When the word “Happiness” crosses your mind, what is the first thing that you think of? Is it about your high-income? Or is it about the satisfactory feeling of doing your passionate job every day? Happiness can have different meanings to each and every individual. Some may find happiness knowing that they have luxury cars and a big house, while others may find happiness just by living a mediocre life but content and happy with the lifestyle.
However, there is a drastic change in the perception of “happiness” in today’s world. People seem to value happiness in life more than monetary gains or achievements. Does that mean happiness has become more of a subjective perception rather than objective reality? Then what about the times when people find happiness after they have achieved something great in life or have won a million-dollar lottery? That would indicate the inclination of happiness towards objectivity rather than subjectivity.
Scholars and philosophers have debated for years over the nature of happiness as being objective or subjective, but there has been no conclusive or concrete answer to that. There has been much speculation over what defines the term happiness even. The term points towards our deepest values, ultimate purpose, or fulfillment along with the vaguest of our desires. To define such a term would restrict the broad understanding of the term among different individuals, that it is best kept vague and open to interpretations.
All that being said, let us look deeper into what subjective and objective happiness could mean and which one of the two befits the term more.
Is it subjective?
Subjective happiness is when a person feels happy from the inside, regardless of the outside circumstances. It is as simple as feeling happy after helping someone else, without any selfish motive. Most people claim to have their personal “happy place.” When it comes to subjective happiness, that place may remind the person of a happy memory, or maybe the beauty of the place lightens his/her heart.
On a scientific level, subjective happiness can be measured and assessed, but one cannot fully rely on the universality of such assessments. People from different societies or cultures may have different levels or indicators of subjective happiness and a single set of indicators cannot be used for all.
The World Happiness Report published by the United Nationals Sustainable Development Solutions Network every year uses a set of the often subjective matter of human happiness to assess the level of happiness among people in the world. Though surveys like this help in gaining a broader understanding of the state of happiness among people, they are also not the best answer to how a specific individual is feeling on the inside or if she/he is really happy.
Research data from the first half of the 20th century indicated that the level of happiness among the masses increased as household incomes rose. This made the researchers believe that there is a correlation between happiness and wealth.
But, this was during the time of wars and depressions. Recent studies have shown that after a certain point, no amount of money can bring more happiness to a person’s life.
One of the best examples of people who seem to be advocates of subjective happiness is the monks in Tibetan monasteries. They give a good example of being joyful and complacent in life without any external luxuries.
Is it objective?
One cannot simply rule out the fact that the happiness of a person does not depend on things or objects. While a certain object can wear down a person’s happiness over it in the long run, one cannot overlook the feeling of happiness the person felt when she/he first received the object.
Using the same example as above, the “happy place” for a person, maybe a place where she/he can experience all the luxuries there is to life. It may mean a place that makes the person happy because it has big beds, TV, Jacuzzi, or other such things. But, the bigger question here is, how long is this place going to keep the person happy?.
Objective happiness can be measured just like subjective happiness. One of the indicators used as a measurement of happiness in the “Happy Planet Index” is life expectancy, which is an objective measurement. Though this indicator cannot be solely relied upon to assess one’s happiness, it can be used as a supportive measurement to analyze the overall state of happiness.
An example where happiness becomes objective is when you show certain pictures to an individual. A tragic picture can bring sadness, while joyful pictures can trigger the parts of the brain that bring happiness. This shows that the brain can react objectively to a particular stimulus, which can either activate happiness or any other motions in the brain.
The subject of happiness being objective or subjective, is an ongoing debate. Propounders of subjective happiness argue that happiness cannot be objective because there is no link between even the obvious indicators of objective happiness with that of everyone. Even an unhappy person can put on the mask of a friendly appearance seen commonly in a perfectly happy person.
While others like Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman propound objective happiness, believing that objective happiness can be assessed by averaging out the multiple assessments of people’s moods over a given period of time.
Doing that will negate the idea of happiness being linked to a distant memory or retrospective events.
However, needless to say, objective happiness and subjective happiness are interlinked with one another. A certain achievement in an individual’s life can bring objective happiness at that moment, but that achievement can even be cherished by the person forever, which then becomes subjective happiness.
Human beings are complex in nature, and defining happiness as completely subjective or objective can depend upon the individual’s discretion. While happiness may come from recognition by others, personal recognition and inner fulfillment are equally important. There seems to be a link between subjective and objective happiness. This is so because some situations tend towards one kind, with an inclination towards another.