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Can You Measure Happiness?

You eat a satisfying meal. You score the highest in your grade. You land your dream job. Your sister gets married and builds a beautiful family. You see your grandparents in love after 55 years of marriage.

The smallest to the biggest joys in life all provoke one universal feeling – happiness. Happiness is a broad term encompassing several feelings leading to a mental, physical, emotional and, spiritual change. ‘Happiness’ is defined as the “feeling or showing pleasure or contentment”. Being ‘happy’ is a term used by people worldwide irrespective of race, caste, and gender. This being said, can happiness indeed be quantified and analyzed through statistics that represent this ‘data’ on graphs and pie charts? What is it that makes this ‘emotion’ measurable?

The science of subject well-being (SWB) is a positive psychology concept that refers to self-report surveys that assess an individual’s happiness and life satisfaction. SWB talks about how people experience and evaluate their lives along with specific activities and domains. This concept is gaining greater importance and consists of 3 main components – Life Satisfaction (LS), Positive Affect (PA), and Negative Affect (NA). You may often question ‘how much happiness counts for being happy?’ ‘Am I delighted, or am I mistaking my happiness?’. Proponents of SWB argue that one is as happy as one feels. This is affected by internal factors such as personality and outlook along with external factors such as society. There is an excellent emphasis on SWB due to its direct correlation with health, leading to more productive and happier life quality.

On the one hand, positive psychology sheds light on subject well-being. In contrast, on the other, there exists a repertory of research on objective happiness. The United Nations released the 9th World Happiness Report, which ranks 149 countries in national ‘happiness’. In 2021, India has ranked 139 out of 149 countries, conducted through telephone samples. Is happiness purely correlated to economic factors such as GDP, or do psychological and individualistic characterizes come into play?

Happiness is not as simple as an ‘equation’ of expectations and experiences. Psychologists and researchers have attempted to approach happiness objectively based on individualistic states rather than generalization. One such approach refers to the biological one, which proves that happiness causes a reaction to biochemical substances in the body such as hormones like serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine. Along with this, researchers use behavioural techniques to estimate happiness, such as the frequency of genuine smiles and laughs. In this way, happiness can be assessed through specific measures, however, still leaving room for error with no distinct ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.

Happiness is a state, not a trait. You may have heard people say, ‘she is such a happy person, how does she do it?’. However, the reality is that no human is born happy and remains happy for each day of their lives. This is inherently unrealistic and practically impossible. This implies that there are certain habits you can let go of in your daily life. However, you train your brain through exercises and awareness for finding happiness and optimism in the ordinary. Perfectionism is often considered conscientiousness. However, it is one such pattern to ‘train out’ since it promotes intangible goals and expectations. Another such pattern is ‘social comparison’, which often gets unhealthy since one envies others’ life and achievements. Instead, change this to self-comparison, look within and introspect on the progress you have made from your past self. Materialism makes individuals attach personal happiness to material objects, which may be lost once the circumstances change. Find happiness in social relationships rather than materialistic items to be present and appreciate the here and now.

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts”. Read that once again. In today’s world, where digitization is prominent, each aspect is converted into a ‘quantity that can be plotted on graphs and fit into mathematical equations. However, life is not always about amounts, and happiness is undoubtedly one of those entities. From the time of birth, the human brain is wired for positive connections and joy. Our brains consist of caregiving systems that ensure security, chemicals that reduce negativity, and hormones that increase empathy and optimism. We, as humans, essentially come designed for happiness. Despite being a product of genetics, brains are created with the flexibility of rewiring. This means you can train the way we look at the world with mindfulness and gratitude.

In a world where the concept of ‘happiness’ is run on statistics, it is time we turn the mirror to ourselves. A happy nation relies on each individual’s happiness, the way we share, act, and voice the importance of a positive outlook. “A whole is the sum of its parts”, and it is with the baby steps each one can incorporate in their daily lives to experience positive emotions. Together, let us embark on a more significant global pursuit of happiness that goes beyond any database, any ranking and, any numerical value.

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