We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out moreJump to Main NavigationJump to Content
  • Text size: A
  • A

happiness, n.

Brit. Hear pronunciation/ˈhapɪnᵻs/
U.S. Hear pronunciation/ˈhæpinᵻs/
Forms:  late Middle English–1600s happynes, 1500s happynesse, 1500s–1600s happines, 1500s–1600s happinesse, 1600s hapines, 1600s–1700s happyness, 1600s– happiness. (Show Less)
Frequency (in current use):  Show frequency band information
Origin: Formed within English, by derivation. Etymons: happy adj., -ness suffix.
Etymology: < happy adj. + -ness suffix.
In ten thousand happinesses   at sense 1b   (compare quots. 1678   and (with reference to a formal greeting) 1994) after Chinese wànfú < wàn myriad, the numeral ten thousand, also used to denote a very large number more generally (frequently in charms and blessings) + fortune, happiness.
The quality or condition of being happy.

 a. Good fortune or good luck in life generally or in a particular affair; success, prosperity. Now rare.Sometimes difficult to distinguish from sense 2a.In later use chiefly in to have the happiness to : to be fortunate enough or have the privilege to (do something).

?1473   W. Caxton tr. R. Le Fèvre Recuyell Hist. Troye (1894) I. lf. 10v   All my lyf hath ben nouryshyd in happynes.
1509   A. Barclay Brant's Shyp of Folys (Pynson) f. ciiiv   Suche seldome sauour fortunes happynes.
a1525  (a1500)    Sc. Troy Bk. (Douce) l. 2685 in C. Horstmann Barbour's Legendensammlung (1882) II. 296   Fortoune, þat in hie happynes Settis seire mene.
a1616   W. Shakespeare Two Gentlemen of Verona (1623) i. i. 14   Wish me partaker in thy happinesse, When thou do'st meet good hap.  View more context for this quotation
a1704   T. Brown Ess. Satire Ancients in Wks. (1730) I. 24   Whether..we follow them by the only force of natural happiness, or instinct.
1781   J. Moore View Society & Manners Italy II. xlix. 52   We all bowed to the ground; the supplest of the company had the happiness to touch the sacred slipper.
1838   Amer. Monthly Mag. Feb. 5   I had the happiness to sit as the representative of that large and opulent town for a period of six years.
1922   Atlantic Monthly Sept. 313/1   Sure we cannot have had the happiness to meet you for nothing. 'T was ordained you should walk in upon us.
1972   J. Lane Severed Crown vi. 29   He replied with some tartness that he had the happiness to know his royal father better than I, and desired me not to be too confident in the knowledge of how his ghost would speak.

?1473—1972(Hide quotations)


 b. An instance or cause of good fortune. Frequently in plural (in later use often as part of a stylized formula for wishing good fortune).Sometimes difficult to distinguish from sense 2b.

1540   J. Palsgrave tr. G. Gnapheus Comedye of Acolastus i. i. sig. Ciiiv   How great a happynes or quietie (it is) to a father to haue his chyldren by al thinges.
1597   H. Lok Ecclesiastes To Rdr. sig. Aiiijv   So much the more despising these instable & imperfect happinesses of this life.
1601   R. Johnson tr. G. Botero Trauellers Breuiat 28   Nature hath..heaped into this teritorie..all those delightfull happinesses.
1678   T. Otway Friendship in Fashion ii. 18   Ten thousand happinesses wait on you.
1705   tr. W. Bosman New Descr. Coast of Guinea xv. 277   It is a very great Happiness, and particular Providence of God, that the Sea and Rivers here seem..to contest.
1740   C. Cibber Apol. Life C. Cibber iv. 55   It was therefore one of our greatest Happinesses.
1886   C. H. Spurgeon Treasury of David VII. Ps. cxxviii. 2   Heaped up happinesses in the plural belong to that man who fears the Lord.
1994   J. Dent-Young & A. Dent-Young tr. Shi Nai'an & Luo Guanzhong Broken Seals (2002) iii. 72   The young woman wiped away her tears and came forward to wish them ten thousand happinesses.

1540—1994(Hide quotations)


 a. The state of pleasurable contentment of mind; deep pleasure in or contentment with one's circumstances.the greatest happiness of the greatest number: see greatest adj., n., and adv. Phrases a.

a1500   Ratis Raving (Cambr. Kk.1.5) l. 1254 in R. Girvan Ratis Raving & Other Early Scots Poems (1939) 36   My sone, Set nocht thi happynes In na syk plays mar na les.
1534   U. von Hutten in tr. L. Valla Treat. Donation Syluester Pref. sig. C.iv   Who can prayse and meruayle ynough at your filycyte & happynes, most blessed Leo.
1591   E. Spenser Ruines of Time in Complaints 357   Like beast [that] hath no hope of happinesse or blis.
a1616   W. Shakespeare Cymbeline (1623) v. vi. 26   To sowre your happinesse, I must report The Queene is dead.  View more context for this quotation
1667   J. Milton Paradise Lost viii. 621   Let it suffice thee that thou know'st Us happie, and without Love no happiness .  View more context for this quotation
1725   I. Watts Logick ii. v. §3   Happiness consists in the attainment of the highest and most lasting natural good.
1734   A. Pope Ess. Man: Epist. IV 1   O Happiness! our Being's End and Aim! Good, Pleasure, Ease, Content! whate'er thy name.
1851   H. Spencer Social Statics Introd. 5   Happiness signifies a gratified state of all the faculties.
1868   A. Bain Mental & Moral Sci. 217   Each one's happiness may be defined as the surplus centre when the total of pain is subtracted from the total of pleasure.
1902   W. James Varieties Relig. Experience iv. 78   How to gain, how to keep, how to recover happiness, is in fact for most men at all times the secret motive of all they do.
2012   Independent 19 Mar. 29/5 (caption)    He said happiness and a life without tension were key to his longevity.

a1500—2012(Hide quotations)


 b. An instance or source of pleasure or contentment.

