In this attempt to describe happiness and it’s origins, I will first recognize the emotion as a completely subjective experience. “Objective” observers might witness or measure external indications of happiness, but those indications may be intentionally misleading, or unintentionally misinterpreted. Happiness, in full, can only be perceived through subjective experience, because in principle, it is an emotion or “state of mind,” and no one has direct awareness of your mind except you.
I concede that external standards of happiness, when measured over time with statistical significance, may reveal trends and provide useful guidelines for a happy life. However, guidelines have a tendency to become dogmatic when followed outside context and culture.
If you are the only one who truly knows whether or not you are happy, then your own happiness is ultimately your responsibility. How do you know if you’re happy?
Knowing your own happiness may seem simple, but our current culture of consumerism muddies the process. Rather than recognizing instances of unhappiness, Western culture encourages us to ignore it by consuming, i.e. watching TV, surfing online, having sex, eating junk food or even shopping.
The Western solution to unhappiness could be compared to hiding from a potential attacker. Running and out of breath, you manage to find an open door to slip behind, and the attacker is unable to find you. You breath a sigh of relief and experience a degree of happiness. But you still have to come back from behind the door. You still have to face the potential threat of being attacked by someone else, and they might find out your hiding spot! The experience really wasn’t happiness, it was the temporary cessation of unhappiness. Big difference.