Are you happy?
It's a loaded question. Like it expects a resounding yes! or there's something deeply wrong with you.
It doesn't help that when you google the definition of "happiness", this is what you get:
Happiness is "the state of being happy". It's no wonder the woman in the example sentence had trouble finding it.
Like any noun, Happiness is just a combination of letters standing in for the real thing. But unlike "Chair" or "Avocado", "Happiness" only exists in the abstract without a physical form we can all point to in consensus.
The Happiness™️ Industrial Complex
The pursuit of vague Happiness️️™️ is a manufactured problem without a real solution. It suggests a final destination far from where we are in the current moment. It centers what's missing from our lives.
We see images of infinite Happiness™️ everywhere on TV, in ads, and flooding our feeds—fleeting moments that seem to last forever only when they belong to fictional characters and Instagram influencers.
We're convinced THAT is what Happiness looks like when the reality is closer to THIS:
There's a reason "happily ever after" is a staple of stories filled with pumpkin carriages and fire-breathing dragons—that "happy ending" is more often a euphemism for an erotic massage than an actual description of the remainder of a person's life. Happiness™️ is a carrot on a stick that doesn't exist.
Just google "how to be happy" and you get millions of clickbait listicles. If there was ever a measure of how much bullshit is written about a topic, it'd be this.
Imagine for a moment: Happiness™️ 24/7, every day of the year
What would ambition be without discontentment to drive it? How dull would desire feel if we never longed for anything? How would we recognize mistakes to learn from if defeat didn't bring us down?
We all experience dips, downs, valleys, "meh" moments, and apathy. Some days, bad stuff happens and you need to sit at the bottom of the proverbial pit for a bit. And other days, "happy" just feels harder.
Yet we're told that this rollercoaster isn't what "living your life" looks like—this is:
This hand-me-down definition of Happiness™️ turns it into an obligation that becomes the shortest route to unhappiness.
It's the notion that we need to pursue greater Happiness️️️™️ over time, filling our lives with more. It makes Happiness sound like fucking heroin.
To get more of it, we chase the things that are supposed to make us Happier—exponential career growth, the ideal partner, predetermined milestones like homeownership, sought-after status symbols, even the next step on the path to whatever we consider our dreams. And then we finally get what we desire, only to confront one of life's only constants.
Happiness is temporary. We get used to everything eventually.
A better word for "Happiness"
There are over 170,000 words in the English language, with specific words for "Happiness" and its many synonyms like "Joy", "Delight", and "Cheer".
But there are no dedicated words for the day-to-day happiness of the simple pleasures in front of us that often escape our attention as we scan the horizon for more. Pleasures like:
- Finding a new show to binge watch on Netflix
- A meal at your 4th favourite restaurant
- A freshly poured latte on a Saturday morning
- A compliment paid by a total stranger
- Cutting open a perfectly ripe avocado
I've searched and only ever found one word that kind of worked. It doesn't frame Happiness™️ as a desired state of feeling full or complete. It describes a way of processing life that leaves room for fear, uncertainty, sadness, apathy, and emptiness while putting what feels like happiness in your hands.