Throughout human history, many people have reflected on the concept of happiness. Have you ever tried it? During my research, I have realized that thinking about happiness (in the philosophical sense of the word) is a difficult task, because one does not know exactly what to look for.

So it’s legitimate for any thinker to wonder… what should I focus on and what concepts should I take into account to study happiness? Well, to begin a reflection on any concept, one must ask oneself about everything that is not that concept. And even more so if we are dealing with the elusive concept of happiness.

I did so and hoped that, as in a winnowing process, in which the straw is separated from the grain by throwing the mixture into the air, the breeze would drag the baize (that is, everything that is not happiness) and what interests us, the grain (happiness), would fall into the basket (my mind), finally being left uncovered to be processed (analyzed).

What isn’t happiness?

The first error is to assume that the social imaginary of “happiness” is correct .

When we think of “happiness”, very colorful and luminous images come to mind, of people doing activities in which they apparently have a good time, in which those people are free: pictures of smiles, rainbows, clown noses and emoticons crying with laughter. I invite you to try it out, stop reading and type the word “happiness” into the Google Images search engine. What does this search teach us? Exactly what I’ve described, and as if it wasn’t enough, they propose us concepts that could (or should) be related, like friend, day, birthday, love, family, wedding, Coca-Cola, and a long etcetera.

And isn’t that happiness? Partly yes, but that also means partly no. That’s why we shouldn’t let the media or “what everyone says” make us believe that we can only be happy on sunny days, on our birthday, or when we drink Coke.

Ever since we can remember, we humans have been using concepts to understand the world , and happiness is nothing more than another concept. Has no one realized that each society modulates the concepts to its own taste and convenience?

I write all this to make you see that behind the smiles there are tears, that after each day comes the night, and that, hidden under the window of “perfect happiness”, there are many interests that our society is not interested in admitting. Although it is now that I realize, the opposite of happiness is unhappiness, and nothing else.

I therefore propose that we doubt everything we think we know about “happiness” if we have not reflected on it before, since this leads to a confusion that, apart from mixing concepts, leads us to live a life in search of something that we do not even know what it is.

This is how I unraveled a little the concept of happiness, in one of my retreats to the mountains, talking to my uncle about it when I realized (well, he realized) all this and the idea I have called: unhappy joy and happy sadness.
I present this idea because I feel that it should be made clear once and for all that being sad does not mean being unhappy . These are parallel concepts that there is no point in comparing because they are simply not part of the same plane: the first is an emotion, and the second is a feeling.

Sadness and unhappiness: a fundamental distinction

Too often, and more so in psychology, these concepts of emotion and feeling are confused, which with examples we could understand as different things: when I go for a walk in the mountains with my dog and we see a snake, an intense mental state occurs in us that spontaneously arises in the limbic system (in charge of emotions) that makes us react with surprise and fear; two basic emotions (universal, that have both animals and humans) that are instinctive and adaptive and that in practice have made our species survive until today.

When we finish the walk and I leave Simba (my dog) alone at home, he will feel sad (another basic emotion) but never unhappy, since unhappiness is a feeling that differs from emotions in that it is reached through conscious evaluation , that is, by submitting that emotion to a thought. And that is something that at the moment only humans do, thanks (or because of misfortunes) to the development of the prefrontal cortex, we use reasoning that through symbols and meanings leads our mind to create more complex concepts that animals cannot understand, because until now they have not needed them.

Therefore, joy is universal but happiness is subjective. We all feel the same but we don’t all think the same way about what we feel . Is this understood now?

In short, a person can be very happy but unhappy. That false “good” we say to each other would be a good example. And at the same time, a person who, because of any unpleasant external event, may feel sad at a certain moment, will trust that his inner happiness remains in the face of adversity.