Who’s with me: I can be 100% happy when I’m stuffing my face with a perfect chocolate glazed donut from {insert favorite donut shop} that not a thing in the world can bring me down or out of my fat girl haze. So happy in fact I can totally and utterly not hear my kid screaming for dear life as he/she hangs by one shoestring from the tree I told them not to climb. Thankfully, in this instance, they also did not listen to me when I told them to tie their shoes before they head outside. I can be so happy that when no one else in my family wants a donut I find no qualm with finishing off the rest of the box more quickly than a dog in heat jumps the neighbor’s poodle.  However, how happy am I that same night preparing for a date with hubby as I squeeze into my fat jeans that would have been more easily painted on my body than what I would have to go through to put them on? Happiness is not the word that my husband would describe as I unabashedly blame him for buying those bastardly donuts in the first place.

Happiness is fleeting and doesn’t mean shit.

Happiness is fleeting and doesn’t mean shit

Happiness is an emotion. A temporary condition based on how the subject, you or I, feel when exposed to a certain stimulus. And so if the science of being happy is subjective, how is one to measure, study, or define? And if one can’t measure, study or define, how can one increase the level of happy if there is an undetermined base from with which to compare against?

While I feel happy when I hold the hands of my husband and children, (for they have made me feel loved), the feeling of happiness is not what I’m striving for at all because it will only take until the hour and minute hand align with that magical place on the clock for my children to tell me otherwise as the moan, groan, complain and fuss their pajama cover butts up the stairs and to their bedrooms. Off to la-la land they go, mumbling every ‘your a bad parent’ remark they happen to be brave enough to say.

Psychologist Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University compares happiness to optometry in terms of subjectivity:  “Optometry is another one of those sciences that is built entirely on people’s reports of subjective experience. The one and only way for an optometrist to know what your visual experience is like is to ask you, ‘Does it look clearer like this or (click click) like this?’”

Harvard University compares happiness to optometry in terms of subjectivity:  “Optometry is another one of those sciences that is built entirely on people’s reports of subjective experience

Here’s a thought: If the feeling of being happy is dependent on external stimuli, as this Harvard psychologist would suggest, and proven by our Instagram world –  constantly waiting and counting the number of hearts on each post, all the while that stimuli pumping that happy feeling through our veins – we as a society find ourselves constantly striving to present something to the external world that will cause others to respond in a way that gives us that feeling of happiness.  How exhausting. And rather selfish; “What can we do to make others give us that raise in stimuli?” It’s no wonder then that so many of us find ourselves to be depressed after those stimuli no longer work.

The need for constant reassurance from external stimuli is virtually impossible. Even when plugged into our devices 24/7 the raise in our emotions from that external stimuli is so fleeting that we become addicted to the next fix. When the external stimuli finally go quiet, we crash. And we crash hard.

Subjective Well Being

Aristotle stated that happiness has two branches: hedonia (pleasure) and eudaimonia (a life well lived) Yet if we constantly are looking for that feeling to come from external stimuli, hedonia (others making us feel good by giving us a like or social media comment) or eudaimonia (others judging the perception of our well-lived lives on social media, the lives that we filter and choose to display), we continue in the downward spiral like an addict on heroin. It’s not going to end well.

Yet, if we turn that pleasure and feeling of a life well lived internally, through reflection and self-assessment based on our own judgments to assess whether or not we are living a life that is well serving to ourselves and those around us, we are then in a much more stable mental state to truly be happy without being the junkie waiting for their next fix of stimuli. Turns out this is much less fleeting.

The Tripartite model of subjective wellbeing (SWB) is a theory developed by Diener which describes how people experience the quality of their lives and includes both emotional reactions and cognitive judgments.

Let’s go back and take that same sweet moment of the four, soon to be five, of us cuddling on the couch. Baby girl with her wet curly hair leaning her head on my shoulders, baby boy trying desperately to get mommy or daddy to rub his back, and hubby scooting ever so close until all four of us are sitting together on one of the seven cushions available. In that moment I am so happy. The external stimulus is freakin off-the-charts!

Yet by only looking outward to what they are making me feel, the minute they turn into the gripping gremlins from ‘I-don’t-want-to-go-to-bed hell’, the feeling of happiness is replaced with ‘not-this-freaking-nightmare-again-parent- frustration’…at the very least. However if before that magical moment is realized, I turn inward, being grateful instead for the family that surrounds me and the assessment that by being engaged with them I am living a life of meaning, that gremlin moment from hell turns more comical than anything.

This is because gratitude and self-assessment are extremely hard to displace. And because consciousness is not governed by committee, the only one that can displace that gratitude and self-assessment is you.

Assess for success

Next time you find yourself asking why you aren’t happy, stop looking externally for those stimuli that drug the brain into thinking it’s happy. Stop letting yourself crash. Instead asses for success. Take stock of what you deem in your conscious of what makes life meaningful, engaging, and fulfilling. Are you proud of the person you have become? Are you satisfied with how you have lived? Are you content with how you treat others? What are you grateful for? What are the subjects in your life that are unhindered by what other people perceive or judge?

If it’s hard for you to answer any or all of these questions, you may be a junkie and it’s going to be hard for you to be happy using the same modes and means. Try exploring your very personal and unique definition (your subjective) of well being.