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The Blue Bird of Happiness Phrase: Origins and Meanings

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 5 26


mtn bluebird
re over the rainbow
BlueBirds fly.
Birds fly over the rainbow.
Why then, oh why can't I?

Those lyrics from the film, The Wizard of Oz , shown in 1939, have enhanced the dreamy bluebird of happiness phrase. Judy Garland sang the words to "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and more bluebird meanings became popular. Then, a year later in 1940 the film, The Blue Bird came out, starring Shirley Temple. It was based on the Nobel prize winning play, L'Oiseau Bleu . In English it is The Blue Bird (Fairy Play).

It was premiered in France in 1908, and acclaimed highly successful. The author was a Belgian who wrote in French – Maurice Maeterlinck. He was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1911.

Interestingly enough, another author Marie Catherine D'Aulnoy published The Fairy Tales of Madame D'Aulnoy in 1892. One of the fairy tales is L'oiseau bleu (The Blue Bird). This was published 16 years prior to Maeterlinck's play. Since both have French premiers, I wonder if Maeterlinck hadn't come across D'Aulnoy's tale before he penned his play. Although they differ in the telling, the search for happiness connected with the bluebird is ever present. Her fairy tale can be read online at surlalune fairy tales.

It is also likely that D'Aulnoy was familiar with the positive sentiments garnished by the bluebird from the international roots of worldwide cultures. Indigenous tales and meanings of the bluebird of happiness phrase have graced human consciousness for a very long time. The published writings mentioned are also known as bluebird happiness stories.

Tattooes of the bluebird of happiness signify various meanings:

  • finding one's way

  • love (bluebirds have life long partners)

  • a well traveled road

  • come a long way

  • good luck

  • victory in adversity

  • triumph in love and life.

Common lore is that sailors with tattooed bluebirds would help them get to land – especially after being at high seas for a long time. Any tattooed bird, not just bluebirds will do. Birds are the first thing sailors would see that gave them the knowledge that land was near.

Some prisoners have them tattooed on a hand. The wings are on the thumb and forefinger (bluebird body in-between). It signifies time spent in prison. Maybe the happiness part comes in with hope to fly away from the jail – flap the thumb and forefinger, and wave the hand good-bye. Also, the plumage could signify the eternal sky, eternal happiness.

When a bluebird is caged (in a fairy tale, reality, book, play), the cage often represents the human heart. Really, our hearts hold happiness, or so we are led to believe.

I am fortunate to see Mountain Bluebirds. They differ from the Eastern and Western Bluebirds because they are almost completely bright blue. Watching them fly about makes me dreamy and smiling, like I am witnessing a great treasure in the sky. The Navajo Indians believe the Mountain Bluebird is a great spirit in animal form. So do I.


Mar 13, 2011 8:35pm
Thanks for the information on the Origins and Meanings of the phrase;The Blue Bird of Happiness. Great article.
Mar 14, 2011 12:05pm
My pleasure, thanks for the comment.
Mar 15, 2011 11:02am
I did not know anything about meanings or origin of "Blue Bird of Happiness Phrase' - thanks for a nice captivating article on the subject.
Mar 15, 2011 2:42pm
I didn't either until my curiosity urged me on. Glad you found it captivating.
Mar 21, 2011 11:16pm
This is a great article and I truly enjoyed it. Thank you.
Mar 22, 2011 3:31pm
You are so welcome. I love bluebirds!
Mar 29, 2011 1:04am
Great job footloose, as usual another quality front page worthy piece. Thanks.
Mar 29, 2011 1:41pm
Interesting piece. I wonder if the color blue over different ages ties in with meaning? Yellow was a notoriously grim color in previous Western mindsets, suggesting madness and decay.
Mar 29, 2011 1:55pm
Great thought! Why don't you research it and post an article, I'd be interested.
Mar 29, 2011 1:54pm
You are kind Dreamaker. Hopefully this will be helpful to readers.
Mar 29, 2011 10:53pm
This is an interesting read! The mountain blue bird is the Idaho State bird so you would think I would know about it. Thanks a bunch for a very informative article.
Mar 31, 2011 10:15pm
Charming article about the blue bird. Thanks for the interesting information!
Apr 1, 2011 11:48am
Great article.
Apr 1, 2011 10:47pm
Very interesting article on the "Blue Bird of Happiness Phrase." Excellent choice for Featured Article. Thanks for sharing.
Apr 3, 2011 8:26pm
There is a funny Far Side cartoon contrasting the bluebird of happiness with the chicken of depression. Thanks for the article!
Apr 5, 2011 4:17pm
I love the Far Side, will have to find that cartoon. Thanks!
Apr 12, 2011 4:51pm
Amazing Infobarrel! I definitely learned a lot from reading through it, and I really appreciate the new info.
Apr 12, 2011 5:18pm
I'm so glad- thanks for your comment.
Apr 20, 2011 10:56pm
Wonderful article. I love bluebirds!
Apr 23, 2011 1:19pm
Thanks amberr, I'm glad you stopped by!
Apr 26, 2011 4:45am
Lots of interesting information. I learned a lot from your article - thanks!
Apr 26, 2011 1:38pm
My pleasure, thanks for the comment.
Nov 12, 2011 1:26am
Release the bird from the cage. Let your heart room free! I had no idea about the bluebird, much before my time.
Nov 12, 2011 12:37pm
Maybe everyone will be free from their cages what with the 11-11-11 up to 12-12-12. Deep thoughts.
Jul 27, 2012 7:03pm
Wow, I just caught up with this article--Great, informative material--five stars from me!
Jul 29, 2012 3:12pm
Thanks Marlando, bluebirds just hold some magical interest for me...
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