Quantifying Happiness

Quantifying Happiness

A few days ago I was feeling fairly low and miserable, so I asked my Facebook friends to tell me the best thing that had happened to them recently. I wanted to hear their happy stories, to prove that the world isn’t awful.

I’m an odd duck. I like creepy reworkings of children’s stories, dark fairytales, and generally thrive on the kind of books that don’t have happy endings — at least not for everyone. Yet at the same time, I have a tendency to get overwhelmed by the awful things that happen in the world. Watching the news is a litany of things going wrong. Wars. Protests. Missing teenagers. Racism.

So I asked people for good things.

I had a few replies, which varied in tone. People told me small things that happened to them, like sharing a song they’d heard, and in some ways this was exactly what I wanted: the small happy things that brighten up people’s days, not the huge dramatic events that change everything. In other ways, it made me realise how tiny the ‘best’ thing that happens to people can be, suggesting there isn’t a lot of competition for the title. But I thought I’d share with you a couple of things people told me.

I hope they don’t mind me sharing them. They posted these as comments on a Facebook status, not in private messages, so I take that to mean they don’t mind if other people see what they wrote.

I read someone my poetry for the first time ever today

Today I bought an inflatable velociraptor

I was honest with someone I’m into and she smiled

My Chaucer seminar spent a full hour trying to pronounce ‘taco’ in a way that did not make us sound utterly ridiculous. Someone walked in to see how we were getting on right in the middle of it

I drank a pineapple and blueberry smoothie and it was good

The great thing about small good things like this is they make you realise that it’s not the huge, life-changing events that necessarily make people happy. It’s the little things: the smoothie they drank, a slightly bizarre but hilarious purchase, the decision to be brave and share creativity with others… the things that on the surface, sound relatively unremarkable, but they’re not, because they make those people happy.

My friends proved to me that even if the world is awful and everything is scary, the small things make it better.

I’m not good at quantifying things. “Best”, like “favourite”, is a word I rarely use, so when asked to name the best thing that’s happened to me recently I’d probably consider things “not quite remarkable enough to be best, but pretty good”. Asking my friends for happy stories made me realise that I’m quantifying everything too much. What’s the best thing that happened to me today? I was practising the harp and managed to do some broken chords that I haven’t managed before. (Hey, it’s only 11am.)

Opening out the question allows for bigger things. This weekend? I went to see Billy Elliot streamed live to the cinema yesterday, and it was awesome. But if I start making the question too much bigger, I can’t answer it. Everything has to be weighed up against everything else, and then “good” isn’t enough. It has to be “brilliant”.

To see the good things, I have to start small. Expecting the good things to be massive means I miss all the little things that made me happy, and pitting the different positives against each other as though to rank them means I don’t end up appreciating any of them enough. I’m missing the forest not because the trees are in the way, but because I’m ignoring the saplings and the bushes and everything that I don’t consider to be a part of the forest.

So on that note, I’m opening up the question to you as well. What’s the best thing that’s happened recently? This morning, this weekend, in the past seven days? Tell me your happy stories, whether they’re as small as a chocolate bar or as huge as a new friend. They can be a sentence long. They can be a paragraph long. They can be more, if you really want to go for it.

Tell me good things, because I want to know that there is more to this world than the awful things we see on the news. And maybe, trying to think of something to write will make you realise what it is you really appreciate.

Let’s spend some time dwelling on the good things instead of the bad. I want this comment section to be a place of joy, that I can come back to and reread when I’m sad. I want anyone who stumbles across it to read it through and think, “Hey, things aren’t terrible.” And I want you to tell me ordinary things from your day, because that reminds us all that happiness can be found even in the fleeting moments of a delicious meal, or in the pages of a book, and it doesn’t have to last to mean something.

8 thoughts on “Quantifying Happiness

  1. *sniffles* This is such a nice post. SO NICE. I honestly don’t watch the news or read papers because I get so overwhelmed by the horrible things that happened. So yes, I’m hopelessly behind on current events…but I have to survive too. And my brain just is too stuffed atm to handle the world.

    Hmmm…happiness for me is permission to use my walls as an art gallery. ;) My parents are really strict about our house and NEVER like to hang things on the walls, but I got the okay-you-can to cover mine in colourful pictures and it really does make me insanely happy.

    1. Yay! Have fun hanging things. My walls are mostly too covered in books to allow for much in the way of pictures, although since I changed my bed I’ve got a lot more wall space. Currently, though, my posters are in tubes waiting to go to university with me, so my walls are all but bare. Tragic. *hugs*

  2. Aw, this is a really lovely post – and a good philosophy to have. Sometimes it feels like the only way the world can be worth living in is if these little happinesses make it better. And now I’m questioning whether that is a viable thing to say for people who are in the middle of the disaster that make the world such a terrible place . . . shush Charley it’s too early for this.

    Gonna give you another happy thing from over the weekend: I had tea and a nice theological debate with two of my friends, then we all flopped out and watched The Empire Strikes Back with pizza.

    1. Don’t worry about whether (y)our philosophy works for other people in their circumstances. It’s still allowed to work for you; other people can decide if it works for them, too. Yay for happy things.

  3. Posts like this make me happy. Really well-written and powerful, even when you could have spent your time doing so many other things, or your energy in so many other ways. Your posts make me happy— you being a person and telling me about it makes me happy.

    But I have a few other things to say, and I hope it’s okay that I don’t stop at one. Last night I finally watched the Emma Watson UN He-for-She speech and it was amazing. Over the past couple weeks I’ve been finding out more and more about Maggie Stiefvater and the sheer volume of creative stuff she does in addition to writing bestselling novels, and that’s crazy inspiring. (Have you seen her basement dragon artwork? It’s pretty cool. And there’s a goat.) Last week I watched a whole lot of the TV show Castle, and I refuse to be guilty about how much work I didn’t do because I learned so much from the writing. And this weekend I got the opportunity to noodle on piano for an hour straight while other people were talking, so I could improvise however I wanted and no one could criticize. And I’m also working on organizing a film project with kids from my homeschool co-op, and people actually agreed to work with me on it, despite the utter silliness of my idea. (About that, though… Can you think of a race or sect of people who aren’t around anymore? I need someone who can’t be offended if I make jokes about them. No problem if you don’t, though.)

    But honestly, it’s people like you, and Maggie Stiefvater, and Robyn Hoode, and Darci Cole— oh, and Joss Whedon, since I learned a lot from him lately— who really make my days fun. Enjoy the little things, and tell me about them so I can enjoy yours.

    1. I’m glad. And yes, I envy Maggie her art skills and have done for a considerable length of time. Thanks for commenting. I like hearing the fun things in people’s lives. :)

  4. Love this post and agree with you completely. My Nan always ensured she watched the news at least twice a day. My Mum loves listening to the news/current affairs on the radio, and does this a lot. I am not so brave, so I choose to look online because it allows me the ability to turn to another story or flit through quickly if it gets too much. Collecting happy moments is a wonderful hobby and I think having a happy place where you can read other people’s experiences is a great idea. :)

    Here’s a few for your collection:
    1. I have my youngest home as he’s got a horrible, achy, shivery bug. Whilst sitting together on the settee, I lifted my arm to scratch my head & he took the opportunity to snuggle underneath for a hug. Hugs are definitely happy!
    2. Somehow, even when your cat is practising their best ninja moves to steal your lunch, the nuzzle they give you afterwards still makes you smile.
    3. Watching Iron Man 3 (with said youngest) at 2pm is very rebellious (on my part) & is pretty cool!

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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