The Pursuit of "Happiness"

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
When did the language of "happiness" enter into theological discourse? I've read it in several places in the 17th century Puritans and Presbyterians, arguing that true "happiness" can only be found in God. I certainly agree with that idea. But I'm curious when that terminology entered into standard theological discussion. It's clear to me that the language was co-opted and taken in a secular direction by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. But it was shaped by previous use. Anyone know the answer to that? Was it an English speaking phenomena? Or translated from earlier theological roots?

And how has the definition of "happiness" shifted from it's earlier theological to secular use? It seems that "happiness" is a more subjective way of describing our reconciliation with God, and since that subjectivity is so abused in modern rhetoric and religious cliché I'm wondering how useful it is to continue using it. Was it more objectively defined in it's earlier uses?

Thanks for any input you may have.

John Yap

Puritan Board Sophomore
From Holman Treasury of Key Bible words:

The “pursuit of happiness” is so central to human drives that it has even been written into a nation’s constitution as one of the goals of its citizens. It is one of the things discussed in any good beginning philosophy course in college. It is also something that is mentioned often in the book of Psalms and elsewhere in both the Old and New Testament. ʾEsher, the word translated “happy” (KJV, nlt), can also be translated as “blessed.” These two felicitous states of human beings are intimately laced together. They are at times impossible to differentiate in some biblical passages; by definition, the Lord blesses the happy person and the person blessed by the Lord is happy. The word ʾesher is used only in the plural form in the Old Testament. The noun comes from an original root, ʾshr, meaning “to go straight or advance.” So the blessedness and happiness of the person of God is one who advances in understanding and in the ways of God, turning neither to the right or the left. In some cases, ʾesher also means to “be led on” (Isa. 9:15). The happiness or blessedness of the people of God is tied to God leading them forward. Happy is the person who does not live according to the counsel of the ungodly (Ps. 1:1), for God approves of his ways and makes him happy. The book of Psalms notes many reasons why the “blessed” man is indeed blessed and happy. Happiness belongs to those who: take refuge in the Lord (Ps. 2:12), have their sins forgiven (Ps. 32:1), live in a nation whose God is the Lord (Ps. 33:12), have righteous parents (Ps. 37:25–26), have regard for the poor (Ps. 41:1), have a wise king as their ruler (Ps. 84:4), trust in the Lord (Ps. 84:12), and fear the Lord (Ps. 112:1). This is only a partial list of who is happy and why, but in every case it is the Lord who is the ultimate cause and source of happiness.

Jesus’ words in the beatitudes echo and reflect these Old Testament concepts. He says: happy or “blessed” are the peacemakers, the pure in heart, the merciful, and those persecuted for His name (Matt. 5:3–16; makarios in Greek). Jesus’ words remind us that the truly blessed in this world are those who believe in Him (John 20:29). Blessings and real happiness are not and cannot be found in the things of this world, for they are merely gifts from God and come from His hand.