One Day to the Next: A Meditation on Happiness
People Enjoy What They Enjoy
Does happiness exist in varying degrees? Why is it that something that makes you happy one day would not bring as much joy on another?
A close friend and I recently discussed this question, and she immediately argued that, although many different situations can wield happiness, the degree of that emotion is not always the same. She went on to explain that spending time with friends brings a joy not quite equal to that of going on vacation. Similarly, although both events are pleasurable, she confessed that going shopping gives her much more happiness than attending a sporting event.
I thought about what she was saying and asked if she wasn’t confusing happiness with mere likes and dislikes. In my mind, liking shopping more than sports automatically means you’ll be happier doing the former than the latter. This instantly discounts the belief that happiness is tiered, but instead confirms a very basic truth: People enjoy what they enjoy.
She grew a little angry at the simplistic view I had taken. Her disappointment in my linear thinking was nearly tangible. “Think of it this way,” she urged. “Are you as happy now struggling to pay bills as when you were 23 years old and earning a steady $600 a week? Are you as happy now living in a rented townhouse as when you owned your own home?”
I feared once more that she was in a state of confusion, this time blurring the line between happiness and stress. Stress does, after all, dampen any emotion. But she wouldn’t let up until I was on her side. “You don’t know whether or not you’re as happy, because you’re too busy trying to stay afloat. If your happiness were the same as years ago, you’d immediately recognize it, and we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.”
When she put it that way, I began to understand her point. She was essentially saying that you might believe you’re happy now, but perhaps you were happier at a previous time. We all know life’s circumstances can change in the blink of an eye, and you’re usually helpless to do anything but sit back and watch. When those changes are unfavorable, it stands to reason that the happiness you once felt is diminished. But this doesn’t mean you can’t find happiness again and be just as happy as before.
My friend further argued that finding joy in your garden isn’t the same as being given a diamond ring. “You can be happy in both situations,” she said, “but that happiness isn’t equal.” She ended with a flourish and a smile, suggesting she was pleased with her line of reasoning. I have to confess that I agree happiness is measurable. It’s not an all or nothing emotion, you’re not necessarily happy one day and then unhappy the next. Rather, you might be happy in the morning and slightly less happy in the evening, if the day took a toll on you. Similarly, you might be happy with your marriage, but were perhaps slightly happier with a relationship you had in college.
Does it make sense to think about happiness in this manner? Probably not. But recognizing the emotion for what it really is can be useful for understanding how it impacts your own life. At the end of the day, however, all any of us can ask for is to feel at least a little happiness. If you have that in your heart, you’re a blessed person indeed.