I Don’t Know What ‘Happiness’ Feels Like

Why I don’t care, and neither should you

Julia Rose
Aug 22, 2018 · 4 min read

Happiness has been on my mind from a young age.

In Primary School, my class was asked to do an assignment outlining our future. One question asked: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I wrote “Happy”. I was a smart-ass back then too, yes. Looking back, I’m glad I was on the right track with a vision for my life. One focused on a feeling rather than an objective or end-state (like a specific job, living status, etc.).

Happiness is a goal for many people. So many, in fact, that there are hundreds of thousands of articles written about seeking it (don’t quote me, I’m guessing).

But today I realized, happiness doesn’t feel like anything to me. I don’t know what it feels like and I never have.

Don’t freak out or feel sorry for me. I’m good with it.

Let me explain.

So happiness is not a feeling. It’s a word we use to refer to a grouping of feelings. And that’s all good and well. But it’s hard to strive for something like happiness if you don’t know what you are looking for. To be in a ‘state’ of anything requires our awareness. And awareness grabs our attention, probably away from whatever we’re doing in that moment. If I’m stepping outside myself to observe my reality, then I’m probably not present with the emotions I’m experiencing.

I decided to consult my favourite online source, Psychology Today, to see what they had to say about the matter.

Author Rubin Khoddam, said this:

Research in the field of positive psychology and happiness often define a happy person as someone who experiences frequent positive emotions, such as joy, interest, and pride, and infrequent (though not absent) negative emotions, such as sadness, anxiety and anger (Lyubomirsky et al., 2005). Happiness has also been said to relate to life satisfaction, appreciation of life, moments of pleasure, but overall it has to do with the positive experience of emotions.

Yes. This. ^

Here’s what I am taking away from this analysis:

  • a series of emotions we deem positive
  • the absence of negative or difficult emotions
  • not something we can directly aspire to, and/or feel

However, we can feel the feelings and emotions that make up happiness — and that’s a hell of a lot easier to understand, and thus strive for.

You know the ones — joy, bliss, admiration, elation, peace, pride (some of the ones mentioned above). If I am thinking, or worse, over-thinking, (god forbid!), I can promise you I’m not truly present with what is around me. And in my experience, the best feelings in life happen when I am ‘experiencing’ and not ‘thinking’ about the experience.

So, no, I don’t know what it feels like to be happy. Happiness is meaningless to me as a word. I actually feel blank when I hear it.

But if you ask me what brings me joy? Or when I last felt totally calm? When I last laughed super hard, or got lost in a conversation with someone else? Those questions I can answer.

Emotions and Feels? Not the same.

Cindy Meyer, PhD, researcher in emotions, has this to offer:

Many people use the words “emotions” and “feelings” to mean the same thing. However, I suggest that you think of emotions and feelings as distinct, but highly related things — two sides of the same coin. One side of the coin is an emotion: a physical response to change that is hard-wired and universal. The other side of the coin is your feeling: mental associations and reactions to an emotion that are personal, acquired through experience. Despite seeming interchangeable, emotions actually proceed feelings. Like with coins, what you notice will depend upon where you are looking.

So let me break down what’s happened over time. Humans felt emotions. Then they thought about those emotions, and based on their understanding, called them feelings. These feelings were deemed ‘good’ or ‘bad’, or ‘positive’ or ‘negative’. And the good/positive feelings were collected into a state called happiness. And we all sought it for the rest of time, for ever and ever. The End.

I’m actually pumped that these thoughts are swirling in my head right now. Because it feels freeing, AF.

I’ve always felt like happiness was some weird island we all talked about. No one knew how to get there, but everyone was convinced it existed, and some people lied and said they were there and the whole time you’re thinking: WHERE IS THIS DANG ISLAND?

There is no island.

There are only emotions — ‘good and bad’ (again, a judgement). When you feel the good ones — take a small note. What is it you’re doing at that moment? Gather data about that. Learn more. Store it.

The more I think about it, the word happiness is meaningless to me. I guess for me, the reason I feel nothing when someone says they are happy is because I want to get under the surface with people. That’s really my *jam*. I love knowing the intimate feelings and thoughts of a person. I find that wildly interesting. The surface level stuff isn’t to me. I can read that in your Instagram captions.

These are some ‘positive’ emotions I have experienced recently:

And some ‘negative’ ones:

Am I happy? Overall?

Overall it doesn’t matter. Our lives are incredibly complex, and to really know anything about me, or the person next to you right now, you’d have to ask: How are you right now?

I’m glad I don’t know what happiness feels like. It’s too vague a concept and muddies the waters.

How I am in this moment is the only question I can answer with any accuracy at all.

Stories that matter. Emotion first and foremost.

By Scribe

The Story Box is a lovingly written newsletter featuring delightful stories and all updates from the publication. Every Sunday, just for you. Take a look

By signing up, you will create a Medium account if you don’t already have one. Review our Privacy Policy for more information about our privacy practices.

Check your inbox
Medium sent you an email at to complete your subscription.

Julia Rose

Written by

I write about relationships, self-development, growth (& sometimes writing, how meta). Canadian. @juliarosecontent

Scribe

Stories that matter. Emotion first and foremost.

Julia Rose

Written by

I write about relationships, self-development, growth (& sometimes writing, how meta). Canadian. @juliarosecontent

Scribe

Stories that matter. Emotion first and foremost.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store