Is happiness intrinsic, subjective or unnecessary?


So I chanced upon a post titled “Your girlfriend is the key to make you happy”, which met with a surprisingly disproportionate amount of disapproval in the comments (it came from 9gag). The majority of them revolve around one being the key to oneself’s happiness, instead of some outside influences.

And hence the question.

Is happiness intrinsic?

Perhaps the line should first be drawn as to how wide the circle of influence on one’s life should be. After all a singular person on an island cannot be expected to stay sane, much less happy. On the context of the original post, I would ask if a person’s happiness depends on having an official relationship with another half. If happiness were to be derived from a relationship, wouldn’t it warrant some sort of pressure on both parties to constantly keep up a set of behaviour? I feel that happiness has to come from some form of self-contentment, both in the sense of being content with yourself and being content with what you have and achieved. It could be mastery over a certain skill, or finding a sense of belonging in a community or achieving lifelong goals. The essence is to work towards a central point of control in your life, where the good and bad of everything is influenced mainly and directly by your own efforts. When something outside of your sphere of influence affects one’s life, they get frustrated because its difficult to change things out of your control. Even if it is making the life of one other better, or bringing happiness to someone else, these are still things within one’s control. If we are lucky, happiness can be found from achieving this central point of one’s life. If we are not, we only have to continue working towards this point in our constant pursuit of happiness.

Is happiness subjective?

If happiness comes from the self and everybody is definitely different from each other, is happiness subjective to different individuals? I would definitely think so based on personal observations. The time I spent in Nepal and Laos, albeit short, gave me a glimpse of how happiness is a luxury that is not afforded purely by material wealth. One can be so rich that they have nothing. And the people I have met, undergoing menial conditions and living life by the day have smiles that are as genuine as can be. Its not the spectre of a smile from a person forcing him or herself to trudge through each day (I know because I asked), but rather a wistful acknowledgement of the luxuries out there paired with an even stronger determination to make do and make the best of their lives. Either through blissful ignorance or a purer mindset, they do seem to have found their centre. Just don’t bother bringing in Maslow’s dreaded hierarchy of needs or they will obviously be at the bottom.

The main reason why happiness may not be subjective is because of the social definition of happiness, or the concept of happiness as a social construct. How society shapes happiness and forces it down our throats is one thing. The biggest hoodoo in this whole phenomenon is that society’s definition of happiness is constantly changing, from that of being lucky to materialism. So there can never be a fixed end state.

Is happiness unnecessary?

Some research shows that it is scientifically impossible to stay happy for long because the brain resets our emotions to a set base point. Maybe it is impossible to say that you want to be happy, and set it as an end-state to work towards to. Perhaps, it is just one of those things you can only hope to happen to you but the more you work towards it, the more elusive it is and eventually you would end up gaining less than you lose.

Mike (Passenger) may sometimes be a foul-mouthed hippie but his songs do hit home.

We should perhaps seek to understand that life is for the living, and not to cry for the lost, smile for the living, take what you need and give what you’re given.


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