It’s not easy, understanding happiness. Human beings are busy. We have jobs and families and sports pages and cat blogs. We don’t have much time for bullshit navel-gazing or quests for self-understanding. Unless you’re in rehab or something, the only people who have time to consider “what it all means” are students and writers, and no one on the planet cares what they think. The amount of time many of us have to consider whether or not we’re actually happy is minimal at best. And as a result, most of us have a very difficult time understanding whether we’re actually happy, and if we are happy, what it is that makes it so. Research new and old suggests it certainly isn’t money that makes us happy. Relationships can make us happy, but they can also make us totally miserable, so that’s a moot point. Success is relative, as is the traditional philosophical gauge of “doing good.” I mean, what the fuck does “doing good” even mean anymore? Not robbing your buddy in a lopsided fantasy football trade? Ignoring the impulse to watch whatever random, awkward sex is going on on The Real World?
I think it’s even truer now, during a time in human history where we feel compelled to share every mundane, trivial fucking detail of our lives with the world for no other apparent reason other than hearing ourselves fart into the internet’s suffocating darkness. It’s fine that we all do this, I guess – that we are all compelled to tell strangers whenever we take a shit. But I think that to some extent, facebook and twitter have become our acting classes, the places where we practice putting on the facades that have become our online persona. It’s not necessarily our faults we do this, I don’t think. People don’t want to read depressing posts, or, for that matter, overly personal posts. It’s like watching your friends’ marital spat across the dinner table. It’s uncomfortable and embarrassing. Plus, we all want to put our best face forward, especially to distant friends or, in the case of twitter, total strangers. It’s instinctual. So we put on a sometimes-falsely happy face.
But in the process, I think we cripple our already-failing ability to discern whether we’re actually happy. Especially for dedicated facebookers and tweeters, true feelings, and an understanding of those feelings, can get lost in the constant facade. Maybe it’s a moot point. Maybe if telling yourself that you’re happy enough actually makes you happy, the means justifies the ends and it doesn’t matter how well we actually understand our own level of happiness. But maybe our propensity for masking feelings through constant public communication takes away from the reflection necessary to improve, to grow, or to identify whether and why we are happy, miserable, or otherwise.
More on this later. But in the meantime, above is a graph that was the result of a facebook data analysis project that, to some extent, gives facebook users a glimpse at their collective levels of happiness. My only concern is that their method for gathering the datum – pulling tagged words from status updates and then graphing the number of positive words, the number of negative words and the aggregate – takes things out of context and applies feelings to posts that might not actually convey them as such. But, hey, whatever, it’s at least a step toward understanding what our online lives say about our living, waking lives. The interesting question is, of course, whether a clear division still exists between the two.