I often say – sincerely and honestly – but I recognise that it is ‘short hand’ and it doesn’t give much detail – when asked about my children and grandchildren that they are ‘happy and healthy’. I also like the alliteration! This wasn’t true last year when my sons in law were in hospital and then I’d say something to the effect that ‘most of them are happy and healthy’! My short hand doesn’t acknowledge sniffles, colds, a tummy upset, a night with no sleep, toothache, a hard day at work, a traffic jam, unpleasant people, bureaucratic frustration, a stumble, a slip, an embarrassing moment, tired children, deadlines, pressure, pollution, a train delay, or other everyday happenings because it takes a more global or overall perspective on life. Life is full of ups and downs but they live safely, with goals and purpose, with roofs over their heads and more than enough food and clothes and among people who love and care for each other. In writing this, it occurred to me that I’ve never asked them if they regard themselves as ‘happy and healthy’! (I hope they would say ‘yes’ … it will make for an interesting discussion!)
The world certainly prizes happiness and seeks health. I don’t think it is too superficial to say that Aristotle’s Ethics is essentially about happiness – the goal of ‘political science’ – it is more than pleasure – the product of good and virtue – something sought and approached in this life and achieved (hopefully) in death – when one knows one’s function and purpose in life and works to fulfil them – so that happiness is more than emotion or pleasure and today we might call it ‘fulfilment’. These thoughts are 2,300 years old!
It occurred to me that I couldn’t think of ‘happy’ or ‘happiness’ in the Bible. There is no single Hebrew or Greek word that simply translates as ‘happy’ or ‘happiness’. When the word is used in an English translation it is translating an aspect of various words for rejoice, good, excellent, prosperous, blessed, welfare, glad, exult, and other similar words. It seems that happiness is rather mercurial – hard to pin down.
Aristotle’s word for happiness – eudaimonia – is not used at all (as far as I can tell) in the Bible. It is only used once in the Apostolic Fathers (in the Epistle to Diognetus 10:5). This is possibly because ‘eudaimonia’ comes from ‘eu’ (good) + ‘daimonia’ (which means deity or spirit but in the New Testament refers basically to demons). Maybe there has always been and always will be difficulty about happiness – what it is and how it might be achieved.
What would you say about your life?
I imagine your answer is part ‘everyday’ and part ‘bigger perspective’. I think it will also be part ‘my attitudes / my behaviour’ and part the circumstances of life (especially the things over which we have little or no control). I certainly hope your answer is affirming and acknowledging … what? Possessions? Good social standing? Health? Achievement of goals? Hassle -free living (overall)? Yes, it’s a good question. I wonder whether the foundational answer could be ‘that God loves me – that Jesus died for me – that the Holy Spirit is with me and this relationship defines who I am and I am blessed with that!? GS