Our modern use of the word “happy” seems to refer mostly to an emotional state. Older uses include this–but seem to be more holistic than the emotion of happiness–closer to “human flourishing.” When English translators of the Bible come to the Greek term for happiness, but want to emphasize this fuller meaning, they use the term “blessed.”

In the Bible, in Matthew chapter 5, there’s a famous teaching from Jesus that folks call “The Beatitudes”–which means “supreme blessedness.” Here, he lists a series of statements that describe the “happy life”–the blessed life. What does spiritual flourishing look like? Quite a bit different from how most people think.

J.B. Phillips paraphrases this teaching, and sets it against another list of the ways “most people think” when they consider the pursuit of the good life. Here, Phillips reaches for the term “happy” to help convey his point: that the Jesus Way is radical. Dallas Willard calls it “upside down” compared to the way most people think.

Here’s Phillips:

Most people think:

Happy are the pushers: for they get on in the world.

Happy are the hard-boiled: for they never let life hurt them.

Happy are they who complain: for they will get their own way in the end.

Happy are the blasé: for they never worry over their sins.

Happy are the slave-drivers: for they get results.

Happy are the knowledgeable men of the world: for they know their way around.

Happy are the trouble-makers: for people have to take notice of them.

Jesus Christ said:

Happy are those who realize their spiritual poverty: they have already entered the kingdom of Reality.

Happy are they who bear their share of the world’s pain: in the long run they will know more happiness than those who avoid it.

Happy are those who accept life and their own limitations: they will find more in life than anybody.

Happy are those who long to be truly “good”: they will fully realize their ambition.

Happy are those who are ready to make allowances and to forgive: they will know the love of God.

Happy are those who are real in their thoughts and feelings: in the end they will see ultimate Reality, God.

Happy are those who help others to live together: they will be known to be doing God’s work.

J.B. Phillips, Your God is Too Small: A Guide for Believers and Skeptics Alike, 92-93.