What’s happiness got to do with it? What’s happiness but an unreliable emotion

people holding hands happiness metric in relationships

Ah, the undying proverb. We’ve all heard it. My friend’s telling me about her relationship and the fight she got in with her boyfriend. I’m asking her questions and telling her what I think. She reminds me of the time he did X thing and she said Y thing. We talk about this for a while. It turns out that everything’s fine, well, in a way. All will be fine soon, it’s just that he’s a bit stressed at the moment because of work and his parents never got him and he hasn’t been sleeping well.

Then, there it is, we say it.

“As long as you’re happy with him…”

I save all the article ideas I get in an Evernote document and I wrote this: “are you happy with him? – 2 ways: abusive/ cynical”.

Now I have to figure out what past Delfina was talking about. I thought I’d take you on a journey while I try to figure it out. Let’s call the friend we’re having a conversation with Nora and her partner Noah for ease of readability.

Asking someone “Are you happy with him?” can be cynical

First of all, I don’t know why I included a question. I believe we rarely ask “Are you happy with him?”. As concerned friends, we usually say: “As long as you’re happy Nora… That’s what matters to me.”

Let me think, when would I ask someone “Are you happy with him/her?”

Ah yes, maybe we’d ask Nora that if we’d been talking in circles for a while. If we can’t agree on the relationship’s toxicity and if Nora is being treated right, we might ask her if she’s happy with Noah.

I know what I meant now. See, writing things down helps me understand them.

In some instances, this can be cynical. We let it go because we know we can’t fight every battle. So we ask a rhetorical question that will make both of us happy with how the conversation went. Nora can answer positively and rest assured that this is what matters at the end of the day, that Noah makes her happy, not the petty arguments.

The question is rhetorical not because we know for a fact that she’s happy, but because we know what she’ll say. Our job here is done. We made sure that Nora is happy. At the end of the day, this is what matters.

How “Are you happy with him?” doesn’t work in abusive relationships

I’m not saying that every wrong relationship is toxic or abusive. We’re all so wildly different from each other that it’s normal and healthy that some relationships just won’t work.

But some relationships are harmful, exhausting, and abusive. Don’t worry, I intend to write extensively about how to spot and avoid toxic relationships, but for now, let’s talk about our lovebirds Nora and Noah.

The issue with using the question “Are you happy with him/her?” to measure how healthy a relationship is, is that people in abusive relationships often have no idea what’s going on.

I say this respectfully as someone who has been there.

Many abusive relationships start with “love bombing.” The term was first used by a cult leader in the 70s. Yeah.

Love bombing is an attempt to influence a person by demonstrations of attention and affection. It happens when someone overwhelms the victim with loving words or physical actions with manipulative behaviours.¹

Ami Kaplan, LCSW, a psychotherapist explains love bombing for Cosmo: “Love bombing is […] about really getting the other person. Then, when [those with narcissistic personality disorder] feel like they really got the person and they feel secure in the relationship, the narcissist typically switches and becomes very difficult, abusive, or manipulative.”

These people set the bar very high in the beginning. They shower you with praise, love, and attention.

Once you’re “in,” it all changes.

As you can imagine, going from hearing how incredibly amazing you are to listening to the same person berate you can play some tricky games on your mind. Obviously, though, love bombing isn’t the only tactic cult leaders and abusive partners use. It’s just the tip of the shit iceberg.

If Nora is in this kind of relationship, it’s Mission Impossible 8 getting her to say “I’m miserable. I’m second-guessing everything I say, I feel like crying often, I’m having nightmares. I don’t know why I feel this way when everything is great with Noah besides X, Y, Z, ZH.”

Yes, the Albanian alphabet has a “zh.” A “xh” too for that matter, but I digress.

Yes, Nora is in an abusive relationship, but since she hides so much from us because we “don’t get Noah” and we don’t know “what he’s really like” and this is just a bad and weird time that will soon be forgotten, we pretend the question “Are you happy with him?” is enough and she pretends happiness is all there is to it.

