Daniel Kahneman, the famous psychologist explained that we have two selves, (a) the experiencing self and (b) the remembering self.
The experiencing self lives in the present and is only concerned with the present moment while the remembering self is like the judge who decides everything for us.
When we ask question like “what makes you happy” we are essentially engaging the remembering self to answer that question for us, whether or not it is at odds with the experiencing self. The tyranny of the problem lies with how the two selves operate.
For example, if you go on a vacation for 1 week, the experiencing self will register those moments as the 1 week unfolds. However, at a later time when someone asks you ‘how happy are you with the vacation’ it is your remembering self who decides your happiness level.
The interesting point is that the remembering self is subject to a famous rule called the peak-end rule. (Click here for the link). What this means is that duration does not matter to the remembering self, only the peak (best or worst moment) and the end. Rationally speaking, a 2 week vacation should make your experiencing self happier than a 1 week vacation, but if the first week and the second week are the same (in terms of your best or worst experience and how it ends), your remembering self will record the event as equally happy.
Circling back to the question, “what makes you happy”, the first question that needs to be answered is happy for which self, the experiencing self or the remembering self? The experiencing self is about overall well being, with relationships being the predominant happiness factor. The remembering self is about life satisfaction, i.e. it is about achievements and goals like career and money etc.
When we have meaningful relationships, our experiencing self is happy, but we could still be dissatisfied with our life. And vice versa. To answer the question, ‘what makes you happy’ we need to distinguish the two and we need to know which is which. To be truly happy, we simply need the two selves to be happy.
p/s: Daniel Kahneman mentioned that the correlation between the experiencing self and the remembering self is about 0.5, which means we know something about how the 2 correlate but not with full certainty. When we say someone is 180 cm tall, we could possibly imagine the weight of that person but it could still be anything from thin to fat.