Questions about Happiness

A few months ago, over plate of nachos and a vegetarian breakfast platter at Fran’s, a good friend of mine asked me one of the hardest and most thought-provoking questions I’ve come across since ToK (Theory of Knowledge), an IB-mandatory philosophy course.

The television mounted on the wall in front of me was tuned into a wrap of the Jays game when my friend, still dressed in his running clothes (despite the fact it was so late in the evening that all the dumpling restaurants in Chinatown were closed), leaned forward and asked, “In comparison to last year, are you happier today than you were a year ago?”

I had spent the last 48 hours sleepless and frantically squinting at and filtering through rows and rows of data in some excel file. I had called chicken noodle straight from the can dinner all week. With a plate of nachos awaiting me, I didn’t quite have an answer to his question, all I could think was that I was sure as hell happier at that moment than 5h earlier when I realized some data hadn’t been filtered properly, I was late to my first meeting with my mentee, and there were no more chocolate covered almonds in the ziplock bag.

Then there’s also the question of how can happiness be measured.

As I scooped salsa onto the tortilla chips and meticulously picked around the too spicy chopped jalapenos I started lining up the events and stresses of Sept/Oct 2015 against the the 2016 status. At that time last year I was wandering NorCal eating all the tacos and ramen I could fit in my stomach (and I can fit a lot), hanging out with the big bro, still running with the fast young kids, and with a shoe budget. But frictionally unemployed. Flash forward to 2016, the shoe budget has been marginalized by rent, I am old and slow, but employed at a great company in a fun role. In comparing these big ticket events I shared with my friend that yes, I am happier today than I was a year ago.

Upon reflection I realized that I was basing my happiness on the big ticket events and items. Comparing the emotions of being on my first-ever self-paid-for trip to one of my favourite places to that to the marginalization of the entertainment budget. Pairing the fatigue and anxiety of commuting via the (perpetually early) 8:16 train to Union against the current easy-peasy 3 subway stop journey from my first self-paid for lease. Pitting the feelings of uncertainty and anxiety of unemployment to that of the satisfaction of hitting work targets and calming note of somewhat employment stability. While my gut does tell me that I am happier this year in comparison to YAGO, deeper reflection reveals that the logical comparison process that had been used could be refined.

The events that I had put into comparison for the resulting outcome were events of prescribed emotions. A sunny day in SF headlined with a large delicious purchase at Ghirardelli and the discovery of affordable nude Steven Madden pumps is expected to be a happier event than telling friends you can’t make it to dinner because you’ve just paid track fees. Signing a contract of what is considerably a dream starter job is undoubtedly expected to elicit a  higher level of happiness in comparison to frictional unemployment­But what about the micro moments?

By being at the right place at the right time (at my desk) a pair of suite tickets to Game 4 of the Jays (vs. Cleveland) landed in my hand. Born and raised in Toronto, I had never thought I would have the opportunity to see one of my city’s teams in the playoffs in person (since it’s Toronto and I believe in responsible personal finances) much less experience this amazing moment with unlimited Buds, gourmet ballpark food, and last minute fan gear by provided by a friend. The energy of the stadium, especially following the Win, was amazing and out of the world. But I have a confession to make. As happy as I was in that moment, the level of happiness I felt was marginal to that of the regular solo 65 minute run I had done a few days prior. There’s was really nothing special about that run but for 65 minutes I had clipped along the Toronto streets with a huge goofy grin on my face and wished unknown fellow pedestrians a great day. On my experience scale, this micro moment had by far blown the still amazing Jays experience out of the water. But on paper? The Jays experience should have eclipsed the regular ole run in expected happiness.

I can’t tell you what happiness is, how it can be measured, or where to find it. But in our moment it is expected that one is happier when the need to commute on another organization’s schedule is replaced with the independence of living with friends in a downtown apartment. I think we’ve become pre-conditioned to expect to feel and place happiness on a scale for certain events. I believe that the happiness I feel for these conditioned events is true but as I chomped  down on a sweet, juicy, and perfectly crisp Pink Lady tonight, I am reminded that happiness is also can be found in the ordinary. It’s only a matter of realizing, recognizing, and remembering.

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