True or false? In order for you to feel happiness, parts of your life have to suck

For example: The weekends would be less enjoyable if you didn’t bust your ass at work all week. (Same for retirement)

Not for me. When I was working, weekends were good even when I had a good time at work.
Do the bad things have to be similar to the thing that makes you happy? Something always kind of sucks, but I’m happy about loads of things that don’t have a sucky component.

Well, I’m retired (AND I’ve resisted getting a part-time job or volunteering, so here I am…), and I’m loving each day without the contrast of a high pressure job.

Though maybe I’m remembering those 70-hour weeks…

Is pleasure merely the avoidance of pain?
(I know a Social Psychologist who asks that)
Do we appreciate good health, or do we need to be getting over an illness to even notice it?

False, at least for me personally.

My life is pretty even, as opposed to having high highs and low lows, and I’m mostly pretty happy with it that way.

Right. But wouldn’t you say retirement is sweeter because you put so many years in working?

If you spent your whole life loafing, would “retirement” mean anything to you?

Lots of people “enjoy” their jobs, but we don’t enjoy them so much we do it for free.

I don’t see why. I don’t think happiness in any way relies on there being some sort of “suck” baseline to compare it to. It exists separate from that. Most my life I’ve been happy, and most my life things didn’t suck. I can’t say I’ve had any real sucky moments until maybe college, but before that, I was happy as a clam and had no true travails to contrast them against. So, no, things don’t have to suck somewhere in your life for happiness to be felt. I don’t think it’s a “comparative” emotion.

How do you compare your happiness after hardship to the happiness of someone who hasn’t had hardship?

You mean it’s possible to have a life with no parts that suck? I would definitely like to subscribe to your newsletter.

IMHO - False. I would likely argue that to feel happiness, you have to have something to compare/contrast with, but it doesn’t have to be personally experienced. A lot of the social unrest and injustice in modern America is that individuals compare themselves to a perceived norm and find themselves lacking. They have created ‘negative’ happiness by comparison to some ideal. The reverse happens as well I’m sure, where you have a less-than-ideal life, but you look at what’s happening in other parts of the world and go ‘Well yeah, but at least I’m happy compared to child warriors in Africa!’.

Now if you want to rephrase it as ‘more happy due to suffering in other areas’, the working for the weekend meme as was discussed upthread, then the answer is more nuanced. We’d have to be able to quantify happiness, which seems unlikely.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have used the word “suck”, it’s a bit hyperbolic. Maybe indifference or apathy?

Yes, there can be a baseline happiness that one experiences most of the time. But to feel elated happiness, I feel their has to be a contrast.

I agree. However, I sure do appreciate my current relationship more because I’ve had bad ones in the past. I do think I savor my current marriage a bit more because I’ve seen the other side of things.

To my understanding, we adjust our perception to match our everyday lives. If you live on a dirt floor and 30% of your children die before the age of 5, you’re just as liable to be happy and satisfied with life as if you lived in a temperature controlled place, have your own pool, and have raised several award winning children of good temperament.

From that, my suspicion would be that the more up-and-down your life is the more strongly you’ll feel the ups and downs. By default, when everything is exactly the same from day to day, our average is probably to feel a little bit dissatisfied (though, that average will vary from individual to individual, based on their genetics and some might have a default average set to happy). Homo sapiens is a species that likes to explore and get into trouble. We’ll shock ourselves for excitement rather than sit bored (on average).

Are you asking if there has to be what amounts to “emotional contrast” in order to be able to accurately identify and quantify happiness OR sadness?

I don’t know if that’s true. I think you can be happy and know you’re happy without travails to compare to. But… having had travails allows you to put things in perspective, as does having been truly happy as well- you have a baseline, and some sense of proportionality that you likely would not have.

That, I think is where the contrast is most useful.

Yes, I think that is a better way to phrase it.

I think you have to live through some bad times to truly appreciate the good times, and also to appreciate that the quiet days are also good ones.

Given the further context of what you mean? I would say it’s true. How many of us know people who have led a charmed life, and get extremely unhappy over something we would consider minor? They lack anything really bad to compare it to.

I can think of many times in my life where I didn’t realize how happy I actually was until I later experienced some pretty bad times. Only in retrospect could I experience it as happiness. At the time I thought I was feeling really bad.

I cannot think of any way I can recognize an emotion if I have not experienced its opposite at some point. I know that, as a kid, the way I felt was just normal. And, remember, I have an anxiety disorder. Much of the time, I was actually very anxious. But I had no real calm to compare it to, so it just seemed like “the way life is.”

People who have it all, who never seem to experience any real struggle? They seem profoundly less happy than I would be in their shoes. And I cannot help but think it’s because they lack the depth of sadness to compare it to.


I have lived, so far, a very fulfilled happy life. I am not planning on retiring for about 8-10 years. This does not mean I have not gone through difficult times, but on the balance way more happiness and fulfilling times.

As far as not knowing the joy without knowing the difficulties, it is possible to experience empathy and emotions of others, even fictionally through books and movies, to understand sadness and difficulty, so I don’t take stock in that assertion.

It’s impossible for me to imagine a life without huge emotional contrasts, and I’ve never heard of anyone who hasn’t experienced them. You have to accept that as a given.

But I’m not as sure about one state being dependent on the others. I’d say that highs, lows, and mehs are independent. Happiness is a good all to itself. It’s not more intense because you had a tragedy earlier. And that tragedy is inherently bad no matter what previous feelings you’ve have.

That may not be true for people whose entire lives have been wiped away by disaster or war, but most of us thankfully never suffer from such extremes. For the vast majority, happiness is happiness and tragedy is tragedy and the time in between is just ordinary without much thought being given to it.

That reminds me of something I heard once – it isn’t absolute poverty that leads people to emigrate and seek a better life in a wealthier country, it’s inequality. If you’re living in a shack with a dirt floor, and everyone else you know also lives in shacks with dirt floors, then you are reasonably satisfied with your life. But if you’re living in a shack with a dirt floor and you see people on the other side of town living in nice houses with swimming pools, then you start to think “Hmm, maybe I should leave this place and try to get to America, or Western Europe.”