Happiness is Not a Useful Word Anymore

Motivated by Jessica Simpson’s recent comment that she doesn’t brush her teeth, I was going to blog about hygiene slackers in the workplace and how to deal with them. Most people would rather carry out a termination (fire someone) than have “the conversation” with an offender. However, a friend send me this TED talk on happiness and it resonated so much with me it changed my mind. This is one time for me that hygiene can wait…
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Happiness is Not a Useful Word Anymore

It turns out that the word hap­pi­ness is just not a
use­ful word any­more because we apply it to too many dif­fer­ent
things.  ~Daniel Kahneman

I rumi­nated over the cog­ni­tive traps of hap­pi­ness for quite some
time today after watch­ing a TED talk on the rid­dle of expe­ri­ence
vs. mem­ory, and found the voice in my head ask­ing repeat­edly, “What
does hap­pi­ness really mean?” There was no answer but there
was a long con­ver­sa­tion (yes, with another voice in my head). All I
could come up with were other adjec­tives, syn­onyms that tried to put a
fin­ger on con­tent­ment, joy and well-being. I couldn’t fig­ure out
why those words weren’t enough and why we cre­ated a word that was as
dif­fi­cult to define, expe­ri­ence and prove as a deity, and why our
expe­ri­en­tial real­ity is at such dis­par­ity with our memory.

I thought of the com­mon oppo­site for the word, sad­ness. That
evoked images of depres­sion, slug­gish­ness and loss. That word seemed
like a pack­age, an effec­tive wrap­per for those words. I then tried to
iden­tify a word for some­thing in the mid­dle, a more com­mon nor­mal
state, the one we nor­mally oper­ate in, an equi­lib­rium if you will. I
decided “fine” was the only accept­able word.

It seems we ratio­nal­ize not feel­ing con­stantly euphoric by
mak­ing up say­ings like, “if you didn’t know sad­ness you wouldn’t know
hap­pi­ness”. How ridicu­lous is that? I’ll vol­un­teer to be the first
per­son who doesn’t know what hap­pi­ness is if I never have to feel
sad­ness. Am I alone on this?

It occurred to me that peo­ple main­tain states of sad­ness with more
con­sis­tency than they do hap­pi­ness. Hap­pi­ness seems to be those
fleet­ing manic moments that occur when some­thing overtly spe­cial
hap­pens to make one for­get, for the length of its dura­tion, any
dis­com­fort, pain, prob­lem, loss or other unfor­tu­nate emo­tion or
sit­u­a­tion. Who doesn’t usu­ally have some of those going on?

After a few hours of this I decided it is impos­si­ble to “be” happy
and that only happy moments are pos­si­ble. There­fore, no one
“is” happy. I came to the con­clu­sion that most likely we oper­ate in
the “fine” zone most of the time but con­fuse lack of sad­ness with
some­thing it isn’t — that endor­phin like euphoric feel­ing of “happy”.
So, by default when we aren’t rid­dled by sad­ness we say we are happy —
but really it isn’t true and that’s why we feel like we are never quite
happy enough, because we can’t sus­tain true feel­ings of hap­pi­ness
for more than a few moments.

We live life reach­ing for those intox­i­cat­ing moments that are
far and few between if we are very hon­est with ourselves.

Watch the video and then tell me your thoughts on happiness.

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