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Happiness tracking

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Heard a couple weeks ago about a group at Harvard that's doing various kinds of research on happiness.

And I heard they had a website where you can sign up to participate in the research. It sounded mildly intriguing, so I signed up for it.

Three random times a day (you can specify frequency and range of hours, though not exact times), I get a text message containing a link to their site, where it asks me how happy I am at that exact moment, and various questions about what I'm doing and where and who with, and how much sleep I got the night before, and so on.

(I fill out their surveys in the browser on my iPhone; it seems like it should work in other mobile browsers, but they specifically mention using an iPhone, so I don't know how well it works with other phones. I also don't know whether people outside the US can sign up.)

I'm not convinced that it's giving me (or them) much useful information, but I'm still mildly intrigued by it, so I'm gonna keep it up a while longer.

But one thing has definitely struck me:

I'm not all that happy lately. I'm mostly not unhappy; I usually leave their happiness slider a little above midrange. But I'm usually not actively happy when they ping me.

That surprises me, both because I think of myself as normally being a pretty happy person, and because by any objective standard, I've got a pretty darn good life.

I think there are various factors in the lack-of-happiness thing, including but possibly not limited to (in no particular order):

  • I've been sick for almost the whole time I've been participating. My cold is mostly gone as of two or three days ago, but I'm still getting occasional minor sniffles or coughing.
  • My sleep schedule is still out of whack. I keep intending to try to shift back onto something vaguely resembling a normal-for-me schedule, but I keep failing to do so.
  • I've often been pretty happy during this period, but usually only in brief bursts—while talking with friends, while watching a good movie, etc. And if the system doesn't happen to ping me during a moment of happiness, then those moments don't show up in their data.
  • Various aspects of my romantic and sexual life haven't been all I could wish for lately.
  • It's winter. I never did get the hang of winters. I don't think I actually have Seasonal Affective Disorder, but I do get winter blahs. And I haven't had enough sunshine lately.
  • I'm back at work, and though things are going fine there, and I'm pleased to see colleagues, I'm sad to have given up on the last project I was working on (though it was making me tense), and I'm not loving the new project I'm working on.
  • There's a bunch of general stuff I'm tense about not making progress on, especially house-furnishing things. And fiction writing.

[Added later: I meant to note that the above list is not intended as a complaint or a request for sympathy. Just trying to take a—mostly dispassionate—look at what's led to my current state of mind.]

Then, too, it's entirely possible that my self-image of being happy most of the time isn't very accurate, and I just never noticed until I started taking notes three times a day.

But on the other hand, there've been a bunch of good things lately. Snuggling, a couple good movies (which I keep meaning to post about), a good book, a good TV show or two, some cool CDs, a new gadget, some lovely chats with friends, finding and unpacking a bunch of tchotchkes I've been looking for for a year, getting over the cold, etc. And that's on top of all the good stuff that it's sometimes easy for me to take for granted: a job, a house, money, family and friends and SOs and lovers who I care about and who care about me, my usual good health, getting to live in a region I like and do things I like with people I like, having vast amounts of societal privilege (which isn't a good thing or something to be happy about, but does make my life easier in lots of ways that make it easy for me to be happy), and on and on; an embarrassment of riches. [Added later: I meant to also include stuff like sufficient food and clean water and a mild climate and so on.] Plus an entire Internet's worth of fun and interesting and thought-provoking stuff to read and see and do and think about without even having to leave home.

So I have lots of reasons to be happy. Perhaps I'll try accentuating those positives to myself a little more often, and see if that gets me to raise my happiness scores in the daily surveys.

1 Comment

There ya go. Sounds like a plan. :)


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