Monday, December 27, 2010

Glad vs. Happy

Cover of the Dave Clark Five album Glad All OverMy recent post about merry vs. happy made me realize how much I like the word glad.

Glad seems much more positive and less narcissistic than happy. It's interactive and social. Maybe that's because one of its most common uses is "I'm glad for you."

The four definitions given are generally:

  1. feeling or characterized by pleasure or joy; happy; pleased
  2. causing or experiencing pleasure or joy; making happy
  3. very willing (as in, I'm glad to help)
  4. bright or beautiful
Webster's lists an additional meaning, which it calls archaic: "Having a cheerful or happy disposition by nature."

Yet we would almost never say, "She's a glad person," even though it's common to say "She's a happy person." This is where it's easy to see that the connotations differ: A glad person seems to be shining out toward everyone around her, while a happy person smiles inwardly. Glad brings to mind being gratefully aware of your state of being and how you came to be in that state, rather than just being content within your own bubble. If it's not too extreme, I might go so far as to say that a consumer is happy, but a citizen is glad.

Just from the sound of that single syllable with its æ sound, you can tell it's an Old English word. Checking its etymological roots -- glæd, meaning bright, shining or joyous -- confirms that it does come from Old English, but it appears to be related to a number of other words in half a dozen languages, including Latin. This one goes back to the proto-Indo-European language.

That the concept of glad was important enough to be part of hundreds of generations of our ancestors' communication, and that it has changed so little over time, indicates to me the essential nature of the concept.

I, for one, am going to try to use glad more often, particularly if I'm asked what I want for my child. "I want her to be glad," I'll say.


Linda Myers said...

I'm so glad, I'm so glad, I'm glad, I'm glad, I'm glad!

Remember that one?

Michael Leddy said...

I think there's a difference in use -- "glad" seems to name a reaction to some state of affairs. So it does seem more other-directed.

Linda, do you know that that song goes back to 1931? It's originally by Skip James.

Daughter Number Three said...

Michael, part of what fascinated me about it, once I looked into it, is that "glad" is used to define happy, and happy to define glad, but each has its own connotations.

On the musical front, I have fond memories of the instrumental song "Glad" by Traffic. Every time I hear it, I feel just as one would hope from a song with that name.