In 2012, the United Nations declared March 20 as the International Day of Happiness. A look at how we track happiness and well-being in the “Age of Quantified Self” – including some popular happiness apps.
In Pursuit of Health and Happiness
The International Day of Happiness recognizes the relevance of happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings. According to the World Health Organization, health implies not only the absence of disease, but also the physical, mental and social well-being of a person.
Much about happiness and well-being is subjective. Ask people off the street what makes them happy, and you will get many different definitions. But that doesn’t stop researchers and developers from trying to measure happiness. Today, “happiness” app makers want to help you find what makes you happier, so you can track and shape your experiences, and ultimately, boost your levels of happiness.
The Science of Happiness
Research by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky says that:
- 50 percent of happiness is genetically predetermined,
- 10 percent is due to life circumstances, and
- 40 percent is the result of your own personal outlook.
According to the app, “Happify“, “You have the ability to control how you feel—and with consistent practice, you can form life-long habits for a more satisfying and fulfilling life.” Happify’s activities and games are based on a decade’s worth of research by psychologists and neuroscientists.
The First Step: Choose to Be Happy
In the 20th century, analytic philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote a lot about happiness. In Conquest of Happiness, Russell states, “Happiness is not, except in very rare cases, something that drops into the mouth, like a ripe fruit. … Happiness must be, for most men and women, an achievement rather than a gift of the gods, and in this achievement, effort, both inward and outward, must play a great part.” (Emphasis mine.)
In the 21st century, the father of positive psychology, Dr. Martin Seligman considers achievement as one of the five essential “Pillars of Well-Being” along with positive emotion, engagement, positive relationship, and meaning. The Kiip app studied its users linking moments of achievement to happiness to find patterns of happiness around the world.
How is Happiness Measured? Tracking Happiness
“You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” – Peter Drucker
The developers behind Happsee say there is data all around us, but not enough data is collected to answer the question “Why?” Self-reflection is not something we prioritize. By tracking our moods along with the activities that make us happy, we can shift our priorities, and socialize with those who share those priorities.
A Harvard research project, TrackYourHappiness.org, is an iPhone app that has been working on uncovering the science of happiness by tracking:
- What you are doing
- Who you are with
- Where you are
- What time of day it is
- How you feel
An interesting result from their research over the last few years is that most unhappiness comes from mind-wandering. You can listen to more about the research results in the NPR interview below.
Quantifying Happiness: Listen to the Podcast
About 47% of the time, people said they were thinking about something else than what they were doing. Does your mind wandering make you unhappy, or you’re just unhappy sitting there and then your mind wanders? People who mind-wandered were unhappy, both when they were wandering, and people who mind-wandered more often were more unhappy on average. Of course, it’s possible that mind-wandering is causing unhappiness, but it’s also possible that people are mind-wandering because they’re unhappy to begin with.
The happiness that people are deriving from their activity seems to be almost completely independent from the happiness or unhappiness they’re deriving from their mind-wandering. In other words, if I’m doing something that’s quite enjoyable or unenjoyable, that had almost no influence on the pleasantness of the thoughts that I’m having. People could be doing something very enjoyable and thinking about something terrible. And they’re both strong influences on happiness but unrelated to each other.
– Interview with Matt Killingworth of Harvard’s Tracking Your Happiness Project
7 Keys to More Happiness
In researching this article, I discovered patterns for 7 keys to happiness:
- Choose happiness.
- Track your mood and activities to discover priorities.
- Savor positive joyful moments. (Listen to Tara Brach on “Opening to Joy“.)
- Focus on one thing at a time, practice mindfulness.
- Log gratitude.
- Perform service.
- Cultivate loving relationships.
The Most Amazing Longitudinal Study
What does it mean to flourish over a lifetime? Harvard also conducted a longitudinal study with 268 college sophomores tracking their happiness over the course of their lives. A longitudinal study is a great way to measure as it tracks the same people over a long period of time. Although the study only focused on men, the amount of data was extraordinary.
George Vaillant directed the study and concluded that the only thing that matters in life is relationships. Without loving relationships – even with a successful career, money, and good physical health – one would not be happy.
Happiness is a Lifetime Journey
One of the happiest men in the study after 75 years was Godfrey Minot Camille. He went into the study as the least likely to succeed in life, and had even attempted suicide. But in the end, he was the happiest. Why?
“He spent his life searching for love,” says Vaillant.
Enjoy “24 hours of happiness” anytime! But today, you can also support the International Day of Happiness.
Interested in Quantified Self, read more from Angela Dunn here.
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