How do I tell when I'm happy? I have had lots of trouble with answering the question for myself. Here's a report on my discoveries.
First problems were my misconceptions about the nature of happiness. From having lots of tragic intense experiences, what I didn't want was obvious - and it was repulsive: a huge NO! I made the mistake of assuming that what I did want would have that same intensity of feeling. The admonishment to "Find my passion" did not help.
Inside of me, it turned out that happiness is subtle. Happiness is absorbing, It is something that I do so naturally it's pretty easy to miss it in action. Something I'm doing that makes me happy doesn't tell me that it is making me happy - only in retrospect does this realization of "I was happy!" happen for me. While I'm doing what makes me happy, I'm so absorbed my it that I am too busy to notice how I feel. It soaks up my attention like a sponge. I'm engaged pretty much completely. In fact, the intensity of this engagement can make me a bit scared. I will surface from doing what makes me happy as if I've been asleep and I've just woke up in a fog. Like Rip Van Winkle, who slept for eons, I'll experience a jolt as I if I'm waking myself out of doing what has been making me happy and wonder what has been going on while I've been gone.
Another characteristic of happiness for me is that it's an unnoticed, irresistible action. I can't resist not doing it. Of course I'm going to do things that way, silly. Doesn't everyone? It was a shock to realize that "everyone" didn't value what I thought was "obviously valuable." I began to realize that I needed to consider that other people might wanted to be treated differently than I did, and act accordingly. I also needed to find positive ways to tell other people what I wanted, valued and enjoyed so it could come true for me and them.
For instance, it turns out that I have some big opinions on how I prefer to be touched. As a kid, my brother used to love to have me scratch his back. He wanted to scratch my back in "payment" for getting me to scratch his back, but that didn't work for me. I really did not want to be scratched - it doesn't do anything positive for me. People tend to scratch me too hard. Being touched "softly" is also an issue for me. If someone "tickle touches" my skin, it is slightly irritating because my skin becomes numb rather quickly to the creepy-crawly surface sensations. It feels to me as if a bug is crawling on my skin! In Hawaii we call this sensation of goose pimples, "getting chicken skin." It is as if my skin is too sensitive for such pastimes. But if another person makes calm or firm contact with my muscles underneath my skin, it's heavenly. I love to be massaged deeply. I love to feel someone's body warming my own. I love to feel contact with another person and have them relax and lengthen their muscles, taking contraction away from themselves while they are in contact with me.
There was another more serious problem about recognizing happiness for myself. Decisions that didn't involve considering external circumstances or other people just did not register on my radar. Having someone in front of me who had an opinion one way or another about what made them happy completely outshone any emotions I did have by a mile. Other people's wishes distracted me so completely, that I did not experience my own emotions. Not know what you want is a real deal-breaker in relationships with other people, because they can't tell what to to expect that you might do.
So I had to work on drawing a curtain between me and them to experience what I really wanted to do, irrespective of what they wanted me to do. This meant at first actively seeking solitude - and it was hard to sense my own emotions even then. On top of everything I was even rebellious with myself. I had a hard time picking something I knew I enjoyed doing that didn't take but five minutes a day and doing it every day regularly because I had so much resistance about setting any deliberate routine in place. But with practice, (this took five years or so) I became much better at checking in w/myself and getting an answer. Now I'm almost sixty. All I need to do to find out what I feel is to look away from someone's face for a bit or excuse myself from their presence.
But the way I worked out deciding what I feel is a bit odd too. I only discovered this by taking a poll about how other people determine what makes them happy. I discovered that my own feelings and emotions did not "rise to the top" like cream does, in a hierarchy. This was the most common way most people have access to their feelings. They can merely ask themselves "What would make me happy here?" and they get an answer that is their first priority.
Discovering my own feelings is more like a two step process. It's as if I'm fishing in a mysterious cauldron of potential, pulling up what comes out, describing it. Then I must draw statistics on the results of how I feel about it, after having described it for myself a number of times. I have learned that it's not a good idea to narrate this process in front of others. Because they might assume that because I dredged it up and mentioned it to them, it must be my first priority for wanting it...and that's just not true for me. Many things I want come up, irrespective of "time of arrival." I have learned for myself that when it comes to emotions, it is an important consideration for me to compensate for "time of arrival."
How does feeling what makes you happy work for you?