Saturday, 9 February 2013

Can you really have something called

"The Happiness Test"? Can you actually measure "happiness"?
Apparently Australian school students in year 6 are to be measured for "happiness" - so that they can be made "happier". Apparently they need to be made "happy" and to "feel positive" about themselves so a test has been developed to find out whether they do "feel happy" and, if not, how they can be made to feel this way. Even if they do feel "happy" apparently it is necessary to improve this.
It seems it is no longer acceptable for children to feel sad, anxious, worried, depressed, angry or anything other than "happy". Negative emotions are only for grown ups - and they might not be acceptable even there. If you do not feel constantly happy then there must be something wrong with you.
All right, I exaggerate. Nevertheless the mention of this proposed test, of no less than seventy-six questions, in this morning's paper has left me feeling bewildered. Am I allowed to feel bewildered?
I do not know about anyone reading this but I know I spent a good deal of my childhood feeling a range of emotions. I probably spent a little more of it than most children feeling anxious, worried, frightened, depressed and downright angry. There were good reasons for it. I survived. I grew up. 
There are times when I still feel anxious, worried, frightened, depressed and downright angry. Despite that I think I am reasonably well balanced individual. I think I have a sense of humour. I enjoy prowling around the internet pretending to be a cat on occasions but I know I am not a cat. I can laugh. I enjoy the company of my friends and tell a joke.  
There is almost always something to look forward to during the day. Even on a day that I have to do something I loathe - like visit the dentist - I can think to myself, "Well, it will be nice when that is over and I can..."
If I have to do something that frightens me (and all sorts of things frighten me) then I will try to think about what will happen afterwards - about whatever it was being over. 
We had all the immediate family here recently. The last two adults and two small children called in for a short while yesterday on their way back to their home interstate. They had been for a short break on Kangaroo Island before my nephew starts in his new position in the company he works for. It was wonderful to have them here - if thoroughly exhausting. 
The Senior Cat had a wonderful time playing with his great-grandchildren. (He is one of those extraordinary individuals who has never lost his capacity for child-like wonder at the world.) At the end of it all we both felt "flat" when they left but he said,
      "It makes you appreciate how much you love them and how important family is."
It seems to me you cannot have one emotion without having other emotions too. "Love" comes with not just "happiness" but other emotions too. 
So is this "happiness" thing really a good thing? If we constantly emphasise "happiness" as the only acceptable emotion won't we devalue other emotions? Will we still be able to love one another? 


Alison Morton said...

Great post, Cat. Continual happiness is not only unachievable, but also not particularly healthy; it creates delusions about real life and strips people of their ability to cope when things go badly wrong. And they will.

I generally oscillate between "okay" and "contentment" most of the day but with spikes of disappointment, irritation and "pleased-ness" here and there.

Sometimes I become really angry and stomp around like a sabre tooth tiger with attitude. But sometimes I have intense spikes of joy and true happiness. But they are rare and need to be rare otherwise we wouldn't see them for what they are - peaks that mark our existence as being truly worthwhile.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree Cat. I read the piece in the paper too. This constant emphasis on "happiness" worries me. Chris

jeanfromcornwall said...

There is only one way to deal with a questionnaire like that. Use green ink and scrawl across it something like "You're all a load of (expletive of choice)" It is just so totally ridiculous. Which fairy tale land do these people think they are living in?

catdownunder said...

This is going to be given to eleven year old children Jean. It is supposed to be some sort of serious attempt to produce a teat of mental health. I doubt anyone has really thought this through!

JO said...

Our Prime Minister also believes that a 'happiness' index can and should be measured - as if we all have a right to it. We might find it more fun, but life is full of a mix of emotions, all equally valid.

(To watch advertisements, one would think that happiness is measured by the size of one's car or cleanliness of one's washing - and that's bonkers, too!)

Miriam said...

I didn't read the article. If the aim is really to make all the children happy all the time, then clearly they're going to fail.

However, I'd like to see the test questions. If they're the sort of questions that would have brought out my unhappiness at school, and if that would have led to a change in the situation that was causing it, then I would find something positive in this step.

jeanfromcornwall said...

For eleven year old's! At that age I could not have told anyone what my state of mind was, or what I wanted. I was living in the moment. I do know that, faced with any kind of question, my first thoughts were "What answer are they looking for?" so the chances of getting anything helpful out of me would have been small.

catdownunder said...

They showed a few of the test questions Miriam - and I do not think they would have helped them understand you - or me. I think Jean is right - the children will just answer the way they think they should answer. There will be a built in "lie factor" but that won't help if the children are answering the questions as they think they should. At that age children actually do not necessarily understand which emotion they are experiencing anyway.