How do we measure happiness, exactly?
I was feeling pretty glum the last couple of days, and all of the things in my life that worried me felt suddenly impossible to overcome. And one thought kept playing on loop in my head: when was the last time I was truly happy?
The answer should be obvious; any moment I get to spend with my husband and my son, that should be my last happiest moment… right?
Except it’s not. Having a newborn is tiring. My son is the best baby and we had him in the best possible circumstance. We’re surrounded by grandparents, aunts and uncles who don’t hesitate to help out whenever they can. But. I have not had a full night’s sleep since the first day Finn was born. That’s just a fact of life I have to accept.
What about the last time Jamie and I went out on a date? When we celebrated our three year marriage anniversary? I should have been completely happy then, right? But I wasn’t. Because while I was trying to enjoy myself, there was a constant thought running through my mind: Finn. I can’t shut it off. I can’t make myself stop wondering if he’s hungry or uncomfortable.
It may sound like I am unhappy with Finn–that’s not the case. Finn makes me happy. Feeding him and cuddling him makes me happy. Being with him makes me happy, but those are all little happy moments strung together to show that Finn is now a person that makes me happy, but he alone is not responsible for contributing to my overall happiness with life.
Because Happiness, with a capital H, is something that encompasses every area of a person’s life. I can be happy with my son but be unhappy about something else. Being happy with Finn is a distraction, a relief, a burning torch in the darkness against all other depressing things that an adult has to worry about.
So I thought of making a “form”. A sort of a quiz with questions about how I felt about all different areas of my life. The quiz would help me identify what I was unhappy about exactly, and knowing your enemy is half the battle, or some type of saying.
There are many psychological and sociological studies done on Happiness. It’s like an elusive puzzle that countless people have dedicated entire lifetimes to solving.
The way I have always seen it is in categories. There are several different areas of our life that are variable. Some are within our control, some are not. These are:
- Basic Needs (like food and shelter)
- Personal (how you see yourself)
- Relationships (family, friends, love)
- Work (how fulfilled do you feel in society)
- Financial (financial freedom?)
That is how I’ve broken down the different factors that contribute to our overall happiness. Basic Needs and our own perception of self seem to be the most important in my mind, because that’s where it all begins. Then we extend to our close and personal relationships, and then our place in the world, and finally how we feel about our financial standing.
I put myself through the test, and here’s what I found.
- All my basic needs have been met. Happiness filled up to 20%.
- While I am not completely happy with who I am, I am okay with who I am and I am optimistic that I will continue becoming a better person. Add 15% and Happiness is filled up to 35%.
- I am happy with my choice in family. Jamie and Finn are two of the most brilliant bright lights in my life. There are relationships I wish could be better, like the one between my parents and I, but I have come to accept to leave the things I can’t change. I have great friends but I live much too far from them, which makes me lonely. I would say in relationships area I can only add 10%. We’re up to 45%.
- I’m completely out of work right now. I don’t have a job. I started my “career” later than most people, but I did well in it. I don’t work right now because of two reasons: Finn, and living on the farm. Am I worried about unemployment? Yes, but only in so much as wondering how my small family and I will survive. I don’t feel defined by unemployment as it is much by choice. I choose to have the lifestyle I have now and if I were to choose to work again, I would not have much trouble getting work. I am also lucky in that I don’t define myself by a “career”. My measure of “productivity” is tied to everything I can do well rather than the few things I have done. I see boundless potential in myself as I have learned that I am adaptable–and I take pride in that. I’d give myself 20% in this area. So we’re up to 65%.
- Money: Personally I am just okay. When I say personally, I am referring to money that is just my own, and not shared. It’s strange that even though we are married, I don’t see Jamie’s money as mine. I don’t see financial assets as ours unless it is something that we actually put equal shares in. I don’t know why I think this way and I don’t know how to change it. I also don’t think I should change it. Thanks to the Australian government, I have enough parental leave to last me for a few months without worrying. And the cost of living here is very low, therefore I am doing fine. Ultimately money is not very important to me. I do wish I had more of though (doesn’t everyone?). Add 18% and that brings us up to 83%.
83% Happiness–that’s not too bad! That’s a B+ if we were to measure it against my old middle school grading scale. I can now tell myself that when it comes to overall happiness, I am doing just fine.
And that’s the whole point of this exercise: helping myself accurately gauge level of Happiness so that I don’t end up trapped in a well of negativity.