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The Happiness Quotient

September 10, 2012

“When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” – John Lennon

Over the last few years, I’ve developed more than a passing interest in the study of happiness.  I’m admittedly unable to resist a book on the topic: more so because there are many different approaches to the topic, ranging from The Happiness Project (happiness in list form) to The Geography of Bliss (happiness is a place to find), with lots of options in between.  Even memoirs about people finding happiness – however cheesy – appeal to me, because they all catalog a small piece of a road we all walk at some point.

Part of the attraction is simply that there’s a lot to be interested in:  for one thing, “pursuit of happiness” is part of the fabric of American culture, and for another thing happiness is notoriously hard to quantify.  Humankind has never to been much for shirking an intellectual challenge, however, and this instance is no exception.  Happiness is being poked and prodded and studied the world over –  Dutch researcher Ruut Veenhoven runs the World Database of Happiness at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, and the King of Bhutan introduced Gross National Happiness (GNH) in 1972 as an alternative to GDP.  Business Insider describes Gross National Happiness as a combination of economic, social and quality of life factors that combine to create a happiness quotient.   Other countries, such as Thailand, have also begun to embrace GNH. Here in the States, our government is also looking into this whole “happiness” thing.  The Washington Post recently reported that a panel of experts in psychology and economics has teamed up to try and establish some measures of “subjective well-being” – no small feat given the touchy-feely (feelie? anyone know the spelling here?) nature of the subject.  Still, it is a bit reassuring to know that there is, among others, a Nobel Laureate out there trying to figure out just how happy “happy” is.

Mostly, I think, I’m interested in the concept of happiness because the happier I find myself, the more I believe it is largely a matter of cultivation, not happenstance.  That is to say, when I wake up in the morning, and each moment thereafter, I can decide to a certain extent whether the day will be happy, or not.  Clearly extreme extenuating circumstances notwithstanding, happiness is in large part a matter of managing your reaction to outside forces, and in a lot of ways, caribbean life offers a compelling training ground for this brand of day to day happiness.  Any local will tell you, there are days when the annoyances of daily life seem endless: an hour wait in a bank line that is 4 people long (#caribbeanproblems), power bills that are so high they threaten your sanity, months when business is so slow it feels like “season” will never come back… but then you look up as you cross the street, narrowly avoiding being run down by a taxi or a rental car or a donkey, and you see one of the world’s great views, and you think, this is a pretty fine day.

And that, my friends, is the moment.  The moment where your brain says “I’m happy”, even if it’s

A view like this raises my “HQ”

just for a second.  I’m beginning to believe that the real key to happiness is figuring out how to string a whole lot of those tiny moments together (preferably 70-80 years worth, give or take).  I count myself lucky to live in a place that frequently makes these moments of reevaluation a bit easier to come by, but the truth is that people have them all the time, all over the world.

I’ve tried to make a habit of cataloging these moments of high “HQ”, to maintain sort of a rainy day stash of happy stuff…  The following categories (in no particular order) generally raise my happiness quotient: my family, because they are super… my dog, because he’s pretty much always happy even when he’s being bad, though I fear there may be a lesson there… boat trips, because they feel like freedom, my friends, see also: family/they’re super… and always, always, a day at the beach, because beyond being borderline synonymous with relaxing, the sea and the sand remind me that everything, always, is in flux, and that this moment is the most important.

What raises your HQ?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Radha permalink
    September 10, 2012 12:34 pm

    So true!

  2. September 24, 2012 10:15 pm

    Very true!

    And my kids, and the anticipation of my next visit to an ocean beach, preferably SJ, raise my HQ.

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