Happiness as a Comparison Emotion

There are opposites in all things. The opposites are affixed to each other. We can acknowledge that we feel joy because we have felt misery. We can acknowledge that we feel misery, because we have felt joy. If we had never felt misery, we would not recognize it when we felt happiness. We would not recognize it, because there would be nothing to differentiate the feeling.

Comparing States of Being

We can be happy or sad depending on what we are comparing our current state to. If we compare our current state to the way we felt when we were sad, we will feel happy. If we compare our current state to expectations of what we think happiness should be like, we will feel sad.

Joey was incarcerated as an adult at the age of 17. He spent the next five years in prison. When he got out of prison, he was thankful for everything. He enjoyed the wind in his hair. He relished the opportunity to walk where and when he wanted to walk. His favorite food never tasted so good. He loved the opportunity to work, hold a job, and earn a paycheck. Most of all, he enjoyed being with family. Joey was very satisfied with life.

After a couple of years, Joey stopped comparing his current state with his previous state as a prisoner. He started comparing his current state to expectations of what he thought life should be like. Joey found himself being irritated by small idiosyncrasies that his family members exhibited. Joey became frustrated by the limitations that his small paycheck created. He had saved up to buy a car, but with his credit he wasn’t able to get any of the new models that his coworkers had. He disliked that he couldn’t eat out as much as he would he would like and he grew tired of cooking at home. Joey became very dissatisfied with life. His state of being did not change. What he compared his current state to, did change.

Comparing with Ideals

We often set up ideal situations in our mind. We create an idea of how things should be. We compare our current situation to the ideal. When the current situation is worse than the ideal, we are unhappy. When the current situation is better than the ideal, we are happy. The problem with ideals that is that they are a hypothetical abstract that is created and changed merely with thought. Ideals are not subject to natural laws of time. Ideals are not subject to the emotional upbringing and baggage. It is difficult to reach an ideal that has been created by fantasy, in a real-world situation that is bound by natural laws and apposing human designs.

Martha was miserable in her marriage. She did not enjoy the way her husband expressed his love. She wanted someone who would verbalize how much he loved her. Instead of saying, “I love you,” her husband would buy her gifts, take her on dates, and do chores around the home. She knew that he was expressing love in his own way, but she NEEDED him to TELL her that he loved her as well. She was miserable.

One day Martha stopped focusing on what she thought love SHOULD look like. Instead, she let go of all ideals. She paid attention to the good that was available to her. She accepted the good, instead of comparing it to something it wasn’t. Martha started feeling happy again.

Seeking Happiness in the Emotional State of Others

We often assume that those around us have to be in a happy emotional state in order for us to be happy. We remember when we had been effected by people when they were happy. We remember that we reacted to their happiness with happiness.

When people are sad, we often become sad. It is natural to feel sad for people we love when they are sad. It is not good when we assume that we cannot be happy when they are sad. When we start feeling that our happiness is uncontrollably restricted by someone else’s emotional state, we can build up resentment toward that person. If we feel that our emotional state is inextricably tied to their emotional state, even against our will, we can become too pushy in our desire to help others feel emotionally better. Our desire to help others can turn from a selfless desire to show love to a selfish desire to use other’s emotional state as a tonic for our own emotional wellbeing.

Jacob was very unhappy. His wife was always depressed. He saw her depression as something that permeated into his mood against his will. He did not like feeling depressed. He knew if he could get his wife to change, he would feel better. Jacob worked very hard to change his wife’s depression. He took her to the doctor. He did the dishes and laundry. He picked the kids up from school. He talked to her. He rubbed her feet. He told her to exercise. He nagged her to go a therapist. He begged her to be put on medication. Jacob was sick of her depression bringing him down. He felt very resentful that he worked harder than her to get rid of her depression. He was resentful of doing all of the chores himself. He was sure that she wasn’t even trying and that made him even more unhappy. He was sure that if she would not be depressed, he could be happy again.

Esau was happy, and he felt sad for his wife. She was very depressed. She had been for a while. Esau loved his wife. He hated seeing her so sad. Out of love, he did the chores. He picked up the kids from school. He talked to her because he liked to talk with her. He rubbed her feet, because he enjoyed doing things that helped her feel good. He offered to help her find a therapist or a psychiatrist. When she refused, he recognized that she wasn’t ready. Jacob did not feel pressured to make her change faster than she wanted to. He did not think that his happiness was primarily dependent on her emotional state.

Aside from caring for his wife, Jacob did other fulfilling activities. He went on outings with his children. Jacob and his kids had family game night and movie night. They went to church on Sundays and did family bible study. Due to her depression, his wife rarely participated. When she did participate she was sombre and withdrawn. Her comments were often negative. Jacob never considered that his emotional state, had to be dependent on hers. He allowed himself to experience emotions that were different than her’s. He did not feel he worked harder on his wife depression than she did, because he was not pressuring her to overcome depression. He did not build up resentment for doing more chores than she did, because he did the chores out of love instead of a trapped feeling of obligation. He enjoyed the opportunity to be with his kids, instead of feeling like her decisions were forcing his behavior.


As people, we cannot be happy all of the time. If we were happy all of the time, we would never know it. There would not be another emotional state to compare the happy feeling too. The feeling of happiness would not be differentiated from anything else. If happiness is never differentiated, it will never be defined.

In life we will go through periods of sadness, happiness, frustration, irritation, and all manner of emotional states. The emotional state that we are experiencing predominantly has more to do with what we are differentiating the emotion from, than what is really going on around us. A starving child who has been given a fresh bowl of soup, will always be happier than a pampered child who has only been given a bowl of soup.