiness” had an entirely different connotation when Jefferson wrote this.  During his time the word had a much deeper meaning than it does today. Today it’s not only overused and trivialized, but the meaning lends itself to more of a ‘temporary emotional feeling’ as well as relating to something more superficial.  You may be “happy” because:

 “The Pacers won.”; “I have a new car.”; “It didn’t rain on our picnic.”; “I’m leaving on vacation tomorrow.”; “The biopsy report was benign.”


You can readily see that the word is not only overused, but it has basically lost its significance.  It is used to mean everything from the mundane to the serious – from the trivial to the sublime. 


At the time of the writing of the Declaration of Independence, the connotation of “happiness” was one of an overall contentment or fulfillment – of being blessed – the highest good for someone.  It had the implication of something lasting and permanent – a state of mind.  Also the meaning was more than just a personal happiness, for it also dealt somewhat with the corporate society.  You can now see the rather stark difference in yesteryear’s and today’s use of the word “Happy” [“Happiness”].

[By the way, the Declaration of Independence says that we have the right of the “Pursuit” of happiness.  This doesn’t mean happiness would be achieved – only the right of pursuit.]


Okay Frank, this is a nice lesson on the etymology of the word “Happy”; but WHY IS THIS IN OUR CHURCH BULLETIN?  Before I tell you the “WHY?”, here’s how J.B. Phillips renders the “Beatitudes” of Matthew chapter 5. 


If you’ve not read Phillips’ version before, but having read the above, you will now understand why he uses “Happy” as he did.   He equates the more familiar translations using “BLESSED” with the word “HAPPY”.


“How happy are those who know their need for God, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs!

How happy are those who know what sorrow means, for they will be given courage and comfort!

Happy are those who claim nothing, for the whole earth will belong to them!

Happy are those who are hungry and thirsty for true goodness, for they will be fully satisfied!

Happy are the merciful, for they will have mercy shown to them!

Happy are the utterly sincere, for they will see God!

Happy are those who make peace, for they will be known as sons of God!

Happy are those who have suffered persecution for the cause of goodness, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs!”





      Because the meaning of the word “Happiness” has changed, I think many in our country interpret the phrase,  “ …….and the pursuit of happinessto mean their personal happiness.  In other words, “I should be free to do what I want because it makes me happy.” Currently our country seems to be rapidly departing from a Biblical standard in determining actions and laws.  This view seems extremely dangerous.  Without a Godly standard, what’s left?  What’s left are decisions made by focus groups, by who can make the most noise the longest, by the popular, by who is the most “politically correct”, and unfortunately usually by the minority. 


     Never doubt it!  We are the majority à we who believe in God’s standards – made clear in the Bible.  May we think, speak, and act accordingly. 


**  Quote from Rick Warren:

      “God is more interested in making your life holy than He is in making it happy.  Certainly we can be happy here on Earth, but that’s not the goal of life.  The goal is to grow in character, in Christ likeness.”

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