Happiness

Bacon = happinessElusive 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.

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About Jamie D
I'm an entrepreneur and small business owner working in 3D animation and multimedia. I also have a keen interest in technology and education.

5 Responses to Happiness

  1. Smeagan says:

    My father has an interesting take on the matter, he believes asking people if they are “happy” is misguiding. To him, “happiness” is a fleeting emotion – an extreme to be felt like anger or sorrow. What he prefers to say is that people should seek contentment in their lives – they should aim to be content with how they are living rather trying to seek the ever elusive concept of happiness.

    I think this is a better way of putting it.

    The idea of being constantly happy, I think, is a relatively knew phenomenon. It wasn’t so long ago that your average person was too busy attempting to grow, hunt, or barter food to eat to even consider being permanently happy. It’s really only in this modern era of longevity and relative ease that we’ve had time to stop and think about how unhappy we are. Which isn’t to say that people were overly thrilled with their lives 100 or 200 years ago, just that they were too busy surviving to think about it.

    I don’t think there are too many people that have never been happy. I think there are too many people that experience happiness far too infrequently, but I doubt there have ever many people who have never been happy. I suppose the questionnaire is trying to measure the frequency of your happiness-experiences? Or maybe it is trying to measure contentment, like Dad says.

    Mostly I think it’s a big pile of turds and that it’s frankly impossible to measure everyone’s happiness through a 24-question questionnaire.

    I’m adopting my dad’s take on the matter: aim for contentment rather than happiness. I think if you are content in your life, then the moments of happiness will be much more frequent. Aim to have a job that leaves you feeling satisfied at the end of the day, whatever that may be. If you can’t have that job, try to develop a hobby that fills that hole for you. I think this will make you an all around “happier” person, because you will experience little moments of achievement, or fulfilment, or success, which can all be viewed as forms of happiness.

    Anyway, that’s just my two cents!

    • archdragon87 says:

      Although I’ve used different words to describe it, I think your Dad is spot on. Happiness comes and goes in drips and drabs, not unlike most emotional states. Contentment is much longer lasting – I’ve been conent for about 3 years running. Being content also doesn’t stop you from feeling both happiness and sadness, which keeps life interesting.
      Actually I think ‘content’ is a better word to use. I think I’ll be adopting it in future.

  2. ChrisThaLedg says:

    Happiness definitely means different things for different people and questions/surveys aren’t truly reflective of genuine happiness.. Johnny hit the nail on the head.. one size doesn’t fit all..
    Question 12 was interesting.. I still think anyone can have the greatest impact on the world and still live long in the memories of those that they touched long after they pass.. from personal experiences.. one of the most influential people that has ever touched my life hasn’t been one with us for nearly 4 years and his loss is still tough.. this person made many people smile and had a general love for life.. maybe thats it.. those who have a love of life no matter what they do and spread it towards others like a contagious bug.. the people that influence our lives.. a major key to happiness..

    • archdragon87 says:

      You’re spot on there. It’s entirely dependent on what you mean by ‘impact on the world’. It was the wording “in the grand scheme of things” that got me. Well in the grand scheme of things I’m not even sure human life matters, let alone a single life.
      But in terms of what we offer others, the joy we bring and indeed a love for life in general…well for me personally that’s about the most important thing one can do. Honestly I’m not sure how important the ‘grand scheme of things’ really is. It’s all about perspective and from my perspective it’s the life we live and the people we choose to live it with that’s important.

  3. JohnMWhite says:

    Well, I’m glad you’re happy. :p

    Honestly, I do find any attempt to quantify happiness to be a bit misplaced. It is for many people such a fleeting quality. For example, I could be extraordinarily happy while doing something I deeply enjoy, but that only lasts for the hour or however long I do that activity. But with chronic pain that never leaves, one might think that’s always going to drag happiness down to some degree. But is pain always automatically unhappiness?

    I’ve always seen happiness as more of a binary. I’m either happy in a given moment or I’m not. Retrospective looks at my life so far (I’m a similar age to yourself so I too have not that much to look back on) can show me a painful, frightening existence or an exciting adventure depending how I feel when I look at it. Perspective is key, I suppose, and like you say, an insignificant human existence seems pretty significant from a human perspective.

    I agree with you that the wording of some of these questions is poor and the survey seems to have a particular perspective of its own as to what constitutes happiness or meaning. That is what I would expect, though – meaning is what we make it. I just cannot see a one-size-fits-all approach to figuring out how happy someone is. I recall in philosophy at university, when learning of utilitarianism, asking one question that caused a bit of a derailment of the discussion – “what if the action that causes maximum happiness doesn’t cause happiness in some people? What if they just don’t feel happy?” Depression robs people of their ability to feel happy even when doing things they should, or normally would, enjoy. So can a happiness scale really be measured by asking questions about one’s life, activities and meaning when one can simply do everything ‘right’ and still not *feel* happy? Any measure of happiness I’ve seen so far does not seem to take into account that it can be a fleeting feeling and all sorts of things can cause it to occur when it should not or not occur when it presumably should.

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