Why I Believe Happiness is Subjective
My favourite quote comes from my third favourite Beatle.
John Lennon said “When I was 5 years old, my mother told me that happiness was the key to life. 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.”
What does it mean to be happy?
Happiness has been a theme of interest for centuries. Throughout Ancient Greek philosophy, the post-Enlightenment era, Western-European moral philosophy, and the theory of Utilitarianism, happiness is explored.
Theories of Happiness
Happiness is generally split into three major theories: Hedonism, Desire, and the Objective List Theories. In all its variants, Hedonism holds that happiness is a matter of raw subjective feeling; a happy life maximizes feelings of pleasure and minimizes pain.
Desire theory states that happiness is a matter of getting what you want; the content of the want is left up to the person who does the wanting.
On the other hand, the Objective List theory lodges happiness outside of feeling and onto a list of "truly valuable" things in the real world. It holds that a plurality of basic objective goods directly benefit people. These can include goods such as loving relationships, meaningful knowledge, autonomy, achievement, and pleasure.
Additionally, and perhaps most famously, Psychologist Abraham Maslow created the Hierarchy of Needs; which splits human needs into levels and presents itself as a sort of roadmap to unlock different degrees of happiness.
Rising above Theories
Regardless of which theory you do or do not subscribe to, we all want to be happy. From Lennon’s point of view, happiness is the ultimate goal in the life. A problem arises however, in the fact that we’ve chiseled the entire concept of happiness into a standardized and inflexible image, so pre-determined that living outside of that mould leads to many persons being labelled as rebellious underachievers.
Using myself as an example, just like many other women in the Caribbean, I am often judged and deemed inferior because it is not my personal goal in life to get married and have children. Society has set this as the pinnacle of happiness for my gender. A woman who is career-oriented is categorized as selfish by both men and women.
From a young age, we force our children to aim to become lawyers, doctors, or engineers and we teach them that they need to earn the money to achieve happiness; all before they understand what employment means. Instead we should encourage the young ones to explore their passions in life.
My advise: avoid the urge to pigeonhole children onto a certain path that is mapped out according to what society deems worthy.
Broaden your Horizons: Happiness is Subjective
As a society, we are entirely too dependent on capitalist measurements of success.
I’m not implying that having a house so large that days go by without you entering some rooms may not make you happy. We must however, bring attention to the need to broaden our idea of happiness.
There is a vast world out there, beyond your front porch and beyond your nation’s borders (Borders...another topic for another day).
Go out and explore to find what makes you happy. What makes your heart sing with joy? It may lie outside of your 9-5 job and external to what you have learned in the classroom.
Why is Happiness Subjective?
Happiness comes differently for everyone.
Whereas my body, soul, and mind is thrilled at the idea of going on an international trip, your happiness may exist in developing a new project. The point is, you won’t know until you try. So don’t allow strict definitions of success and happiness to rule your life.
Subjectively as well, Paul McCartney is the best Beatle.