Bob Dylan on ‘Happiness’ vs. ‘Blessedness’

We’re currently exploring the Beatitudes or “Blesseds” of Matthew 5:3-12. While the vast majority of translations translate the Greek makarios as “Blessed are…”, the Good News Translation instead chose, “Happy are…”

Are ‘happiness’ and ‘blessedness’ the same thing?

We could as the Bible, but sometimes its more fun to ask Bob first.

In a 1991 Rolling Stone Magazine interview with Bob Dylan on his 50th birthday, Mikal Gilmore asked Bob, “Are you a happier man these days than twenty years earlier?” Dylan’s answer is characteristically illuminating and expectedly unexpected:

“Oh, man, I’ve never even thought about that,” Dylan said, laughing. “Happiness is not on my list of priorities. I just deal with day-to-day things. If I’m happy, I’m happy – and if I’m not, I don’t know the difference.”

He fell silent for a few moments and stared at his hands. “You know,” he said, “these are yuppie words, happiness and unhappiness. It’s not happiness or unhappiness, it’s either blessed or unblessed.

As the Bible says, ‘Blessed is the man who walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly.’ Now, that must be a happy man. Knowing that you are the person you were put on this earth to be – that’s much more important than just being happy.

“Anyway, happiness is just a balloon – it’s just temporary stuff. Anybody can be happy, and if you’re not happy, they got a lot of drugs that can make you happy. But trust me: Life is not a bowl of cherries.”

*I found this quote in my teacher Prof. Rodney ReevesMatthew commentary.

Quintessential Dylan.

If chasing worldly happiness is a “yuppie” preoccupation, then we live in a yuppie nation and breathe the oxygen of a yuppie culture. At the end of the day, however, the Bible isn’t a handbook for happiness; it’s a pathway to holiness. Happiness is often a byproduct of pursuing divine blessedness, but it is not the goal. Put another way,

These beatitudes are all true regardless if we are happy or not (though we have every reason to be happy). For example a person is not likely to be happy while he is mourning (Matt 5:4), but he will receive the blessing of being “comforted” – possibly at a later date. And we all know a sinner can be happy even if he doesn’t exhibit the Christian traits encouraged by the beatitudes … but he won’t be “blessed,” will he?


It’s always a fool’s errand to speculate on the meaning behind Dylan’s cryptic words and personal life and faith. But I love the idea of a 50 year old mega rockstar looking back at his life so far, with every worldly comfort and luxury at his fingertips, and scoffing at the notion of a shallow, materialistic pursuit of mere happiness.

Artists and poets, like spiritual sages and mystics, know intuitively there’s far more to life than mere happiness. I imagine the greatest songwriter of all time (and now a Nobel laureate) saying, “Happiness? That’s the subject for 1960s bubble gum bands. I have more weightier matters on my mind.”

Like what? How about making sure, in Bob’s words, “you are the person you were put on this earth to be – that’s much more important than just being happy.” The Beatitudes invite us to become the kind of disciples we were put on earth to be: that is, disciples who are being “conformed to the image of Christ” (Rom 8:29).

“Anyway, happiness is just a balloon – it’s just temporary stuff,” Bob warns. I think Jesus said similar things – often. So, take it from Bob Dylan if you won’t heed your friendly neighborhood pastor:

Stop being a yuppie and follow Jesus.

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