What is happiness? We chase an elusive thing yet how to we measure our own happiness? Is it the childhood joy of running through a sprinkler in summer? The elation or self-satisfaction of a big win or job promotion? A sense of contentment and ease with the decisions you have made in your life and where you are thus far?
We chase the goal of happiness, but like many things that are widely desired (love, admiration, desire) happiness remains to be an abstract concept that is unmeasurable in any quantifiable manner.
We often choose to do things because it’s what we believe we should do. We should trudge through a boring four-year accounting degree at university because the end will be worth the means; not in that we are going to be able to make deeper meaning out of our lives by sitting behind a desk crunching numbers laboriously day in and out, but rather we are able to make money; the conspicuous bartering tool that is also tied up and complicated with ideas of happiness and worth.
We should settle down, get married and make a family, because that’s what the norm is and what is expected in the western, heteronormative, monogamy-focussed society in which we live. What betrays this expectation is the facts that many marriages don’t work out, children have been proven things even harder in a partnership and decrease happiness, and there is no guarantee that our children will even grow up to like us, despite our best efforts. So even though there is factual evidence that in this case, towing the socially expected line is difficult and fraught with the possibility of failure potentially worsening individual happiness, yet we still believe this is the way to go about life.
The difficulty lies in the shaky measurement of happiness, mentioned above, and the way in which we think the things we are told we should do in society (get a respectable job, settle down etc) are potentially at odds with what would make many individuals happy.
“Comparison is the thief of joy” is a great quote I have used with athletes that get overly hung up on rating their performance against others’ performance, but the quote works quite nicely for bigger picture life as well, it’s particularly apt in this era of social media, the exploitation of self and the ‘highlights reel’ we present as true life rather than choreographed glimmers of uploaded perfection. That guy with the garage full of sports cars? He works 60-hour weeks every week and doesn’t see his family. He has toys but life is otherwise vacuous and empty. That picture perfect, cookie-cutter family that is enviably outwardly perfect in any way? Well he’s looking at other options, she’s depressed, and the children are on a fast track to diagnosable mental health disorders.
That being said, should we strive to be happier or should we settle in lives that are guaranteed to disappoint us at some stage? I don’t really have the answers but it provokes interesting questions.