This evening I shall be going to the second instalment of my new evening class, Introduction to Philosophy: Happiness and Well-being. Tonight’s topic is ‘Contingency and Happ(iness)’ – a strange title, I thought, but written like that to emphasise the etymology of the word.

Happy originates from the late 14th century and the word hap, which means chance, fortune or accident. It came into the language from Old Norse happ and is still in the dictionary today. It’s where perhaps, mishap and hapless come from. As my course notes suggest, hap is also the root of happen and haphazard. All of these hap words suggest an element of chance.

So it follows that happy originally indicated something that turned out well or someone who was favoured by fortune. The modern meaning to signify when someone is greatly pleased and content came into use a bit later in the 1520s.

I don’t know why or how its meaning altered slightly in this way. Maybe good fortune made you happy, so the two became synonymous. Well in tonight’s class we’ll be continuing our investigation of what happiness is, and discussing its relation to chance and the accidental nature of our existence. Should be interesting. Don’t expect any clear answers, though!