Darrow Miller and Friends

Happiness: Where Does It Come From?

  1. Sabbatical Reflections: The Pursuit of Happiness (Part 1 of 3)
  2. Sabbatical Reflections: The Pursuit of Happiness (Part 2 of 3)
  3. Sabbatical Reflections: The Pursuit of Happiness (Part 3 of 3)
  4. Happiness: Where Does It Come From?
  5. Happiness: You Can Find It In Any Circumstances
  6. Happiness, the False and the True
  7. The Pursuit of Happiness
  8. To Be Happy, Follow These Three Steps
  9. Happiness According to the New Testament

Happiness: Where Does It Come From?                                                    Photo by Valerie Elash on Unsplash

People often say, “I just want to be happy!” Is that your goal? What is happiness? How does one pursue it? Do difficulties prevent you from being happy?

Happiness is often reduced to feeling good: seeing the image of a fluffy puppy, enjoying a night out with friends and food, taking a trip to Disneyland. It may be associated with major events: getting married, having a baby, buying your first car.

The word “hap,” now archaic outside the UK, was once used to mean “chance; luck; lot.” Good hap meant good circumstances, good feelings, good luck. Bad hap is the opposite: a lousy roommate, a broken-down car, a grouchy husband, a cancelled vacation.

When we are unhappy, we ask God to change our circumstances rather than asking Him to help us grow through difficult circumstances. But within the grand scope of God’s tello,[1] He works in the midst of and through our circumstances for His own good purposes.

Two kinds of happiness

–          Genesis 50:20 – “As for you, what you intended against me for evil [selling into slavery in Egypt], God intended for good, in order to accomplish a day like this— to preserve the lives of many people.”

–          Romans 8:28 – “And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.”

–          Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a future and a hope.”

–          Psalm 40:5 – “Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders You have done, and the plans You have for us—none can compare to You—if I would proclaim and declare of them, they are more than could be numbered.”

Photo by Julian Howard on Unsplash

Two sources with very different meanings lie behind the word happiness. One source is rooted in a purposeless, unplanned universe of luck and circumstances, the other in a purposeful, created universe where history is directed and human beings contribute to it. One is a product of chance; the other a product of choice. One based in polytheism, or atheism; the other in Jehovah’s creative purposes.

These two sources are the Nordic word “hap,” and the biblical words ʾǎš·rê (in the Hebrew Old Testament) and makarios (in the Greek New Testament). To pursue hap is to seek good luck or circumstances. But the Bible shows that true happiness is found in the midst of a relationship with the Creator God. Happiness is living within the order and ordinances of creation.

In short, while hap is often related to having, happiness is related to being.

The word “hap”

Hap was a Norwegian/Viking word meaning luck. The word is traced back to

1200, “chance, a person’s luck, fortune, fate;” also “unforeseen occurrence,” from Old Norse happ “chance, good luck” … [the] meaning “good fortune” in English is from early 13c. Old Norse seems to have had the word only in positive senses.[2]

Several English words derive from hap: [3]

–          Haphazard: mere chance or accident

–          Hapless: unlucky, destitute of hap

–          Happening: an occurrence or event

–          Happenstance: a chance event

–          Happiness: having good fortune or good luck

In short, in the medieval pagan world, the word was used externally and internally. Externally it meant good luck, good circumstances: “I was happy that I found my cell phone.” Internally the word meant feeling happy because of favorable events: “Mine was a happy birthday.”

Centuries before the Norwegians coined the word “hap,” the Epicureans of Paul’s day had a similar concept. The Epicureans admitted to no relationship between a divine power and a happy life. It was all luck. A “happy life is nothing [that] ever comes about by divine power.”[4]

is happiness a matter of chance?
Photo by Jonathan Petersson on Unsplash

Whether expressed by the Epicureans, Norseman of medieval Europe, or modern atheists, the idea is the same: to be happy, pursue good circumstances. Inherent in this view is that everything comes about by chance. As Jacque Monod wrote, “Our number came up in the Monte Carlo game. Is it surprising that, like the person who has just made a million at the casino, we should feel strange and a little unreal?”[5]

True Happiness

Today, we pursue pleasure and avoid pain. True hedonists, we would “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” Such a view appeals to human baseness, to following one’s nose.

Too often the pursuit of good circumstances becomes the goal of Christians. We regard bad circumstances either as God’s punishment or His absence from our lives.

True happiness has little relationship to circumstances. It is found within the framework of God’s laws and ordinances. True happiness can mature and flourish within unwelcome circumstances.

Christ is the great cycle breaker. He turns the world upside down, or should we say, right side up. Jesus turns the world’s concept of happiness (good circumstances or good luck) to happiness in the midst of bad situations. We see this fully described in the Sermon on the Mount. In Luke 6:20-22, Jesus pronounces blessed (makarios),

–          you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

–          you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.

–          you who weep now, for you will laugh.

Finally, “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.”

The adverse conditions are not the blessing, but one can be happy or blessed either from living beyond the circumstances, or as a result of what God may do in the midst of the circumstances.

–          Darrow Miller

to be continued

[1] The New Testament words telios and telos are both derived from tello, a verb which does not appear in the New Testament, meaning “to set out for a definite point or goal.”

[2] https://www.etymonline.com/word/hap

[3] Quora.com

[4] Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible; pg 335

[5] Monod, Chance and Necessity, pg 146

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Darrow is co-founder of the Disciple Nations Alliance and a featured author and teacher. For over 30 years, Darrow has been a popular conference speaker on topics that include Christianity and culture, apologetics, worldview, poverty, and the dignity of women. From 1981 to 2007 Darrow served with Food for the Hungry International (now FH association), and from 1994 as Vice President. Before joining FH, Darrow spent three years on staff at L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland where he was discipled by Francis Schaeffer. He also served as a student pastor at Northern Arizona University and two years as a pastor of Sherman Street Fellowship in urban Denver, CO. In addition to earning his Master’s degree in Adult Education from Arizona State University, Darrow pursued graduate studies in philosophy, theology, Christian apologetics, biblical studies, and missions in the United States, Israel, and Switzerland. Darrow has authored numerous studies, articles, Bible studies and books, including Discipling Nations: The Power of Truth to Transform Culture (YWAM Publishing, 1998), Nurturing the Nations: Reclaiming the Dignity of Women for Building Healthy Cultures (InterVarsity Press, 2008), LifeWork: A Biblical Theology for What You Do Every Day (YWAM, 2009), Rethinking Social Justice: Restoring Biblical Compassion (YWAM, 2015), and more. These resources along with links to free e-books, podcasts, online training programs and more can be found at Disciple Nations Alliance (https://disciplenations.org).

1 Comment

  1. Romina

    December 21, 2018 - 3:53 am

    He esta siguen do la serie y me son de ánimo, en el presente artículo me quedo con la frase “Las condiciones adversas no son la bendición, pero uno puede ser feliz o bendecido por vivir más allá de las circunstancias, o como resultado de lo que Dios puede hacer en medio de las circunstancias”. Ya estar en un mundo caído con una visión diferente a la bíblica, puede llevar a que nos des califiquen de acuerdo a sus criterios de excelencia.

    English translation:
    I have been following the series and it is an encouragement to me. From the current article, the phrase that stuck with me is “The adverse conditions are not the blessing, but one can be happy or blessed either from living beyond the circumstances, or as a result of what God may do in the midst of the circumstances.” Now, being in a fallen world with a different vision than the biblical one, it can lead to us being disqualified based on its criteria of excellence.