Explaining it in writing, I realized what I was referring to when I jotted down “are you happy with him?” – 2 ways: abusive/ cynical” in my article ideas doc.

I get a lot of things by explaining them, writing them down. There’s this freedom that comes with not having to say the words out loud when it’s just you and the computer (and everyone else in the coffee shop).

In May 2018, I vowed to write daily articles. This didn’t work for me for obvious reasons and some not-so-obvious ones that I talked about in What the Water Gave Me- Why I Stopped Writing Every Day.

I edited all the 100+ articles I’ve shared on The Inner Dolphin (it took me a year and I shared the process here) and I deleted some of them.

Seeing what my brain came up with when it had to come up with something new every damn day (while in a full-time content job at a high-growth startup) is fascinating, albeit a little bittersweet.

It’s interesting to see how my language, mind, and heart have grown throughout the years. You can take a glimpse of this yourself below, the first four articles are from when I was writing every day in 2018.

Sometimes I start writing without having a clear idea of what I want to say. Seems like today I wanted to talk about the two ways in which perceived happiness doesn’t accurately reflect the health of a relationship and the mental health state of the person involved.

It seems like I also wanted to include old and new articles so we could all reflect on how far I’ve come. The one article I didn’t include is what I’d like to end this with. If you’re kinda happy, but your relationship with someone leaves you feeling kinda bad and weird sometimes, or if you’re friends with a Nora and wonder how to be there for her with the questions you ask and the way you express yourself, my guide on How to Stop Living in The Present might be helpful:

“Would you continue being part of that situation if you knew it would never change? I wouldn’t, for many things that come to mind. Would you forgive some of the things you have if you knew they’d go on forever? Me neither.”

How she answers these questions will tell Nora more about the future of the relationship than her perceived happiness ever could.

Be there for your Nora-s and most importantly, be there for yourself if you’re her.


Update 22/06/2021

A subscriber told me they really enjoyed reading this article and found it quite helpful. Then, they rightfully asked why we, as a society, assume Nora is the abused one and not Noah.

I should’ve mentioned that Nora and Noah’s roles are interchangeable (and they can represent an LGBTQ couple). As many as one in four women and one in nine men are victims of domestic violence.¹ I would never claim that because women are abused twice as much, male victims don’t matter.

As of 2019, men died by suicide 3.63x more often than women.² It’s heartbreaking. In many ways, this is happening because of toxic masculinity and society’s unrealistic expectations for people to be “manly”- not express their feelings and never ask for support and somehow live happily? This harms all of us.

There’s a mental health crisis going on and I’ll continue doing my part to bring awareness and offer solutions to it, regardless of the gender of the person.


Disclaimer: I’m not an LFMT (licensed family and marriage therapist), and everything I said comes from my own experience and what I’ve learned through research. I take my research seriously and I try to be as informative as possible. However, this information may not be suitable for your specific situation, it is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional, and shouldn’t be used to diagnose anything. If you think you’re in an abusive relationship, please get professional advice relevant to your particular circumstances.

4 thoughts on “What’s happiness got to do with it? What’s happiness but an unreliable emotion”

  1. Conscious presence vs Living in the present. Becoming conscious of consciousness. Sounds mind boggling but every human has the ability to sense consciousness every second of the day. Most human communication is purely based on thoughts and emotions rather then the consciousness of the present moment. There are so many Nora’s and Noah’s. I’ve been them a time or two.

    Thank you for reminding me of the peaceful state that eludes all of us until we become conscious of it.

    1. A friend commented on Instagram: “I am unwilling to ‘settle’ for anything less than EXACTLY what I deserve…any “reason” I come up with to stay (or not), if it isn’t sourced from the Signal that I AM, it isn’t worth paying attention to. I believe we all know…if we quieted our stories and “shoulds” for 10 seconds, the answer is clear…yes or no. No stories, no excuses, no BS.”. To a life full of conscious choices 🥂

  2. I enjoyed this article quite much(as usual :))
    I couldn’t help listening inside my mind to Taylor Swift’s “happiness”. Not entirely related to its context, but still…give it a try <3

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