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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

One Tall Voice: What does it mean to be happy?

Published: March 28, 2008
Section: Opinions

A few months, someone left a very intriguing message in my Honesty Box on Facebook. Now, I have gotten some really interesting posts, but this one was truly thought provoking. Essentially it said something like this “You’re too happy, is it real or just a façade?” At first, I didn’t know what to make of this statement. Happy to me is such a strong term, a word that is thrown around a lot these days. I would rather consider myself in a perpetual state of contentment, utilizing happy for the chance occasions that I am filled with truly indescribable joy. Furthermore, everyone’s state of happiness is dependant on a number of factors, and most importantly, it relies on each individual’s perception as well. I’d like to answer this anonymous sender and maybe in the process relate some of my views on the nature of happiness.

I think people use the term happiness way too much in our current society. Surely there are multiple layers to this emotion, and these very distinct variations are not given justice when utilizing this blanket term. I would rather contend that many individuals are not happy, but merely content. There is nothing particularly thrilling about their current situation, nothing quite exceptional about the way they usually feel. They are content in the way that they are indifferent about their current state of emotions, and there’s nothing wrong with neutrality. I think the words “happy” or “happiness” should be reserved for truly special times in one’s life. For instance, at the end of achieving a pivotal life goal, or at an intense moment of emotional joy. These moments and select others, are events when people can properly call themselves happy. In other periods, I would adamantly defend that we are all are merely in a state of contentment.

I’d also like to adamantly defend that “happiness” is not about an intricate calculus and other factors. The truly important aspect is all about perception. For instance, I responded to this honesty box message by saying that I was what he would call “happy.” I stated that I was starting to look forward to warmer weather and that thought, at that moment, was the image that was making me happy. I could just as easily have said that the current weather, or the return of winter next year, was on my mind. Nevertheless, I decided to think to the coming spring and the feelings that I associate with the season. In that moment, my perception of the world was making me content. In this example, simply a matter of perception turned a bleak thought into one of joy. I am confident that perception is the driving force behind individual happiness. It transforms saddening experiences into ones that are joyful indeed.

Our society is obsessed with the state of being happy, with attaining this most noble of attributes. Nevertheless, I adamantly defend that there are multiple layers to this term. When people sometimes ask me how I am, I often respond with “content” or “indifferent.” Sometimes I get sad-looking faces and once a person said “I’m sorry.” Nothing to be sorry about! Indifference and contentment are pretty sweet, as having an average outlook on the world is better then being pessimistic. The way one views a situation, the way one perceives their life is truly what defines our outlook. View things with a positive stance and happiness will diffuse your life. I would say to the person that wrote my honesty box message that I am content and there is nothing wrong with that. And also, I think the message was completely appropriate as it is good to question our positions on life. But the person who posted “I fear dolphins” in my honesty box is just weird. Seriously what exactly does that mean anyways?