This article was written by Lisa Harper and published in Lisa’s book The Sacrament of Happy.
Webster defines happy a little differently than—although not contradictory to—Dr. Seppälä:
happy [hap-ee]: characterized by or indicative of pleasure, contentment, or joy5
Happy. The word itself conjures up idyllic images, doesn’t it? Like a toddler in overalls splashing through puddles while glee- fully 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!6 In fact, Psalms—the book smack-dab in the middle of the Bible and comprised of 150 Old Testament songs7—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)
And the Sermon on the Mount—arguably Jesus’ most beloved message—could accurately be titled, “How to Be Happy” since it technically begins with the word happy as well:
“Happy the poor in spirit—because theirs is the reign of the heavens.
Happy the mourning—because they shall be comforted.
Happy the meek—because they shall inherit the land.
Happy those hungering and thirsting for righteous- ness—because they shall be filled.
Happy the kind—because they shall find kindness.
Happy the clean in heart—because they shall see God.
Happy the peacemakers—because they shall be called Sons of God.
Happy those persecuted for righteousness’ sake— because theirs is the reign of the heavens.
Happy are ye whenever they may reproach you, and may persecute, and may say any evil thing against you falsely for my sake— rejoice ye and be glad, because your reward [is] great in the heavens, for thus did they persecute the prophets who were before you.” (Matt. 5:3–12 ylt)
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 asre8 or Asher which can be translated either “happy” or “blessed.”9 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.”10
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.
Lisa’s new (and first ever) devotional, LIFE: An Obsessively Grateful, Undone by Jesus, Genuinely Happy, and Not Faking it Through the Hard Stuff Kind of 100-Day Devotional, releases on February 9, 2021 and is available on Lifeway.com and anywhere books are sold.
Lisa Harper is an engaging, hilarious communicator as well as an authentic and substantive Bible teacher that many enjoy hearing in person, or on countless TV and radio platforms. She holds a Master of Theological Studies from Covenant Seminary, and a doctorate-in-progress at Denver Seminary. She’s been in vocational ministry for thirty years and has written nineteen books and Bible study curriculums but says her greatest accomplishment by far is becoming Missy’s (her adopted daughter from Haiti) mama! They live on a hilly farmette south of Nashville, Tennessee, where they enjoy eating copious amounts of chips, queso, and guacamole.