1637   T. Nabbes Microcosmus 111   I am transform'd into a happiness Cannot be figured.
1792   H. H. Brackenridge Mod. Chivalry I. 150   It is a happiness to a man to be able to amuse himself with writing.
1859   Harper's Mag. Jan. 205/1   Mother asked me if I did not think it a happiness to be able to bestow pleasure on those poor friends of hers?
1891   ‘J. S. Winter’ Lumley xiv. 101   Such a happiness that it has all come right.
1904   Rep. 18th Ann. Meeting Harvard Law School Assoc. 104   It is a happiness to me to put my feet upon the soil of Massachusetts.
1978   W. S. Graham Let. 9 Dec. in Nightfisherman (1999) 353   I saw a very red robin this morning. What small happinesses.
1996   Sunday Tel. (Austral.) (Nexis) 30 June   Who but a hypochondriac would state that his idea of a perfect happiness was not having a headache?

1637—1996(Hide quotations)


 3. Successful or felicitous aptitude, fitness, suitability, or appropriateness; felicity. Also: an instance of this. Now rare.

1550   R. Sherry Treat. Schemes & Tropes sig. E.v   By hys singuler vigilancye sought them oute, by his hyghe prudence espyed them,..& with great happines toke them quyte awaye.
1600   W. Shakespeare Much Ado about Nothing ii. iii. 176   Claudio He is a very proper man. Prince He hath indeede a good outward happines .  View more context for this quotation
1630   R. Norton tr. W. Camden Hist. Princesse Elizabeth iii. 131   The charge of the whole fleete she committed to Charles Howard of Effingham..of whose happinesse she had a very good perswasion.
1656   J. Denham Destr. Troy Pref. sig. A3   There being certain Graces and Happinesses peculiar to every Language.
1779   S. Johnson Cowley in Pref. Wks. Eng. Poets I. 41   He..reduces it from strength of thought to happiness of language.
1826   B. Disraeli Vivian Grey II. iv. i. 158   Possessing no vigour of language, and gifted with no happiness of expression.
1926   F. L. Lucas Authors Dead & Living 86   If his ideas are common as flies, the happiness of his style and his personality has made them as rare and as immortal as flies in amber.

1550—1926(Hide quotations)




  happiness is —— : used to express that contentedness is achieved by means of the stated item, experience, situation, etc.

1960   C. M. Schultz in Chicago Tribune 25 Apr. iii. 12/8 (caption)    Happiness is a warm puppy.
1968   J. Lennon & P. McCartney (title of song)    Happiness is a warm gun.
1972   K. Bonfiglioli Don't point that Thing at Me xviii. 159   Happiness is..just-a-few-earlies in the vegetable garden.
1994   Action Asia Aug. 88/3   If you're hardcore about mountain-biking, happiness is a great off-road trail that offers gut-wrenching uphills, heart-stopping downhills and an environment that combines a sense of real exploration with wild, untouched natural beauty.
2004   Post-Standard (Syracuse, N.Y.) 23 Apr. (Final ed.) b5/4 (advt.)    Happiness is never having to ask directions.

1960—2004(Hide quotations)




  General attributive, esp. with reference to measuring the level of contentment of a person or group of people, as happiness index, happiness level, etc.

1912   Financial Rev. of Reviews Aug. 37   Whatever the new expenditure, the happiness index soon returns to its old figure, whatever that may be, determined by unseen facts of the individual psyche.
1930   Sci. News Let. 15 Nov. 308/2   Among other findings from the happiness survey are: the state of a man's finances is no reliable gauge of his happiness.
1939   Amer. Jrnl. Sociol. 44 571   The happiness index provided a rough measure which could be correlated with personality, sexual, and other background factors, the object being to discover factors that might be used in predicting the probable degree of adjustment in a given marriage.
1955   Galveston (Texas) Daily News 10 Mar. 7/2 (advt.)    Getting liberal dividends twice a year on insured savings keeps you reminded that you're building permanent security. Try that on your happiness meter!
1970   G. Greer Female Eunuch 276   Perhaps she can try a glass or two of tonic wine? More likely her G.P. will..prescribe a happiness pill.
1998   Independent 24 Nov. i. 5/2 (caption)    ‘Happiness indicators’, such as land use, will be used to gauge the average Briton's quality of life.
2012   Daily Tel. 12 Mar. 23/1   Happiness levels throughout life form a U-curve, reaching their lowest ebb in the mid-forties before climbing back up into old age.

1912—2012(Hide quotations)


This entry has been updated (OED Third Edition, December 2013; most recently modified version published online September 2022).

In this entry: