We often say that we don’t know what it is that we are missing until it’s gone. We don’t realize how good we had it during our school days, until we are thrown into the workforce, and our parents cut us off from their money-dispensing teat. We don’t come to understand how important a person is to us until they leave us.
We don’t appreciate how happy we are, until the moment has already past, and we can do no more than look back at how happy we once were. We only become aware of the full force a situation has had on us when we look back and reminisce, comparing it to the state we are currently in — a state lacking the happiness that we once felt.
This brings me to question the definition that most people give happiness — or rather, this brings me to better understand why it is that most people fail to define happiness entirely. It seems that happiness has to be deciphered by interpretation via two different angles. For starters, happiness is only truly understood when juxtaposed with its exact opposite, unhappiness or lack of happiness. Secondly, it may very well be impossible to ever be happy in the moment itself.
It all revolves around the way that human beings learn and understand the world around them. We learn things not only by the way we experience them through our senses, but also by analyzing the senses, and then in turn, experiencing the sensations that this analyzing process, itself, is conducive of. Sensory experiences are not the only things that effect our emotions, imprinting our memory with a lesson learned. The thoughts and emotions themselves, which are a result of such experiences, likewise inflame other notions and other emotions.
Our minds are extraordinarily complex mechanisms full of intertwining strings of experiences and coinciding reasoning, linking together all our memories, all our emotions and in essence, our entire being. This makes understanding the precise way we learn and perceive the world very difficult. It also means that fully understanding anything requires experiencing both the presence, and lack of, said experience. There are certain sensations that we first learn the negative of, prior to experiencing the positive.
For example, we first experience hunger before we experience satiety — we are born hungry. We first experience loneliness and isolation before we are introduced to love and care. This, however, is not the case with happiness.
Happiness is not a natural state; it’s an elevated state. I believe that before we experience happiness or unhappiness, we are in a state of neutrality. We don’t feel either happy or unhappy, but content. We then experience happiness for the first time (being held in our mother’s arms after birth or being wrapped in a warm pillow) and are introduced to this elevated state of euphoria. Because happiness is so pleasant and is often readily available in different measures, we feel that it ought to be regular and consistent.
Because we first experience happiness and not unhappiness, (or at least the first instance of happiness that we feel, even if after that first unhappy experience, is more memorable because it is so very pleasant, and therefore, makes a larger impression on us) it feels as if — post the happiness experience — we are worse off, worse off from what we believe to be the natural state: happiness. We experienced happiness, and now that the state has passed, we are introduced to unhappiness.
This introduction does nothing more than increase our desire to once again achieve happiness — we now come to fully understand what happiness is; we have experienced its negative side. From this point on, we brush aside the idea of mere satisfaction and devote our lives to searching for the elevated state of happiness.
We don’t come to fully understand or appreciate the state of happiness until after the fact — always. In any given moment, you cannot experience anything but joy — a feeling of pleasure. This is realized in the moment we experience physiological changes: elevated heart rate, increased perspiration, an increase of dopamine, endorphins, serotonin and oxytocin. Let’s say that we do experience happiness while in the moment, we still will not fully appreciate it until we go back and analyze the experience.
Happiness involves more than just the current state of affairs. It involves our past memories and what we believe our futures will hold; if we believe our futures to be bleak, then our past happiness becomes negated. If we felt happy a second ago, we will not realize it until now, a second after the fact. Even then, we will not be able to fully appreciate how happy we were until our senses and state return to the neutral, content state. In other words, we are cursed to always be unhappy as we reminisce about the happy days past.
This is why I honestly believe that in order to lead a happy life, you must become accustomed to the state of satisfaction. If you are comfortable being content, then happiness will only be a plus, and the lack of happiness will only drop you back down to being content, rather than all the way down to being unhappy. Focusing on happiness as our ultimate goal is self-defeating; being in a constant state of happiness is, simply put, impossible.