Last week I scored a 4.1 out of six on the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire after being assigned to take it by my English professor. According to my results, I am “somewhat or moderately happy.”
The questionnaire lists statements like “I am not particularly optimistic about the future” or “I do not think that the world is a good place” and asks the participant to rank their answer on a scale from ‘strongly agree’ to ‘strongly disagree.’
Who wrote this quiz? What’s this Oxford Guy’s deal anyway? Who does my English professor think he is assigning a quiz that quantifies my level of happiness? Although I was skeptical, spending some time with these questions did make me think.
Am I happy? On paper, this is a loaded question for somebody who should be happy given their circumstances — their privileged and well-rounded childhood — but who struggles with their mental health, with depression and anxiety, seemingly more than the average person. A loaded question for a deep thinker who does poorly on multiple choice tests because she can rationalize a way for each answer to be right. For an outgoing, playful and fun-loving twenty-two-year-old who wears strange oversized clothing not because she is lazy, but because she confidently prefers it to everything else. For a senior in college who has little to no certainty about where she’s going from here. For a hungover Sunday afternoon, one where I am sitting back in my desk chair and slurping down a club soda like the last time I drank water was 2006.
Am I happy? Is happiness completely circumstantial? Is somebody who’s parents pay her tuition, who takes hot yoga classes once a week and who has travelled across the globe allowed to be unhappy? Yes, happiness is relative. But guilt is prominent and ever-present.
The Dalai Lama wrote that happiness is determined more by a state of mind than it is by external events. A good grade can lead to temporary elation just as a breakup may send us into intense sadness. But eventually our happiness returns to its homeostasis. This phenomenon is referred to as “adaptation” by psychologists — after an appropriate adjustment period, everybody returns almost completely to their normal emotional state. I think about this a lot, especially in this current moment, with mere days left of my time in college.
I think that happiness is like love, relative and subjective. Undefinable and only theoretically achievable. While I reflect on my time as a Michigan student, I wonder, how often was I truly happy while existing on this campus, in this town? I feel a bit disheartened by my hesitation to answer this question truthfully.
It feels like so much of college was a tragic assortment of heartbreak, anxiety and hysteria, of quickened heart palpitations during a library study session, of meltdowns made in solitude while my phone rings and rings. But this narrative contradicts my identity as goofy, optimistic, energetic, always smiling. Maybe, I’m remembering the best and the worst at their peaks: I’m forgetting the mornings where I just lay in bed watching Netflix or afternoons when I went for a pleasant run, admiring the people sat outside of their houses on a warm spring day. Perhaps these moments are my homeostasis.
As I think about the last four years, my mind paints a recurring image — one where my teeth are all visible, my eyes are closed tight and laughter escapes my smiling mouth. I think about Sunday mornings in the kitchen — each person stumbling in as they wake up bringing a new story from the night before to theatrically recount, the laughter from each person culminating in an orchestra of joy. I think about the times I have sobbed — a friend making me giggle with nonsensical statements like “you’re a little fish boy” instead of normal comforting advice. I think about the night we went sledding — dancing to Soulja Boy and drinking beers before trekking up the hills of Burns park. The laughter was followed by silence as we let our bodies sink deep into the snow and we looked at the stars.
If you’ve met me, you’ve likely seen me laugh. I laugh a lot. I laugh so often that people have accused me of fake laughing. It must be impossible, they believe, to laugh as much as I do. But there are only rare occasions when I have to force myself to mimic a chuckle — like when my friend’s parents visit and tell unrelatable stories using dated humor, or with good-looking people that I am trying to impress. Those instances are few and far between.
The truth is, I don’t know exactly why I laugh so much more than the ordinary person. Of course there are some obvious reasons, the most prominent being that my friends are fucking hilarious. Caleigh never misses a beat and adds cynical commentary to the most ordinary things. If I ask her how she’s doing she responds “Okay no, none of that emotional shit.” Katie is unapologetically blunt, responding “I’ll pass” when a guy asked her to “come over and lay with me please.” Ellie lays on her bed and blasts the “How to Train Your Dragon” soundtrack, swinging her feet in the air and ignoring the world around her. Callie is the next David Sedaris, recounting memories and telling stories that leave people gasping for air. Finn walks down the street and points a stick at random people, bowing to them and yelling “top of the morning to you” if they dare make eye contact. I could easily write several pages with lists like this. I am surrounded by top notch humor.
Laughter being powerful is not an unusual take. We know this — the endorphins that are released, the stress hormones that are suppressed. The beauty and benefits of laughter are rarely disputed — which is why I am not writing this to advocate for why laughter is great.
Instead, this is an ode to all of the times I’ve laughed. To those who I’ve laughed at and laughed with. To the time that we Door Dashed three pints of ice cream and finished them before bringing them back upstairs to the rest of the group who was a part of the order. We cackled as we made up stories about where the ice cream went, saying a guy from our freshman year dorm fell out of the sky and swooped it all away. To the morning the cake went missing and we held a trial to figure out who had eaten it. To playing improv games in restaurants and getting suggestions from strangers in the booth next door. To my group chats for making me spit my water out in the middle of class. To my best friends who are wildly inappropriate and exceptionally witty. To drunk nights in bar bathrooms. To afternoons on the living room floor. To singing and dancing and laying in the snow.
Last night I got high and drew all of my friends. Tears were rolling down my face. Snot was leaking from my nose. My stomach was tight with air. I laughed uncontrollably. Homeostasis.
Statement Contributor Samantha Cole can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.