CSB News & Information

Will the Real Happy Please Stand Up

By Lisa Harper

Webster defines happy as:

happy [hap-ee]: characterized by or indicative of pleasure, contentment, or joy.

Happy. The word itself conjures up idyllic images, doesn’t it? Like a toddler in overalls splashing through puddles while gleefully chasing a frog. Or a couple of kindergartners sitting elbow to elbow at a picnic table, both wearing gap-toothed grins and holding slices of watermelon bigger than their heads. Or a bright-eyed cheerleader who’s catapulted high in the air with her arms over her head in victory when the home team scores the winning touchdown. Or a bespectacled young man with too much hair gel and a sparsely-bearded chin beaming at his prom date with the smitten glow of young love. Happy. The kind of word a middle-school girl might doodle in her diary with big loopy p’s and a flower woven into the tail of the y, right? Happy. It sounds like fireworks, smells like roasted marshmallows, and feels like cannon-balling into a cold pool on a hot day, doesn’t it? What it does not seem to be is theologically sound. Surely happy is too circumstantially based, too emotive, too … well, too unspiritual to be an appropriate consistent state for Christ-followers, right?

Wrong. Wildly, sadly, distorted-by-religious-Pharisees-for-far-too-long WRONG.

There are actually thirty-seven references to “happy” in the Old Testament and forty-eight in the New Testament. Randy Alcorn’s book, Happiness, became an encyclopedia for me while researching my book. In it, he notes more than 2,700 passages where terms related to happy—gladness, merriment, pleasure, celebration, cheer, laughter, delight, jubilation, and feasting—are used! In fact, Psalms—the book smack-dab in the middle of the Bible and comprised of 150 Old Testament songs—literally begins with the word happy:

“How happy is the one who does not walk in the advice of the wicked or stand in the pathway with sinners or sit in the company of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. He is like a tree planted by flowing streams that bears its fruit in its season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” (Ps. 1:1–3, emphasis mine)

Therefore, while with most translations we hear this read from the beginning with the term blessed—which admittedly has a more old-school, shiny wooden pew ring to it—beginning Psalm 1 with the term happy is every bit as theologically sound. Because the English transliteration of the Hebrew word in the original text of Psalm 1 is asre or Asher which can be translated either “happy” or “blessed.” In the same vein, the Beatitudes typically begin with the English word blessed, but the original Greek word blessed is translated from is makarios, which can also be translated “happy” or “fortunate.”

That means happy is not only a holy sacrament, it’s a covenant state of being for God’s people.

Wow. That has the potential to flat-out blow your theological hard-drive, doesn’t it? Especially if, like me, you’ve digested a lot of well-intentioned sermons emphasizing the value of joy (often taught to be based on what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross and/or the philosophy Jesus-Others-Yourself) versus happy (often taught to be based on our circumstances; what happens to us). When I first began wrestling with the idea that happy and joy are more like fraternal twins than distant cousins, I felt like I was being naughty—like running with biblical scissors or playing with scriptural matches. I mean, holy or faithful are mainstays of church vernacular and perennial worship lyric favorites, so they’re obviously on the approved behavior list for believers. And pious actually sounds spiritual . . . like some advanced state of Christlikeness only possible with lots of straining and grimacing, akin to a master yoga pose (but without all the Eastern mysticism or questionable workout attire, of course). But the fact that happy made God’s list of laudable behavior sounds almost too good to be true.

Thankfully, it’s not. Contrary to what many of us have been taught or perceived, Christ-followers aren’t called to jettison our happiness like spiritual floaties as we learn to swim in the deep waters of intimacy with God. Instead, we’re quite literally called to be happy.

Excerpt from The Sacrament of Happy.