Are you happy?
In current times, this question is sometimes seen as a way to determine someone’s mental well-being. But what exactly is happiness?
In my opinion, people of modern times tend to forget quickly that despite the fact that happiness is a state of mind, it is also a mood, which means it can be as ephemeral as all the other moods. Sentences like Are you happy? and Be happy attach a sense of perpetuity to happiness. As if it can and should be a relatively permanent state, like physical health.
I believe when people ask if a person is happy in most contexts, what they really mean to ask is if they’re okay. Because a lot of the time, it doesn’t matter whether you’re happy that very moment or not. What matters is that you are healthy, and are capable of feeling happiness. Happiness and sadness are like two sides of the same coin. There are times where, when you feel sad about something, you become encouraged to change that thing, and then happiness ensues from your achievement.
But what exactly is the problem? Why is it so bad if people assume happiness can be perpetual?
When popular culture merges the ideas of being happy and being okay, healthy individuals in society begin to feel like their periodic sadness is an aberration, a sign that something is seriously wrong. (This is not to trivialise the medical conditions that can strip people of their ability to be happy) People can also tend to begin to treat happiness like it’s something one either has or doesn’t have, when in reality, it ebbs and flows like every other emotion we have.
People can also become hyper-focused on their lack of happiness, which is counter-productive, because happiness is that kind of emotion that tends to sneak up on you. Sure, you can find it by seeking it, but it tends to feel more all-encompassing if it ensues as a side effect of doing what you really love. Like Viktor Frankl succinctly puts it,
To live is to suffer. In my opinion, happiness is finding sufficient meaning in our unique sufferings and choosing, day after day, to place the meaning above the suffering itself.
Sometimes we aren’t so happy. And that’s perfectly fine, as long as we’re mentally healthy.
What do you think? What does happiness mean to you?