Are you happy? How do you know? This is a serious question as there is no objective yardstick by which to measure happiness.
You may be thinking, Really? There’s no way to measure happiness?
I don’t think so, other than your own subjective assessment of how you feel. Well, there is the Pichler-Korsecky Inventory of Individual Joy that was developed by psychologists back in the sixties, but this instrument has fallen out of favor in recent times. It seems the multiple-choice questions (all 250 of them) involved options the respondents could easily figure out. They could tell which choice would move them higher on the happiness scale, or if they didn’t want to register happy (for whatever reason), which choice would move the needle toward the depressed side. I think you’ll agree that the PKI is a useless tool when you read this actual question from the instrument:
Whenever you hold a puppy, do you feel (A) unsanitary. (B) confused. (C) like a child. (D) waves of cosmic energy coursing through your body.
Here’s the deal: Whether we’re happy or not involves a personal assessment of our feelings at any given time, a judgment call that can be influenced by myriad factors: the weather, the latest internet clickbait we encountered, music, smiles from cute people, butterflies, smooth stones, warm breezes, what Donald Trump did or didn’t do today, mud holes, broken handles, grumpy spouses, sex or the lack of it, a good deal, delayed shipping, argumentative asshats, flat tires, noisy neighbors, the smell of freshly baked bread, chipped teeth, hemorrhoids, incompetent waiters, dirty bathrooms, hot showers, compliments, criticisms, etc.
So we’re back to my original question. Let me rephrase it: Are you in a steady state of satisfaction, joy, and contentment? Is life, taken as a whole, a pleasurable experience? You are the only person who can answer this. I wouldn’t trust a psychologist or a Facebook quiz.
Before we answer let’s examine contributing factors. Lack of happiness is usually attributable to dissatisfaction in five key areas: (1) work or career-related conditions, (2) relationship status, (3) the roof over your head, (4) health, and (5) finances. We can define, discuss, qualify, and quantify each of these, but we’re not going to. These are the main headings that other happiness-determining factors fall under. If I can achieve a three out of five ranking on three of the five factors, then I’m not miserable. I’m okay. I’ll probably be singing, cracking a few jokes, and skimming stones. But reaching this mark, at least in my experience, has not been easy. Think about it. There’s much that can go wrong and stay that way. Keeping the needle on the satisfied side in all five factors is a Sisyphean endeavor.
I’m not sure it’s possible to achieve happiness, but we must try. Through arduous application of energy we will make slow progress. Forces we don’t understand and can’t control work against us. Disease and death lurk. But even in the bleakest of times, when we’re between zero and one in all five factors, we can still experience moments of joy.
Actor Christopher Reeve published a book a few years after the horse-riding accident that left him paralyzed and unable to breathe on his own. Titled Still Me, the book’s cover features Reeve’s smiling face superimposed over a beautiful bucolic scene. In spite of debilitating circumstances, he found hope and purpose. He remained productive and, I daresay, happy until the end of his life.
Henry David Thoreau wrote, “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
Tennis legend Arthur Ashe wrote, “Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.”
Our nation’s founding document lists the pursuit of happiness as one of our God-given, unalienable rights—not the state of happiness, but the pursuit of it.
I believe the knowledge that we won’t achieve a complete state of happiness in this lifetime is liberating. There is satisfaction and pleasure in the pursuing. So keep at it.
This comes from a position of newly acquired (relative) happiness whereby my pointers are hovering between three and five in each of the aforementioned happiness-determining categories—an all-time high for me. Finding myself pleased with life, content, happy is a blessing for which I’m very thankful. I didn’t achieve this state; forces outside my control aligned, stabilized, and balanced what I never could. So have faith, my friend, especially during this holiday season. Do your best, keep pursuing.
Asking if you’re happy is really pointless, for you’ll never be as happy as you can be. The days to come hold many beautiful moments for you. When they arrive, be thankful!