Not Unhappy

11 Mar

For the first field experiment, I completed many of the happiness surveys at Authentic Happiness, and was neither surprised nor impressed by my results. I wish that I could say I am an ecstatically happy person, but my set range is probably best described as “not unhappy.” Answering the questions in the surveys was difficult because like on any test, I wanted to perform well, so giving answers that I could tell were not the happiest option was a bit challenging. However, this was the first time I ever really reflected on my mood during a neutral time period. In the past, I was only ever really aware of my mood when I was going through depressive periods, like after the death of a friend, and was uncharacteristically sad. Examining my “normal” mood was a bit strange, since at the time I took the surveys I was not dealing with anything that made me unhappy, though there was nothing making me very happy either.

I preferred the experience of Track Your Happiness to the surveys because I did not feel the pressure of taking a test. Furthermore, since this went on for a number of weeks instead of all during just two sittings, I was able to adjust and get used to the process. Quantifying your mood on a sliding scale is difficult in that it is so arbitrary when you have never done it before, but after the first or second day of tracking my happiness I was better able to gage my mood in those terms.

The happiness tracker helped me to see some patterns in what I did and how I felt. For example, during my down time I tended to watch television alone in my room. While this is something I enjoy and it is a good way to relax, my mood tended to be better when I spent my time at home in my common room talking to my roommates. I picked up on this long before receiving the final report, which makes sense according to “The Quantified Self: DIY Mood Tracking,” “awareness [of your mood] alone can be transformative. Once you see a pattern, it’s very hard to unsee it” (Carmichael). I never thought I was unhappy at home—in fact, I deal with social anxiety, so I often prefer to be at home—but simply seeing that I was sliding the meter a little further to the right when I was sitting at the table with my roommate than when I was sitting in bed watching TV was enough to motivate me to make a change.

Still, the happiness tracker was not without its own issues. First of all, I often felt that it was capturing specific moments of pleasure or unhappiness instead of measuring my overall mood, which Dr. Martin Seligman explains is not affective to your enduring level of happiness in his chapter “Can You Make Yourself Lastingly Happier?”. For example, one day I had an allergic reaction while eating lunch that was painful, upsetting, and ruined my afternoon. After that, the happiness tracker reflected that eating made me unhappy, which is far from the truth.

I also found my results somewhat skewed since “working” has two very different meanings to me. Tracking while working at my job meant something different than tracking while I was working on homework, but there was no way to distinguish this. Despite how productive I am being, I am not generally in a great mood when I am sitting in the library or even at my kitchen table plowing through readings or papers. At the same time, going to work makes me very happy—partly because I have a job at all, and partly because I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing. Although work and income fall under the Circumstances in Seligman’s “Happiness Formula,” I consider my work experience a contributing factor to my V, the variables that I control (45). I do not make much money so income is not a factor I consider, but the interactions I have with my coworkers are enjoyable, I feel like an expert at what I am doing, and attaining this job was a goal I had for a long time.

Going to work was the everyday thing that made me happiest, but the happiest moments that I tracked happened on the day after the big snowstorm when I went sledding with my friends in Prospect Park. While the thrill of flying down the hills was only a high-pleasure moment that wouldn’t affect my enduring happiness on its own, the overall experience was definitely beneficial to my lasting happiness. DH pic 1Walking, talking, and sledding together was a great way to strengthen my connection with my friends, I have happy memories to look back on, and I have something to look forward to doing the next time it snows a lot. Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness explains that humans are the only animals that really think about time, and that we set ourselves apart by planning and anticipating the future, and this makes us happier. “Indeed, thinking about the future can be so pleasurable that sometimes we’d rather think about it than get there,” Gilbert says (18). I am sure this is the case with my sledding experience—that next time it snows, going sledding might not live up to my expectations. But even writing this, I am already anticipating how excited I will be for another fun day in the park the next time it snows.

I would like to do the happiness tracker again at some point next year when I have a full time job. I wonder how losing the stress of school will affect my mood, as well as introducing the adult difficulties I do not yet have to deal with like managing my entire budget. I am interested in how a change in circumstances will affect my results, as well as to see if I keep up with the techniques I am learning in this class. Hopefully after studying ways to manipulate the V I will find myself to actually be lastingly happier.

Works Cited:

Carmichael, Alexandra. “DIY Mood Tracking (Get Your Mood On: Part 4).” Quantified Self. N.p., 25 Jan. 2013. Web.

Gilbert, Daniel.  (2007).  Stumbling on Happiness.   New York: Vintage Books. “Part 1: Prospection.” Print.

Seligman, M.E.P.  (2004). Authentic Happiness.  New York: Free Press. Chapter 4, “Can You Make Yourself Lastingly Happier?” Print.

Track Your Happiness. N.p., 12 Feb. 2013. Web.

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