The Subjectivity of Happiness
Updated: May 9
The logical truth about happiness is, that there is no one, universal source that will make all of the currently-living human beings happy, even if there is such source that makes most of them happy. Therefore, if you truly want to attain long-term happiness, you have to know yourself better, and get to know what makes you feel good and what causes you to feel the opposite. Only when you'll know yourself good enough, you'll able to determine what that source is.
There are two ways you can know yourself better, in order to determine what to pursuit in life and what to avoid. The first one is in solitude, where you'll have to contemplate in order to know yourself better, and the second one is by getting yourself to experience new experiences, so you'll might surprise yourself, and find such an activity that you have yet to realize that it genuinely makes you happy.
The fault in some traditional communities is that they believe they know what is good for you, without necessarily knowing yourself beyond the sphere of your cultural origin. They will get you through certain events, especially as a child or a teen, without necessarily caring for your thoughts, even if such rituals are not mandatory by the law of the state.
Arguably, the "ultimate" happiness-related ritual in such communities is, of course, marriage. In some of these communities, you will be required to get married by local norms, due to the belief that it is not good for humans to live by themselves, and that a truly happy life is that which always includes marriage. Afterwards, of course, there are children. While they have made many couples happy, the sad truth is that not everyone is fit to raise children, not necessarily because they are sick or something, but because not everyone has an affinity for them. It's one of the reasons why I, for example, might never have kids, as I find them extremely loud and thus, disturbing.
Some may claim that a life without happiness is not a life worth living, and those who have them, so may claim, are logically more likely to sink into depression, if not become suicidal. While I don't agree with them wholeheartedly, as I believe there are people that are mentally strong enough to live with little happiness, I do understand the importance of happiness for the average person to say in their mind that "Ah, this is a life worth living". Hence why, for most, at least, happiness is valuable, if not imperative, in order to gain satisfaction from life, and in order to avoid certain illnesses and premature endings that may follow with the unhappy life.
Is happiness a right, or a privilege? Perhaps for most throughout history, it was the latter, as the lower classes of premodern societies, which included most of the population usually, were poor, and instead of worrying for happiness, they had to worry for bread and for the future of their children. You can say that some people today still have that mentality, with justification, of course, because while happiness gives us much relief, it does not put the food on the table, and not all, especially in third world countries, can afford the many expenses of modern entertainment and other pleasures. Still, do we have a right to be happy?
Happiness is but an emotion, and arguably, what is there in happiness, beyond feeling good for time to time? Is feeling good a human right just because it gives us pleasure? Because there is a distinction between survival and happiness, one can say happiness is not necessarily a basic right like the right to express yourself, or the right to live safely; the first is a right in any competent democracy, and the second is a right in any society that is not an anarchy. Besides, no state is obliged to make you feel good; if you wish to feel good, you'll have to reach it yourself. It's not a responsibility anyone has for you, even as a child.
This is why the notion of happiness is subjective not only in preference, but in privilege. Unless you're suffering from depression and are under a caretaker such as a psychologist, you're basically on your own in the pursuit of happiness. Even in modern times, no job has to be enjoyed from (at least in theory), and the life after work doesn't have to be enjoyable as well.
For many, the peak of happiness in their adult lives are in their weekends, where they are truly not obliged to anything and anyone (except their children, perhaps). Nonetheless, since your life belongs to you once you reach adulthood, it is then that you can optimally decide whether or not you're going to be pursuing happiness as a higher goal, and it is then when you'll have to figure what what truly makes you content -- along with what it will be in your life (a job, a hobby?).
The "bitter truth" about happiness is that not everyone is mentally capable of living a life without happiness. For some of us, life is more about living to the next paycheck than taking care of our children. For some of us, there is a "special call" in life—something that gives us great satisfaction, and only it.
Religious folk may claim that this "call" is from a higher being, but let us not forget that even atheists can have such "calls." It is a sense of purpose, one that makes you, specifically, tremendously happy, but not someone else. In theory, it can be anything that can be special to anyone, but not everyone has it, nor will necessarily have it. In addition, that "call" might come with a certain price, as not everyone will be okay with your special affinity. Some, even, will be shunned from their families, if not their local communities, for possessing it, and not all who are proficient in said activity will accept them with open arms.
Therefore, we can conclude that the pursuit of happiness is not only subjective, but, at large, unfair, for the good and for the bad. Some will have to sacrifice certain things in order to attain it, while others might never get to have the thing that truly makes them happy, whether they figured it out yet or not. What is certain, however, is that happiness is not as imperative for living as other things, such as money, which is something that even the most dedicated employees will not always have enough of. Once one has enough money, (should they ever to begin with), only then the pursuit of happiness should be searched for beyond the free time one has in their limited leisure.