Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The happiness scale

In the past few years I’ve experienced many social changes; transitioning from high school friends and teachers to those at Loyola, joining clubs to get to know more people, and even quitting the summer job I had for years at a sleep away camp to stay at home with my friends and family. Whenever I become a part of a new social setting I try and compare it to what I had before. I ask myself countless questions: Do I like this school? These people? Do I still want to be a member of this organization? All of these are attempts answer the biggest, and most ambiguous question of them all: Am I happy?

Happiness is something that is hard to gauge as each experience is different from the other. They have all taught me different things and comparing them only seems unfair. One thing that does remain consistent is that laughter and funny people are a very important element to my happiness. I love to make jokes and having people around me that can make me laugh as well as laugh at my sense of humor gives me a comfort and joy that results in the happiness I search for.

I have used this idea of laughter to come up with a system that I use to figure out if I am happy, if I like the people I am with, and if I enjoy what I am doing. The process is quite simple. I look back on the memories of the people and situations I have encountered and think about if they had made me laugh so hard that I cry. I find this to be sensible measurement of how happy I am as this type of laughter is rare and can only be brought about if I am comfortable around the person and the joke is a result of an understanding of my sense of humor. If a person or group of people can make me laugh so hard that tears stream down my face I know I feel a bond and I feel included. Even more so, I know that they understand my sense of humor and I understand them, resulting in a loss of control and an expression of uncontained, vulnerable happiness.

I thought this system was perfect until I cam across Spencer and his ideas behind emotion. I agreed with his statement “The deepest grief is silent grief” (103), as my ultimate expressions of anger or sadness do not result in wild movement. However, I never thought to relate this to joy. According to Spencer, my uncontrollable fit of laughter and tears would not be an accurate judgment of how happy I am, but instead, this completely physical reaction would be a displacement of emotion. Spencer claims that instead I should be looking for moments when my happiness is so overwhelming that I cannot express it physically and it overtakes my entire body.

Although his argument and the science behind it made sense, I could not help but think that my system was not completely wrong. When I look back on those moments I associate them with ultimate happiness and it seems that if this type of laughter has occurred, I really do love what I am doing. I still don’t think that this is coincidence. I found relief when I read further on in Spenser and he explained “In general, bodily motions that are prompted by feelings are directed to special ends; as when we try to escape a danger or struggle to secure a gratification. But the movements of chest and limbs which we make when laughing have not object” (104). So maybe I wasn’t too far off, and laughter’s purpose is to gauge joy. This may seem stubborn, but I refuse to believe that laughter serves no purpose as it has brought me so many friends and memories. So until tears, uncontrolled movement, and a loud embarrassing cackle give me the sense of a different emotion, I think I’m going to stick to my system.

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