Opinion: Don’t Quantify Happiness

While at the dentist the other day, the first question I was asked was, “Were you happy with your first year at BU?”

After I corrected the dentist by mumbling “BC” while tools filled my mouth, I nodded, signifying my answer to her question. While it took me some time to recover from the fact that I was thought to have gone to BU, I lingered even longer on the question she asked me--one pertaining to happiness.

Since I’ve returned from my first year, I have been questioned about all things Boston College. However, one question never fails to be asked while I’m conversing with a relative, friend or stranger: “Are you happy there?”

The frequency with which I’ve been asked this question has made me realize the growing emphasis that is placed on happiness in school and work environments.

On one hand, I am thankful for how concerned many are about my well-being. I’m glad the first question I am asked is related to my happiness and not to my GPA or future plans. It is important to be satisfied and comfortable, especially away from the comfort of home. However, being asked about my happiness multiple times has made me question, “Just how happy is happy enough?”

Nowadays, there is an emphasis on happiness as a personal growth factor. We quantify our well-being and measure our satisfaction. And, while monitoring our overall level of happiness is healthy, micromanaging it is not.

There is a new wave of importance placed on happy students in school, and even more so on happy employees in the work place. We are told that happy people are more productive, thus we are convinced to strive to attain a certain level of happiness, a level that may be measured and manipulated.

There now exists performance-evaluating technology that monitors negative and positive emotions by noting pulse rate, physical signs of stress, and other various indicators. Happiness is no longer merely observed by the individual, it is a game played by technology versus the individual.

This technology only furthers the overarching need to constantly be happy. Because our individual happiness is stressed so greatly in various environments, we feel the need to meet a certain level of it. Thus, our happiness, whether consciously or subconsciously, becomes a personal project that we work on for the sake of others.

This manipulation of happiness is why it is unhealthy to make satisfaction quantifiable. When we are taught that our happiness must reach a certain level to be productive or beneficial, our emotions become problems. We become so intent on proving or improving our happiness that it consumes us. We force feelings of happiness upon ourselves, oftentimes pretending happiness is present when it is not.

The truth is that happiness can not be forced. Even more importantly, it is key to recognize that happiness may not be a constant state, but the accumulation of many moments.

Because there is an urge to prove that we are happy with our current situation, I always find myself answering “Yes” to questions along the lines of my dentist’s. However, the truth is I can’t classify my entire school year as “happy.” Nine months is a long period to label one constant emotion.

By measuring and monitoring our level of happiness, we are taught to have a sense of responsibility for our feelings, and that responding negatively to upsetting events is always within our control. By making the pursuit of happiness quantifiable, we develop a sense of failure when things don’t go as planned, as if we are personally responsible for events that make us feel unhappy.

Well-being is not something that should be sold or marketed to us, and happiness isn’t an emotion that should be measured by technology to make us more productive. We should strive toward happy moments, and stop worrying about a constant state of satisfaction, and recognize happiness isn’t a project that needs to constantly be improved and compared. And, personally I have noted that it is okay not to answer "yes" when asked if I was happy at school, but that a more honest "most of the time" will suffice.

 

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Emma Powers