Schastye, the Russian Word for Happiness (Sort of)

The Russian word for happiness is schastye. But there are crucial differences between being happy and being schastliv. Let’s find out which ones.

I want to start the “Dictionary of the Russian Soul” with a telling example of the notion that the language shapes the mind of its speaker. This is schastye, the Russian word for happiness.

In English, “happiness” originates from the Old Norse happ, “good luck.” This implies that a happy person is someone who has had a good fortune. In Russian, schastye stems from the noun chast’, “a part”. Thus, in Russian, to be happy means to be part of something (bigger).

Schastye also cognates with (and basically is a contraction of) the word souchastiye, which is just as difficult to translate directly, but hovers somewhere between “companionship,” “compassion,” and “sympathy.”

By the way, the same word souchastiye stands for “conpiracy” (to a crime).

To be honest, I have a hard time translating schastye, and especially its derived adjective, schastliv, to English. “Happy” sounds too lighthearted to convey what schastliv means in Russian. When a person is schastliv, he or she is not thinking of how lucky he or she is, but feeling connected to something bigger.

Here’s a comparison of google images for “happy” versus schastliv to illustrate the point:

Happy versus "schastliv" (adjective of "schastye", the Russian word for happiness): Comparison of google images

On a side note, raising one’s arms seems to be a prerequisite for both “schastye” and happiness.

The opposite is also true. If you want to say “I’m happy” in Russian, using “Ya schastliv(a)” is an overkill. What do you do, then? A safe bet is to say Ya rad(a)”  “I’m glad.” While not exactly a translation, it doesn’t sound as if you’re exposing your soul to a stranger during a noncommittal small talk (which “Ya schastliv(a)” does).

In writing, an interesting option is to misspell the word as shchasliv (replacing the initial two letters and ch with a single shch and removing the mute t before l). Russians often use this trick to trivialize loaded words (something worth a separate article). Just make sure that your penpal is not a Grammar nazi.

Finally, when unsure, you can always use this synonym for “happy”, which is translingual and which Russians are notorious for overusing:

🙂