Happiness. What does it mean to be happy? Why do we want to be happy? Is happiness a valid pursuit or goal? Is it a separable state of the psyche?
Happiness is one of those taboo, abstract words of the same category as “love”, “Life”, or “Freedom”. Such terms defy psychological and philosophical analysis. After all, how do you go about putting box around the amorphous monster that is our wide and varied definition of “happiness”? If there was an easy answer to this question than it would have been discovered long ago by people much wiser and much more worldly than either you or me.
Why must we persist in the exercise then? For some reason, we have a bizarre and irrational need for explanation of this whole “happiness” business. Much in the same track as the search for the meaning of life, it is a quest that is doomed to be as unresolved as it is ubiquitous.
Consider the following question: If I could give you a pill that would make you euphorically happy all the time, whenever you wanted, with no repercussions, would you take it?
To this too, there is no easy answer. If you take the pill, are you not forsaking the value of the journey? Doesn’t receiving instant gratification defeat the whole purpose of accomplishment in any form? After all, how can we – goal based, reward oriented creatures – apply any value to life if it’s fruits are so readily within reach?
The alternative answer raises no more palatable queries though. If you decide you do not want to take the happiness pill, then you are saying that there is a thing in life you value more than being happy. What could possibly have a higher value than ecstasy in being? Is that not our very definition of heaven; the very thing that humans have dreamed and built for throughout the entirety of our species existence?
There is no easy answer. Intellectually we know that there are pursuits in which we must sacrifice our own personal comfort in exchange for scientific progress, or family, or the greater good. But, we must always balance our sense of social empathy with our own desire for exuberance.
The religiously inclined believe that through deprivation of certain worldly pleasures they will be rewarded with pleasure far greater than any mortal happiness available to us in this plane of existence. This begins to approach another problem in the happiness dilemma though: where is the upper limit? Is an exceptionally happy rich man happier than an exceptionally happy fisherman? Doesn’t the mere idea of hierarchical rapture devalue all happiness below “infinite” to zero?
Buddhist monks have been said to achieve enlightenment or full understanding on their existence through meditation and solitude. Is their “enlightenment” a reflection of universal truths or is it merely a product of an incomplete equation? After all, one can imagine that it is much easier to come to conclusions about the universe when you have seen less of it to begin with. If all you ever knew was a small stone room in a monastery, then perhaps you could come to beautiful and even profound conclusions about that room, but they would not necessarily reflect the universe at large.
We are all living in our own version of the Monk’s stone room. We define the highs and lows of our life, our ecstasy and our anguish, by the depth of what we have already experienced. All happiness and all pain is relative to the experiences of the person experiencing it.
There was once a young girl held captive in a concentration camp for many years of her life. She had little to no outside stimulation. When asked what gave her happiness, what she found “fun”, she replied “the color yellow”.
Our search for meaning and definition in happiness is a boundless and limitless search that will expand as our perception of the universe (and our relative experiences there-in) expand. It is not impossible to imagine that one could artificially engineer their experiences to be an ever expanding series of increasingly happy and sad experiences so as to never prematurely reach the “happiest moment of their life”. To a large extent, our journey into adulthood already accomplishes this unintentionally.
Since there is no right answer to these questions, there can be no wrong answers either. Happiness and fulfillment are not concepts that can be captured in a jar and held up for inspection. Happiness can be found anywhere and in anything. Your own personal search for it or search away from it can only ever be influenced, not foretold. Be that as it may, our understanding of the human psyche and the universe around it is ever-expanding in its depth and reach. We may yet philosophize strange and complex proofs. However, much like with Plato’s cave, it is likely that the search for meaning among happiness and its definitions will ever be undercut but uncertainty. You can only ever decide what happiness means for yourself.