March 10, 2012 5 Comments
Elusive little bastard isn’t it? But maybe that’s not terribly surprising when you consider the different meanings being ‘happy’ has had over the last three thousand years or so. The ancient Greeks apparently defined it as ‘luck’. Something that the Gods bestowed upon you and you really had no say in the matter. Over time this has changed many, many times until we get to todays meaning of happiness, whereby not only can everybody be happy, but if you’re not there must be something wrong you with.
Paradoxically, you’ll probably be happy to know that’s bollocks.
I strongly encourage you to read this article over at Cracked.com called ‘5 scientific reasons your idea of happiness is wrong‘. We’ve already covered some of these ideas in the TED Talk ‘Paradox of choice’ (#27 on the TED Talk Challenge page), but this article goes into a bit more detail on some areas and I thought it was worth sharing.
And once you’ve read that you might want to consider hopping over to the Authentic Happiness Questionnaire. Annoyingly it does require registration, but you can opt out of their spam. I scored a 4.3 out of 5, which puts me in the top 3.5% of users.
Although that’s a really awesome score, I have to say I didn’t find the questions all that appealing, and I wanted to dedicate the rest of the post to explaining why a couple of these questions don’t work for me. And do remember, they just don’t work for me and a lot of that has to do with my being a happy pessimist. They might very well work for you.
Question #4 was the first one that made me twig there was something I didn’t like.
A. My life does not have any purpose or meaning.
B. I do not know the purpose or meaning of my life.
C. I have a hint about my purpose in life.
D. I have a pretty good idea about the purpose or meaning of my life.
E. I have a very clear idea about the purpose or meaning of my life.
Personally A and E are the same answer for me. My life has no intrinsic purpose or meaning, however I’m very clear about that idea and it doesn’t bother me. I chose E simply because the wording of the question made me feel that was the answer they were looking for.
Question #11 kinda stumped me too.
A. Time passes slowly during most of the things that I do.
B. Time passes quickly during some of the things that I do and slowly for other things.
C. Time passes quickly during most of the things that I do.
D. Time passes quickly during all of the things that I do.
E. Time passes so quickly during all of the things that I do that I do not even notice it.
Generally, people find that time passes quickly when you’re having fun and time passes slowly when you’re not. That really hasn’t been an issue for me. The time I spent at University was probably the happiest three years of my life. Oddly enough it felt like about three years.
The answer they’re looking for in terms of happiness contribution is obviously E, but the honest answer for me is A or B. However this has nothing to do with my happiness scale, which I know is strange, but that’s just me.
#12 really cracked me up.
A. In the grand scheme of things, my existence may hurt the world.
B. My existence neither helps nor hurts the world.
C. My existence has a small but positive effect on the world.
D. My existence makes the world a better place.
E. My existence has a lasting, large, and positive impact on the world.
Again, the obvious answer here is E for the best happiness contribution, but the honest answer for me is B. I actually upped my answer to C just because I thought the question was badly worded and it would be closer to the answer they were searching for.
You see, the in the grand scheme of things, my life means dick. I will disappear from this universe as quietly as I came into it and virtually no one will care. And those that do care will move on in a month or two, which is a terribly short time in the grand scheme of things. But again, that doesn’t bother me.
#17 was also interesting.
A. I have accomplished little in life.
B. I have accomplished no more in life than most people.
C. I have accomplished somewhat more in life than most people.
D. I have accomplished more in life than most people.
E. I have accomplished a great deal more in my life than most people.
Well firstly I’m 24, so I really haven’t had time to accomplish much. But honestly, by the time I’m 74 I probably still won’t have accomplished much, and that’s because very few people do. Most of us will go through our day-to-day lives, do what’s required to live comfortably and not much else. And I’m okay with that. I don’t need to cure cancer or be the next big boy band to feel happy. My accomplishments aren’t linked that strongly with my sense of happiness.
Question #22 was also a little tricky for me.
A. I experience more pain than pleasure.
B. I experience pain and pleasure in equal measure.
C. I experience more pleasure than pain.
D. I experience much more pleasure than pain.
E. My life is filled with pleasure.
Although things have drastically picked up for me this year, last year was awful, mostly because I was broke, owed people money, didn’t know when I was going to get a decent paying job and didn’t even know how I was going to pay the rent next month. On top of that I had people and pets dying on me. Life kinda sucked. But it…didn’t really bother me that much. Pain is a natural part of life and I get my enjoyment out of life, not necessarily the conditions of said life.
The final question, #24 is strange, but also kind of good for insight.
A. My life is a bad one.
B. My life is an OK one.
C. My life is a good one.
D. My life is a very good one.
E. My life is a wonderful one.
Comparatively speaking, if you’re reading this you should be answering E, because it means you have Internet access, which means you have a computer or phone, which likely means you have enough money to buy food, shelter and appliances. Compared to a good chunk of humanity, you’re doing fucking brilliant.
What makes this a good question is how few people reading this would likely answer E, which means your sense of happiness is not tied to how fortunate you are. Not sure what that means exactly, but it’s interesting none the less.
What I found interesting about these particular questions was how they were asking how ‘big’ you felt. Have I accomplished much? How important is my existence? Does my life have meaning?
For an atheist, all answers to these questions would initially sound pretty down in the dumps. But far from making me unhappy, many of these things make me happy.
But perhaps I’m looking at the questions too intrinsically. In the grand scheme of things (remember, that is their wording) I’m not important, my life has no meaning and anything I accomplish is so small and insignificant to be rendered meaningless. But from my very small and very limited human perspective my life is the complete opposite.
I have a great job, I own my own business, I make decent money, the jobs I do have a positive effect on the world, I have a roof over my head, I have a great family and great friends, I’m fairly well-educated, I’m physically well off and I eat very well. That’s a pretty good list of accomplishments, meaningful experiences and I think of all of them as important. So on what scale are these questions asked? Because depending on how you phrase the questions you’ll get a very different perspective of happiness. And that I think is half the problem when questing after happiness. We’re asking the wrong questions.
-Ignorance is not bliss. Stay inquisitive.