Why are the words happy and lucky so closely related, historically? Looking at the etymology, the hap in happy is the same as in happenstance, happen, hapless, etc. The etymology, according to dictionary.com is "ME < ON happ luck, chance."

What also makes me ask this is that it seems to be the case in other languages, as well. For example, in German, gluecklich still means both happy and lucky. In Russian, счастливый is the same - both happy and lucky.

Did people use to think that happiness meant good luck?

  • 3
    "Happy-go-lucky" immediately comes to mind.
    – mskfisher
    Commented Nov 9, 2010 at 19:42
  • Russian счасливый, originates from со-участие (co-party). Happines in Russian means involvement, parttaking, compassion. It is something communist and completely different from the stupid English individual luck.
    – Val
    Commented Aug 17, 2013 at 11:56

3 Answers 3


May not be entirely correct, but I do believe that historically "luck" and "happiness" were much closer to synonymous.

Recall that before many of modern technological and medical advances, one's entire status and well-being was attributed to how the gods favored them. In Europe, especially, the Catholic Church took a good amount of time to ingrain in people that if they were unhappy it was the will of god. As such it makes sense that if you are a "lucky" person, you are also a "happy" person. What person who is unhappy would ever consider themselves lucky? What person who is unlucky would ever consider themselves happy?

There are suggestions that "luck" was borrowed from the German "glück" as a gambling term some time before the 15th century. This would suggest that the word "luck" originated first and "happy" derived from it. In fact, all accounts point to the fact that in English and similar languages the evolution of the word "happy" began with "luck"

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=happy&searchmode=none :

mid-14c., "lucky," from hap "chance, fortune;" sense of "very glad" first recorded late 14c. Ousted O.E. eadig (from ead "wealth, riches") and gesælig, which has become silly. O.E. bliðe "happy" survives as blithe. From Greek to Irish, a great majority of the European words for "happy" at first meant "lucky." An exception is Welsh, where the word used first meant "wise."

Note the Welsh exception, proving that this isn't necessarily a rule, although for the most part a common pattern in the 10th to 15th centuries for "luck" to be equated with "happiness".

  • Point out that in (at least) German and Latin the words for happy and lucky are the same: "Gluecklich" and "Felix" respectively.
    – d'alar'cop
    Commented Mar 1, 2014 at 14:47

In fact happy doesn't come to mean "joyful" until the 16th century. It means "fortunate" before then and continues to do so in most instances for long after.

  • Can you cite some examples or references?
    – itsbruce
    Commented Aug 17, 2013 at 12:00

Surely, it's not that 'happiness' means 'good luck', so much as that if you have good luck you are expected to be happy?

Seems straightforward to me.

  • 1
    yeah but.. were these concepts not separate hundreds of years ago? they seem pretty different to me now, even if lucky might imply happy.
    – Claudiu
    Commented Nov 10, 2010 at 13:17
  • Of course they were separate. The fact that 'happy' originally had to do with luck and changed its meaning to contentment or joy says nothing about whether the concepts were or were not different: the meaning of a word is what speakers in general use it to mean, neither more nor less. The fact that "awful" formerly meant what we would now call "awe inspiring" does not say that awe and badness have ever been confused.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Nov 10, 2010 at 15:45
  • hm makes sense.. so they used other words to mean what we now mean by 'happy', like 'joyful' perhaps. what interests me more i guess is why this is the case in other languages, too, even with words completely unrelated etymologically (like the russian). maybe this is the wrong place for that question, though?
    – Claudiu
    Commented Nov 10, 2010 at 22:31
  • 1
    There are other example of parallel semantic development in different languages. For example, English "count", has meanings both to do with numbering and (in the compounds "account" and "recount") with telling a story; and this is also true of French "conte" from which it comes. But it is also true of German "Zahlen", and its English cognate "tell" ("Tell" no longer has the numbering meaning in English, except in a few fossil words and phrases such as "teller" and "tell a rosary"). It is also true in Hebrew, where "sefer" ('book') and "sippur" ('number') are from the same root.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Nov 11, 2010 at 14:02

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