The changing definition of happiness

Happiness hasn’t always been defined as:

state of well-being characterized by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy

[HT Wintry Knight]

From Muddling Towards Maturity. He quotes Chuck Colson on the pursuit of happiness.


Our founding fathers understood the pursuit of happiness to mean the pursuit of a virtuous life. This concept of happiness comes from the Greek word eudaimonia—which refers to a life well-lived, a life rooted in truth. That is what happiness means, and that is what every man and woman has an inalienable right to pursue—a virtuous life.

And as I wrote in my book The Good Life, this is the definition of happiness that we need to reclaim in American life—especially within the Church. After all, a Barna survey revealed that more than half of evangelicals agreed with the statement: “The purpose of life is enjoyment and personal fulfillment.”

Come on. If the last 50 years have taught us anything, it’s that consumerism and hedonism (the pursuit of unbridled pleasure) do not lead to happiness, but instead to personal and societal misery.

[…]The goal is not pleasure; it is righteous living, decency, honor, doing good—in short, living a virtuous life.

JP Moreland in a recent book and lecture series explores the historical understanding of “happiness” and how our current culture’s definition is predisposed to thwart what it purports to achieve.

Here is a brief lecture from JP Moreland outlining the issue:

For a more in-depth understanding of this subject, take a look at JP’s book, “The Lost Virtue of Happiness“.

Additionally, here is an interview with JP Moreland on happiness where he also discusses his battle with depression.

So when we talk to people in our current culture about “the good life”. It is helpful to point out that how we define a goal such as happiness determines how we go about achieving it. Or, as Socrates so eloquently put it:

The unexamined life is not worth living


2 responses to “The changing definition of happiness

  1. Thanks for this post. I believe that Colson quote is from How Not Shall We Live?

    In my Sunday School Class we are an eclectic mix of married couples. There are newly-weds, there are successful professionals, there are several new mothers, there are those planning on being stay-at-home moms, there are those obviously not.

    Having been raised by a stay at home mom, part of a larger family, and with my wife and I planning to do the same before much longer, the idea of two serious professionals married and holding off children and obviously living for personal fulfillment and enjoyment here on earth is something I have a difficult time understanding. Many of these professional couples are servants at the church, working hard to run programs and ministries and I am glad for this because I can better see their Christianity through this part of them than I can through their family decisions. I struggle with judging them in my heart.

    And yet, I am sad for them. When we focus our life on personal fulfillment we lose both fulfillment and happiness. And yet, when we focus on living well as you've explained, we gain both fulfillment and happiness, here and hereafter.

    And so I hope for their sake the great work they do for the Christian community and for others in the name of Christ will bring them fulfillment, not from their desiring it, but as an unasked for and unexpected blessing from God in reward for their diligent labor.

  2. Pingback: A deeper look at Blaise Pascal’s wager | Reason To Stand

Leave a Reply