Happiness Is Not Even A Real Thing

Happiness, my friends and brothers in Christ, is not real. And as far as it is real, if I may be allowed to equivocate in this very first paragraph, it is purely aleatory. I love the word aleatory, by the way, as it is such a by the way word. Alea was a kind of dice game in Rome; remember when Julius stentoterized his alea jacta est? If you read Asterix as a kid you do. Aleatory is a fancy word for random. It is a roll of the dice. And happiness, if it be real, is a word of omens, astrology, and happenstance. Happiness is aleatory.

Ah, happenstance. A word that looks like circumstance and happen collided and happen won. And that, friends, is what happy means. Happiness is what happens. Happiness is when happenings are favorable in your perception. Happiness is hazard working out. Happiness is haphazard.

In many Spanish-speaking countries a way to congratulate someone is to say enhorabuena. It's written out as one word when it's a felicitation, but it's a combination of three words, in good hour/time. You hear good news and you say, "in a good hour this news has come to me".

It's an ancient phrase. El Cid Campeador, the Spanish national hero immortalized in thousand-year-old epic poem and Charlton Heston movie, is the one who enbuenahora was born, and who enbuenahora cinched his sword to his waist. At one point in El Cid's epic tale, in between battles, "all the castilians were enhorabuena, and all gave themselves to rejoicing".

In this case the capriciousness of happiness is not eventual, but temporal. These, sirs, are good times, but tomorrow they may not be.

And let us not even speak of felicity, or felicitations, or felicidad or felicit√†. Felix is just a cat and we know how reliable they are. Felix, fecund, and fetus all have the same root, suggesting fruitfulness, and what's more, fellare is to suck. Felix is Latin for "happy", sure, but also for "lucky", because one is sucking from Fortuna's teat. To be happy is to be lucky in Latin. Same word.

Let us return then to en hora buenaBonheur is French for happiness, as is heureux for happy. You'd think the Spanish and the French were connected. Apparently many Frenchmen do too. But no. In French to be happy is not to experience a good happening, nor to be experiencing a good time. No, happiness is to be experiencing a good augur, a good augury. The sacrifice's guts have been read, and they are favorable to you. You are under a good star, under a good gut.

Why all this etymological play, dear reader? Well, mostly because its fun. I like this stuff. But also to tell you that not only in English, but as universally as I can tell you (I wish I could go broader than western Europe, but I cannot), happiness is circumstantial. All these words are about what's happened to us.

When we ask ourselves that deadly question, "Am I happy?", we are not asking about happiness, we're asking about something more profound. But we have difficulty answering our question to ourselves, both superficially and profoundly, because we've asked the wrong question.

Let me answer the question for you. Are you happy? If you have work, a stable marriage, healthy children, and food on the table, you are happy. By definition. Happiness has happened to you. You have the good circumstances.

What you're asking about is something else, maybe somethings else. You are asking about joy. You are asking about contentment. You are asking about things deeper than your circumstances. So much deeper in fact, that you can not be happy (no job, angry wife, not enough food) and still have contentment and joy.

Contentment and joy, by the way, are two very different things. One is satisfied, the other is seeking; one is earthy, the other is otherworldly. But the important thing is that both are independent of circumstance. If you find yourself in good circumstances but "unhappy", you shouldn't be asking why you're not happy. Ask yourself where your joy is.

C. S. Lewis on joy:

"As I stood beside a flowering currant bush on a summer day there suddenly arose in me without warning, and as if from a depth not of years but of centuries, the memory of that earlier morning at the Old House when my brother had brought his toy garden into the nursery. It is difficult or find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me; Milton's 'enormous bliss' of Eden (giving the full, ancient meaning to 'enormous') comes somewhere near it. It was a sensation, of course, of desire; but desire for what?...Before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse... withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased... In a sense the central story of my life is about nothing else... The quality common to the three experiences... is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again... I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is."

Joy is a quest, a walk, a journey. If you lack it, you must embark on a quest. You must follow Jesus on his mission; you must serve the Kingdom of God. You need a reason to live; this is that reason, the best of reasons. It does not depend on events, or the times, or the auguries. Whether they be bad or good, you have Jesus and the things he's given you to do. You have joy, and perhaps even contentment.


  1. Your thinking happy thoughts has caused happy thoughts to happen in my head.

    Also, I kept expecting hapless to show up, but it didn't (until this happy moment).

    1. Good thing it did, though, it was definitely necessary. Glad you liked the article!


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