THE BLOG
02/24/2016 02:38 pm ET Updated Feb 23, 2017

Happiness, From 1-10

Some years back, I was a TA at UMass Boston for a freshman composition course. The professor, my mentor, was teaching a story called "The Pain Scale," by Eula Biss. Within, the author explores the levels of pain, calling attention to the relative nature of rating our pain.

We are asked to do it at the hospital all the time. Break your leg? The nurse will ask, "What is your level of pain on a scale of 1-10?" I think I've been asked this question maybe twice. I fractured my wrist playing soccer when I was a kid, and I remember the nurse bending my arm, gently, in various ways. "How about now? Does that hurt? How much?" My young mind already had the seedlings of, "Well...I don't exactly know if I know what a '10' feels like anyways, so I don't know if I'm even being accurate."

Alas.

Considering this, what would happen, then, if we had to rate our happiness from time to time? Could you do it? What are you feeling right now?

It's tough, isn't it.

The Problems: we are all very unclear on our ability to experience happiness, as well as exactly what happiness is. Is it a feeling? A concept? What is our personal 10? Is it the same as her personal 10? Even better: when a 10 floats along, will you know that its your 10?

Maybe we are only allowed small shot glasses full of 10s throughout our life: the first kiss with a love, the birth of your baby. It seems unlikely, though, that we would be able to survive in the clouds of a 10 forever. After all, what would that feel like? Would it be a constant orgasm? A surge of feel-good hormones through your brain and body? I suspect we would then want even more. What about someone who suffers from a chronic illness: was her 10 during her carefree childhood and never to be felt again?

When it comes down to it, most of us are chasing it. There is something inside us, something insidious, that propels toward that very elusive number: I could be happier.

In all fairness, it is planted inside us and watered liberally as we grow up. "I just want you to be happy." "Whatever makes you happy." "The main goal in life is not money, it's to be happy." It's a pressure all on its own. What will get me there?

Maybe, after trudging through All Of It, we realize that happiness is really the absence of suffering, the absence of pain. What will happen if we get to our own personal end and see that our personal 10 has waxed and waned all along? I would imagine we would descend from its ledge to feel pangs of regret. I've long been fascinated with humans' inability to appreciate for extended periods of time, and imagine it has more significance than we might think at the end of All Of It.

I can't end this by saying, "So, appreciate the time you have now." Or, "Just try to feel your own personal 10." I just can't, with a clear conscience. We are human, after all. We won't be able to--not fully, at least. Instead, maybe just consider what your 10 would feel like.

Maybe it visited you at some point.

Maybe it is with you right now.