Book Review: Happiness

Happiness, by Randy Alcorn

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.]


As someone who has read books by this author before [1], this book has an odd tension between its content and its tone. This is clearly a book written about happiness by a stern Calvinist who only feels happy when he is criticizing someone. For a book about happiness, a book that goes into great detail to give the Hebrew and Greek words that refer to happiness and joy and their shared semantic domain, including more than a dozen words that the author feels necessary to put in the book’s appendices because the book is long enough already, a surprisingly large amount of space is spent condemning people for not feeling happy enough, reminding them that God will punish them if they are not happy enough, and criticizing ministers for feeling and writing and preaching as if happiness is a bad thing, and thereby giving Christianity a bad name for not being happy enough. The author then makes comments about the Puritans, and even hellfire and damnation ministers like Jonathan Edwards of the First Great Awakening, writing and speaking a lot about happiness, as a reminder that happiness is an exceedingly good thing. Yet writing about happiness and talking about it does not make it live in one’s life, and this book does not live and breathe happiness, even though it certainly makes it plain that happiness is a major part of God’s expectation for us and of His character that we ought to develop. Yet one would want to see that happiness more in evidence than is the case in this particular book.

In terms of its contents, this book has a sprawling scope similar to his book If God Is Good. To put it colorfully, the author takes the subject of happiness in the Bible and beats it like a red-headed stepchild, and then yells at him for not being happy enough. That said, to the extent that one can ignore the tone of the book, there is a lot that can be enjoyed about it in terms of providing worthwhile information about the biblical view of happiness, including a great deal of praise for the Sabbath and Holy Days, and also explaining some linguistic principles about how to view biblical words in terms of semantic domains, or groups of related words, rather than on a word by word basis. In fact, I would have much rather read more information about the linguistics of accurate translation discussed briefly than the many times the author read somewhere that a minister tried to erroneously divide happiness from joy. Part One of this book contains eleven chapters that detail man’s search for happiness and how words for happiness are often mistranslated in contemporary languages due to the drift of language between 1611 and today and continued translation tradition. Part two spends eight chapters talking about the happiness of God. Part three spends ten chapters talking about the biblical words for happiness, joy, gladness, and related subjects, focusing on the Hebrew word asher (and its related forms), and the Greek word makarios. The fourth and final part of the book then spends sixteen chapters seeking to explain happiness in God, from Sabbath to confession and repentance to gratitude, lowering our expectations, and reflecting on God’s promises, among other methods.

Among the best aspects of this book is the eclectic way that Alcorn chooses different translations to capture a varied picture of happiness, as well as the unexpected point that the best translations for dealing with the happiness of God are either those literal-minded translations (like Young’s Literal Translation) that do not pander to translation tradition or those translations that feel no need to be tied to the popular KJV language, which used words that implied happiness in the 17th century but now carry a more restrictive meaning today through no fault of those translators. Also of note and worthy of praise is the way that the author chooses to write about his own life and his own personal struggles with depression. The more time that the author spends talking about his own life and about the lives of others, the more this book actually encourages happiness. The fact that the author acknowledges suffering and sorrow allows this book a richer perspective than it would be otherwise, and those readers who are able to appreciate the content of the book and delve into the biblical verses discussed at length and in great detail and with considerable skill, along with the lives and writings of others, will hopefully find their own perspective enriched, and at length feel happier themselves.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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8 Responses to Book Review: Happiness

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