by Liz Walter
My last post was all about sadness, so it is good to turn to a more cheerful subject: happiness.
Let’s start with the phrase I’ve used in the title: on cloud nine. Nobody really knows the origins of this phrase – one theory is that it refers to the cumulonimbus cloud that was number nine in the ‘International Cloud Atlas’ and rises higher than all other clouds, while another relates to one of the stages of enlightenment in Buddhist thought. Still, it’s enough to know that if you are on cloud nine, you are extremely happy. In fact, you are in seventh heaven (from the belief in some religions that there are seven levels of heaven, the seventh being the highest).
Several other happiness idioms rely on the metaphorical idea of being in a very high place. We can say that we are walking/floating on air, on top of the world or over the moon. Similarly, something that makes you feel happier is said to lift your spirits.
Moving away from height metaphors, In British and Australian English, we can say (rather sweetly, I always think) that someone in a generally happy mood is full of the joys of spring. If you are extremely pleased about something that has happened, you can say that you can’t believe your luck. In British English, we also say that we are thrilled to bits.
If someone has been sad but becomes more cheerful, we say that they cheer up or perk up. Something that brightens up your day makes you feel happier, and if you revel in a situation or an activity, you get great pleasure from it.
There are several rather strange similes connected with happiness: Brits and Australians are as happy as Larry or as happy as a sandboy and Americans are as happy as a clam. It is thought that ‘Larry’ is the undefeated boxer Larry Foley (1849-1917), and that ‘sandboys’ were youths whose job was to deliver sand for the floors of inns, and who were ‘happy’ because they were often rewarded with alcohol! The American version is probably a shortening of ‘as happy as a clam at high tide’, i.e. when no longer exposed to predators. All of these phrases are slightly old-fashioned now.
If someone is happy in an enthusiastic and lively way, we can say they are like a dog with two tails, and if they have a self-satisfied air, they are like the cat that got the cream. More crudely, if someone looks completely comfortable and happy in a situation, they are like a pig in muck.
Do let me know if you can think of any other nice happiness phrases, or any interesting ones from your own language.