You’ve asked me again and again: can happiness be measured, Penny?
When it comes to measuring happiness, it’s a tricky animal to get my hands on. There are four main problems:
- The past
- The present
- The future
Can happiness be measured? The Time Factor
The first issues are, broadly speaking, time bound.
- What was
- What is
- What shall be.
Most people are remarkably bad when it comes to remembering what happened and imagining what will happen in the future. Therefore, I find it hard to answer the question: can happiness be measured easily.
Can happiness be measured? The Advice Factor
The fourth item is that human beings are remarkably bad at taking advice.
Can happiness be measured? What Was
Let’s jump in with the history, bit. I’ve mentioned many times before how much information our sensory organs collect. Our eyes, ears, mouth, skin are able to collect millions of bits of information in any one moment. Unfortunately, our brains can use about 40 bits of information per second That means all the time we are filtering information. Our first problem in answering, can happiness be measured is what we remember.
Money is a Good Example
For instance, we are taught that having more money will make us happier. This is absolutely true if you are on the bread-line. As you have enough money to survive it stops making a difference. As we know, it’s happiness that makes us more successful, not money that will bring us happiness.
Can happiness be measured? What is
Similarly, we are hampered by the same problem of filtering information when we ask, can happiness be measured in the moment? It’s really easy for us to recall, right this second, pages full of worries. It’s harder for us to think about a page full of things that are going great. This is a requirement for us as humans. We are hardwired to look for danger in every moment. We’ve we spoken about that on other blogs.
What we can do in the moment, is take a snapshot of our happiness. It is subjective, so it won’t stand up against an objective argument. That’s one of the difficulties of emotions. My emotions are completely subjective. I make them up in my mind. You could experience the same event but had feel completely different to me.
Can happiness be measured? What will be
We’ve covered off the past and the present. When it comes asking can we measure happiness in the future it’s even more complicated. That bit of our brain that filters information creates all kinds of problems for us when we think about the future.
The problems with the future
First, we fill in or we forget gaps. Ask any parent or future parent about how they imagine having a newborn will be. They might think about holding a newborn in their arms or the scent of their baby’s hair. They’re unlikely to imagine what it feels like, as my husband experienced, to have your son pee in your eye every night. We tend create a future that is how we wanted to be, not necessarily how it’s going to be.
Secondly, we are really, really bad at imagining the future. Anyone ever pulled out one of those 1950s or 60s B-Grade science fiction movies set in the weird 2000’s? They imagined us floating in our hover crafts. There is nothing in those movies about UberEats.
Thirdly we find it extremely difficult to imagine how we will feel. If anyone doesn’t believe me, look up Christopher Reeve. If you were my age, Superman wasn’t Henry Cavill. It was Christopher Reeve.
He had a bad accident. For the rest of his life he lived in a wheel chair needing assistance to breathe. He became a source of inspiration, for many people because he frequently spoke about his ability to do more, to affect more change and how he had become a better person because of his accident. If I ask you to imagine, right now, what you think it would be like to be a paraplegic for the rest of your life, I’m guessing you wont be the first one signing up.
We are too unique to accept advice
Fourthly and finally answering, can happiness be measured, is advice. Each of us think that we are different and special. For example, unless you are a vintner or wine snob, red wine tastes, for most of us, like red wine. Similarly, the truth is, that unless you are speaking about your area of expertise, most of us are pretty much the same. Not just on the issue of wine. We believe that we are different. Too different to accept most advice.
Can we measure happiness at all?
We’ve covered the past and our poor memories. The present has its own complications We’ve discussed the future and how bad we are at imagining what it will look like. We’ve covered off our distaste for advice. With all these things stacked against us, what is a girl to do?
An option for measuring happiness over time
We can take a snapshot in a moment of time. Using this feature is my best advice for anybody who wants to measure their happiness:
- Pick a time of the day, it doesn’t matter when
- Take a snapshot of what your happiness was
- Do that every day over a period of time
- Try and pick a time in your life where you think things are going to be more or less normal
- Keep measuring.
That’ll allow you to do is get a sense over time of what are the things that increased or decreased your happiness.
Above all, I want to remind you that however you measure happiness it is subjective. You can’t pass or fail at happiness.
Your turn: Can happiness be measured?
Now it’s your turn. What do you think is the best way of measuring happiness?