Why I ask people “Are you happy?”

The other day at a party I met an acquaintance after a long time. Since our last meeting, she had started in a new job and about it, I asked her “So, are you happy?”.

It was pointed out to me as being a rather unusual question, and I realised that it was something I asked most people when we spoke about their jobs. Or lives in general. (I also found it interesting that perhaps the most important question has been deemed unusual)

Nonetheless, I asked myself why I do it, and I realised that very often we tend to make small problems worse than they are. We always start with a “Yeah it’s great ..” and we trail off toward the ominous “but …”

“.. the hours are really bad”, “.. the pay could be better”, “.. I am not sure how much longer I would stick around”

Asking what appears to be the most overarching question, simplifies it. A question that is perhaps, too simplified, that forces anyone to distill their thoughts down to the essence. Not only that, it also makes people think about what they actually like about their reality. It reframes the question from “What’s not working?”, to “So, what’s working?”

And what I have discovered, interestingly enough is that most people will say “Yes, I am happy”. Perhaps it is because when we are asked to think about our own happiness, from the larger perspective, we conclude that the smaller problems aren’t so bad after all.

The problems are more discomforts, than challenges. Or they rank lower in the priorities as to actually disturb happiness.

Furthermore, the few people who say “No”, aren’t bogged down by the little discomforts, rather by real personal challenges: their health, careers (not ‘jobs’) their relationships, or their spiritual and mental well-being.

Perhaps then, we should spend our time focusing on those important things.

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