It turns out that the word happiness is just not a useful word anymore because we apply it to too many different things. ~Daniel Kahneman

I ruminated over the cognitive traps of happiness for quite some time today after watching a TED talk on the riddle of experience vs. memory, and found the voice in my head asking repeatedly, "What does happiness really mean?" There was no answer but there was a long conversation (yes, with another voice in my head). All I could come up with were other adjectives, synonyms that tried to put a finger on contentment, joy and well-being. I couldn't figure out why those words weren't enough and why we created a word that was as difficult to define, experience and prove as a deity, and why our experiential reality is at such disparity with our memory.

I thought of the common opposite for the word, sadness. That evoked images of depression, sluggishness and loss. That word seemed like a package, an effective wrapper for those words. I then tried to identify a word for something in the middle, a more common normal state, the one we normally operate in, an equilibrium if you will. I decided "fine" was the only acceptable word.

It seems we rationalize not feeling constantly euphoric by making up sayings like, "if you didn't know sadness you wouldn't know happiness". How ridiculous is that? I'll volunteer to be the first person who doesn't know what happiness is if I never have to feel sadness. Am I alone on this?

It occurred to me that people maintain states of sadness with more consistency than they do happiness. Happiness seems to be those fleeting manic moments that occur when something overtly special happens to make one forget, for the length of its duration, any discomfort, pain, problem, loss or other unfortunate emotion or situation. Who doesn't usually have some of those going on?

After a few hours of this I decided it is impossible to "be" happy and that only happy moments are possible. Therefore, no one "is" happy. I came to the conclusion that most likely we operate in the "fine" zone most of the time but confuse lack of sadness with something it isn't - that endorphin like euphoric feeling of "happy". So, by default when we aren't riddled by sadness we say we are happy - but really it isn't true and that's why we feel like we are never quite happy enough, because we can't sustain true feelings of happiness for more than a few moments.

We live life reaching for those intoxicating moments that are far and few between if we are very honest with ourselves.

Watch the video and then tell me your thoughts on happiness.


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