How happy are physicists?
You know, I don’t know whether or not I can call myself a physicist (yet). But I feel fairly physicist-ish these days so maybe I could draw some background and try to answer your question.
I graduated with fairly average grades with a btech in engineering physics and scoring a good PhD position in theoretical physics seemed difficult. My prof (himself a theoretician) asked me to work on this problem in quantum information theory so that he could write me a decent recommendation. So there, on that casual evening at the institute cafe, the journey began.
Over those 18 months, I had and lost 3 day jobs, missed my masters, moved in and out of 4 different cities, went through 45 days of rehab to get rid of an addiction from college, lost a couple of friends, made some new ones. One thing though never changed. My pursuit of the problem. That’s what kept me going really.
You see, something happens when you are on the white page chasing a beautiful problem, that itself keeps changing shape as your understanding of it evolves. Yes, there are blind alleys you get lost in, times when you feel miserable and incapable. I remember this one late evening I had cried, it was so bad. But there are also times when the ideas just come alive, times when the equations just fit, times when you can literally see the damn thing inside your mind!
I was working 18 hours a day at one point (including the coaching centre job) and was sleeping on a mattress in a friend’s hall, sometime around midnight, the entire structure had come together.
I am not sure how to describe that moment. But it felt to me as if I had never come across something as astonishingly beautiful as what I had seen before me in my own writing. It felt like my entire life including all its mishaps and regrets were worth it and all those 25 years of existence was just a build up to that moment. I was broke, tired, lost but man was I happy!
So to answer your question, yes. Physicists I believe are happy people. Why?
1. Because they are actively doing what they love the most.
2. The pursuit of understanding is in itself extremely emotional, fulfilling and beautiful.
3. They fail a lot, they get lost a lot, they are most of the times just confused but they learn to cherish that too. Because they are curious people and asking an interesting question is their most basic instinct.
4. The work also has immense amount of freedom. Researchers get to choose their own problems, their own deadlines, their own office and office hours (for theory). I love working out of a good outdoor cafe :D
5. Lastly the very nature of the work brings them closer to nature and helps them grow and evolve throughout the process.
I don’t know if there could be a better way to spend your time in this world than to find ways to understand it more. And to a physicist, that’s one constant source of joy. :)
PS: the problem was to develop a connection between discord and commutation. By the time I got to it, I had a whole new formalism of discord. That night was when I found a clean analytical solution for its optimization in an n x m dimensional Hilbert space. :)