Using Excel to Track My Happiness

by phil on Saturday Apr 23, 2005 1:49 PM
infovizing your life

Click here to download 8 months of data on my levels of happiness.

Scroll down for the basic story. Here is a screen shot:

I had been feeling an atmospheric sadness since I was 17, but it wasn't till I was 21 that I determined to make happiness my project. Along the way, I picked up a book by Martin Seligman, Authentic Happiness, that showed me some scientific aspects of Happiology.

One of the take-aways was a comprehensive list of human emotions, categorized by their emphasis: either positive or negative, affecting the past, present, or future. For example, faith is an emotion that's positive and future-oriented. Agony is a present-oriented negative emotion. This list of about thirty emotions became the rows in my excel spreadsheet. I tracked my progress weekly and took the average of all the scores. I started off with a simple stat based on this equation: avg(positive) - avg(negative) = balance. It then became my weekly goal to bring my Affect balance to a 4.0 or so. That could mean, for example, a 7 on positive emotions minus a 3 on negative.

The numbers are based on a scale from 0 to 10. 0 means a "no" response, 10 means "very much so." So I would ask myself, aloud even, "Phil, do you have optimism?" I'd then respond as honestly as possible. i.e. "sure, I'm optimistic" would translate into a 5.

I gained great control over my Affect Balance, and ten weeks into it, I had reached a score of 6.3, the result of an 8.8 in positive affect minus a 2.4 negative. But, in spite of these high sensations, I didn't feel really happy. So I changed the measurement focus from atomic emotions to answering broader questions. These became my "Prime Qualia Measures:"

Am I happy?
Do I feel good?
Is life good?
Peace of Mind
Do I want to die?
Am I depressed?

These numbers were much harder to control but not as fickle as the Affect balance. Over four months I developed an upward trend, eventually reaching a 9.9 average on all the Prime Qualia Measures. This was indeed a very good time in my life.

I was riding high for three weeks, but then some interviewers called me back. I decided to take the job opportunity, but since then my numbers have been far off their high. I could have refused the opportunity, but I was curious to see if I could still be close to a 10 with a corporate job.

My life right now is a test of that hypothesis.


Travis said on April 24, 2005 7:02 AM:

As a somewhat pedestrian version of your project in a stylish interface, some might enjoy MoodStats. Moodstats is an application that allows you to quickly record & rate how your day has been in six different categories. You can also attach comments to these values to further illustrate why your moods are the way they are.

The identifying feature is the ability to graph the progress over time and compare it with everyone else. All the data is XML-driven, the app is light-weight.

I dig it.

Brandon Franklin said on April 24, 2005 4:21 PM:

I think this is an admirable project. I admire your dedication. I probably would have started forgetting to put entries in after the first couple of weeks.

Austin Smith said on April 25, 2005 1:16 PM:

HAPPY BIRTHDAY PHIL!!!, I hope you are happy today!

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