TrackYourHappiness.org is a research project that investigates what makes life worth living. It was created as part of Matt Killingsworth’s doctoral research at Harvard University. I found the project while browsing the Internet one night and decided to sign up. Here are my results:
How does it work?
Once you sign up for TrackYourHappiness, you get asked some preliminary questions for statistical purposes. This takes about 10 minutes. Then you get sent 50 survey requests over the next month or so. Completing them gives you a picture of your happiness levels over time, as well as a number of other pieces of data that relate to happiness. The questions often asked me about how much sleep I had received the night before, or if I was talking with anyone.
I was able decide when and how often I wanted to be notified. I opted for survey prompts to be sent to me at random intervals, three times a day, to report how I was feeling and what I was doing.Because I knew I would never complete the survey if I was sent survey prompts by E-mail, I opted for SMS, eventually switching to Direct Messages from Twitter. The direct messages ended up working out the best. I received direct messages from @trackhappiness on Twitter 3 times a day, and filled them out over a period of 3 months, starting in April and ending today, July 1st.
Even with Twitter notifications, I should’ve finished sooner. 50 samples should only take half a month or so, assuming 3 are sent completed per day. However, the surveys were quite long and rather repetitive, each of them often taking 3-5 minutes to complete. I became rather fatigued of the project at the end of May, which resulted in my skipping 126 survey prompts. I let the prompts run their course on my phone through the entire month of June before I decided to break down and fill out the rest of them. That was two weeks ago. I’m finally done.
Productivity and Happiness
My initial hypothesis was that I would be the happiest while being the most productive.
The results seem to imply, and I also noticed this while filling out survey results, that I am often tired while being very productive. Thus, high levels of productivity don’t always make me completely happy.
Additionally, productivity is tiring, so my happiness is dependent upon how I feel physically. Sometimes I’m happiest while doing everything I can *not* to be productive.
Happiness: Outside vs. Inside
I found that I’m pretty much the same outside as I am while inside. (Caveat 1: I reported being outside while I was in a vehicle. Caveat 2: This survey was taken in the spring/summer, where being outside is generally awesome).
Happiness vs. Want To, Have To; Don’t Have To; Don’t Want To
These results seemed a bit obvious, thought I expected that I’d be happier when doing things I wanted to do, but didn’t have to do. Instead, I reported being slightly happier doing things I wanted to do and had to do, vs. wanted to do, but didn’t have to do. And of course, I wasn’t as happy to do things I both didn’t want to do as well as didn’t have to do.
One item is missing here – the Don’t Want To, Have To. I guess I never responded with anything I didn’t want to do, but Had to Do.
Focus and Happiness
I’m very unhappy when I’m having a fragmented thought process, and the happiest when I’m fully focused on something. This could also be related to productivity.
Happiness: Amount of Sleep and Sleep Quality
One night I got 18 hours of sleep. I forgot what night that was, but it must have been after waking up at 4 for a early morning flight to San Francisco, and getting back late at night. Who knows? Regardless, I was not very happy after I woke up. Oversleeping is not something I enjoy very much.
Other than that, as long as I get 7-10 hours of sleep, I’m pretty much fine. For some odd reason, I never took the survey after 5 or 4 hours of sleep. Those amounts always make me unhappy. My brain won’t cogitate correctly the next day because it hasn’t had enough REM time to defragment itself to make room for new ideas. Oh well.
Happiness: Being Alone vs. Being With Others
I consistently talked to a similar variety of people over time, and my happiness was about the same. The only reason I might not have been as happy when talking with friends might have been due to the context of the conversation.
Often, friends let on more personal information than acquaintances might. An acquaintance, for instance, might be more concerned with keeping a situation upbeat and not diving into complex or potentially unsettling issues, stories, or problems. I don’t think I really encountered any of that, no do I on a normative basis. However, if my level happiness around friends were significantly lower than with the other types of people, I would suspect that this might be the case.
Happiness vs. Activity
Most of these responses were given during the time when I was moving into a new place. My favorite activity is, and may always be, writing on a white board. I was the least happy when I was “relaxing”. I typically don’t relax. Rather, my body forces myself to take a break. To me, relaxing is sleep. I try to get a lot of it. When I’m awake, I try to get things done.
Now that the survey is over, it’s nice to have this data. If I were to do this again (and I might in 6 months), I would probably not use this interface. I’d rather build my own, and then run correlative tests in the background to net useful outcomes, not outcomes that were almost completely obvious upon answering the daily questions.
An amusing side-effect of being finished is that I keep getting phantom notifications. I think that I’m getting a direct message from @trackyourhappiness with a request for data. I won’t be getting them anymore.
This survey did one very good thing: it caused me to consider my happiness quite a bit. I was very aware every day of all of my thoughts and actions. I wanted to predict what the results would be, even though it was quite obvious what the were going to be. I found that it was pretty simple to control my happiness. Also, I realized that I’m a generally happy person because I have artificially constructed an automatic feedback loop that reinforces positive environmental conditions.
For instance, sleep quality showed some pretty good results. Of course I was unhappy with a sleep quality of 0 or 30. These results are quite obvious. 100% sleep quality pretty much always meant a pretty high level of happiness.
Which means I’m a pretty simple creature. I’m happy when I’ve had enough sleep and food to eat at regular intervals. Though food was not part of the survey, I’ve been tracking food intake, time, amount and type for the last year. It really matters.
Does this mean that one can architect a feedback loop of good sleep and healthy, regular food intake in order to ensure perfect happiness? Is there a programmatic approach to perfect happiness?
As an avid social experimenter within the game The SIMS, I’ve had a chance to test all of the variables and scenarios that one can have, or be denied, and the effects on one’s happiness due to those things. In the game, one can achieve a 100% happiness level based on a number of factors which include, hunger level, cleanliness, restroom need, social interaction need, surrounding environment (if a SIM is in a messy or badly formed house, they are more likely to be unhappy) and level of rest.
In a way, I would’ve liked this survey to have more of those items. That way, it might have been able to educate people about their dependence on these external effects.
For instance, I moved into a very specific type of living situation because I had programmed it out in the SIMS and saw that it had all of the requisite items for self actualization. It’s more than just sleep quality. One must have an environment that makes quality sleep possible, and a work situation that is not so stressful that it prevents sleep. Elements of the house, commute, food, ect., are all important.
Finally, I thought the project very successful in integrating with Twitter/SMS, because I would never do it if I received an E-mail notification three times a day. SMS/Twitter integration allowed it to meld more smoothly into the processes of my everyday life.
It left out a lot of things, like the last time I ate, what I ate, how tired I felt, how stressed, ect. These have a lot of bearing on happiness. Sometimes it asked me if I was thinking negative thoughts. If I said yes, it asked me if I could control these thoughts if I wanted to. This was as close as the survey got to getting at some sort of psychological effect determining happiness. The only other things it tracked were location, socialization and sleep. For me, it’s obvious that getting a bad night of sleep affects my happiness.
I’d like to know if my eating habits or times affect my happiness. There’s a lot more that can be gathered here that the survey failed to capture and record.
Amber Case, (@caseorganic) is a Cyborg Anthropologist studying the interaction between humans and computers and how our relationship with information is changing the way we think, act, and understand the world around us. She’s obsessed with compressing the space and time it takes to get data from one place to another, especially when the final destination is the mind.