Your Happiness is not My Happiness

As it often happens when one is reading, I came across a concept which seemed to capture the growing divide in the inability to understand each other within the contemporary Bhutanese generations quite neatly; the concept is called the language-squishing hypothesis. Simply, the language-squishing hypothesis (applied to happiness ratings in the book, Stumbling Upon Happiness) suggests that it is impossible to communicate what another person means when they speak about how happy they are, because

everyone’s uniquely individual past experiences will contextualize where the current feeling of happiness stands in relation to their ‘happiness continuum’.

Therefore my Belgian friend, who is from a city that has scarcely any nature hiking trail might experience a happiness level of 8 (on a scale of 1-10) while going on a hike to Cheri Monastery, while the same experience might register only as a 6 for someone like me who takes it for granted having grown up surrounded by nature. However, both persons would describe themselves as being ‘happy’ if one were to ask them both after their return journey. The language of describing the level of happiness when hiking to Cheri is squished for me, because my friend’s 8 is only a 6 within my happiness continuum.

Photo by Robert GLOD/Flickr

Before we get lost in concepts, coming back to the main point, I couldn’t help but make connections to most of our contemporary gaps in communication that exist between a parent and a child. The language-squishing hypothesis has applications beyond just describing happiness levels, to encompass even value judgements. Let’s take up an example; A child spends an average of 5 hours on video/online games, tapping furiously at a button with the intention to kill and destroy their opponent so that he can get the dose of momentary satisfaction and achievement that he needs to fill the meaning void in his life.

More then any other single factor of life, the richly fantastical illusory world of gaming takes a forefront in shaping this young kid’s meaning continuum.

To be a better gamer is the goal which has obstacles and challenges, as varied as life itself and some spend their entire lives to be ‘the best’ gamer. Of course for anyone looking from the outside in, one recognizes the self-centered mindset coupled with pathetic delusions of success that has literally no weight whatsoever in the real world which is guided by uncertainty, change and sacrifices.

Photo by 宇豪 胡/Flickr

Now, lets juxtapose a parent who matured (and became set in her ways) pre-digitalization of Bhutan and finds the same level of meaning in her life through bringing family members together for a rimdo and a hearty dinner. Her ‘meaning continuum’ is shaped by the personalities and memories of family members (with their own set of joys and sorrows), where uncertainty and spontaneity is perhaps the guiding factor and the eternal human drama which is the stuff of creation. To be a better human in relation to others around is the goal and

her speech and action is the very thing that creates the real world itself as we live it.

Photo by Rigsar Wangchuk/Dochula Chamm

However, all things considered, intellectualizing (or rationalizing) is one thing and livelihood, quite another. Thus even with having read and ‘become aware’ of this widening gap in our generations’ meaning continuum, a shift in our livelihood will take much effort. To make matters worse, the almost extinct culture of reading and appreciation for letters ensures that such challenges (and many others) are hidden from awareness itself stunting any discussion and reflections right at the start. As it stands, it seems absurd to speak about how the corn would be used when the seeds haven’t even been sown; or in our Bhutanese case, forget the seed, the land haven’t even been tilled yet.


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