What Happens When You Quantify Happiness?

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Paul Dolan’s “Happiness by Design” became so important to me in the past month that I now own multiple copies for reference purposes. The audiobook is for commutes. The paper copy helps me gather quotes for articles, like on this blog. Though this is probably excessive, I think anyone looking to improve their life should read this book. As someone who was quite happy already, I didn’t think I could game my way into being even happier. Somehow, this book did it. Pick it up from your local library!

Here’s an all-too-quick summary you can take a look at right now. If you’re pressed for time, simply click here and save the image. This is a DRM worksheet – it means ‘Day Reconstruction Method’ – and we’ll be referring back to this later. This will allow you to quantify and prioritize your happiness as easily as you do your budget. Here’s why I use it daily.

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Two weeks ago, I was on vacation. For five days, I was in Seattle with friends and I was destroying my budget. It turns out $300 USD, unmonitored, just kind of goes up in smoke if I focus only on “having a good time”. Sometime around Day 3, I started questioning what I was doing. Why was I somehow miserable on vacation? I’d worked seven days straight to have five days off in a row, so I should be enjoying myself, right? Why was focusing on pleasure for once giving me so much anxiety? Without a clear answer, I spent the rest of my trip in a listless limbo, and found myself excited to go back to work. On my first day back, I was energized to be productive again, but not because I was relaxed. I was relieved. The vacation was actually a bad experience for me. What gives?

In his book, Dolan says, “To be truly happy, then, you need to feel both pleasure and purpose.” You need both, and ideally, a balance. He talks about a “pleasure-purpose principle­”. If you focus too much on either side and neglect the other, you end up unfulfilled. For me, two days of pursuing only pleasure and neglecting purpose was enough to make me go wonky, but now I know. If I’d only had the DRM worksheet, I could’ve saved myself a lot of grief.

Summing up the trip as a whole gives me some clues as to why I wasn’t happy. My main activities included “drinking with friends”, “attending panels at a convention”, “eating at restaurants”, “hiking”, etc.

Drinking with friends – [Pleasure: 6, Purpose: 5]
Attending panels – [Pleasure: 4, Purpose: 3]
Eating at restaurants – [Pleasure: 7, Purpose: 4]
Hiking – [Pleasure: 5, Purpose: 4]
THE WHOLE VACATION – [Pleasure: 5, Purpose: 4]

In this case, though my activities were mostly midrange in pleasure, they were entirely lacking in purpose, especially because I was spending significant amounts of money doing things I could’ve done with a staycation. Now, let’s look at a typical workday for me.

Commuting – [Pleasure: 5, Purpose: 4]
Working at the liquor store – [Pleasure: 5, Purpose: 9]
Having good food and drink at home – [Pleasure: 6, Purpose: 5]
Watching some TV – [Pleasure: 6, Purpose: 4]
Going for a walk – [Pleasure: 7, Purpose: 6]
THE WHOLE WORKDAY – [Pleasure: 6, Purpose: 7]

This isn’t an exact science, but if you’re evaluating your own pleasure and purpose honestly, your DRM will allow you to design your own happiness. Notice your daily visits with Mom are a bit like [Pleasure: 4, Purpose: 3], but playing with your kid is like [Pleasure: 7, Purpose: 10]? Well, you have data now, so make a choice. Do you find TV-watching to be like [Pleasure: 5, Purpose: 2], but reading a great novel to be [Pleasure: 6, Purpose: 8]? Make a choice!

The point is to think objectively about what makes you happy. Broken down into just pleasure and purpose, this is as simple as it gets.

I somehow learned I love and enjoy my day-to-day life more than vacations. I can’t imagine anything happier than that! Can the DRM help you hack happiness? I challenge you to find out.

Think of it as [Pleasure: 3, Purpose: 10]?

How Your Ideal Day Can Make You Happy… Forever

Photo on 4-9-17 at 12.41 PM

Remember my obsession with book summaries? I breeze through multiple books a week now. That’s how I found this summary of Joe Sweeney’s “Moving the Needle”. The book itself seems to be typical self-development fare, but one piece of actionable advice stuck. I’ve been thinking about it all week. Soon, you will too.

Early in the book, Sweeney calls on us to embrace personal clarity. I know that’s classic self-help bullshit, but hear me out. First, get quiet. Turn your music off, put the phone away, and picture your ideal day. This isn’t my idea. This is in the book. Think about what activities you’d include in your day. Is your family in there? Is work involved, or is your ideal day work-free? What about your leisure activities? Does your ideal day involve reading? Netflix? Eating at a nice restaurant? Write that shit down NOW. No excuses. This is literally an exercise that will improve the rest of your life. Write down every detail; morning, noon, night. When you’re ready, meet me back here. These words aren’t going anywhere. Don’t scroll ahead. Go and write. See ya in five.

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What you wrote down is what you live for. It’s why you work so hard. It’s what you strive for, and it’s what you should do with your free time for the rest of your life.

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Fuck, I struggled with that realization. My list was surprisingly close to A Normal Life. I actually included work in my ideal day. I believed my ideal day should involve making a little money. I also included cooking. In my ideal day, I saw myself shopping for ingredients and whipping up a shared meal with friends. I saw myself drinking a few bottles of craft beer, and surprisingly, NOT some hoity-toity $400 wine. Oh, and here’s the good part: Wait until you see what WASN’T included.

I did NOT include any PlayStation or TV time. I did NOT include anything with a romantic partner. I did NOT include spending money on new gadgets or toys. I did NOT include expensive travel to exotic locations. What the fuck, right? Aren’t those the kinds of experiences we work and strive for? Am I just thinking small?

Or did I just finally figure out what I actually need to be happy?

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Obviously, needs change and so do the things that bring us joy. I recommend this clarity exercise at least once every few months.

For now, I’m making direct changes in my life based on my results. I’ve realized my video game habit is just a way to kill time and the Time:Happiness ratio isn’t worth the investment. I’ve also stopped pursuing Romance for now. I may also continue donating my Travel opportunities to people who need them. I’ve given away two flights in the past year, and I don’t feel like I’m missing out yet. And somehow, knowing all this makes me feel… lighter.

Heck, it’s almost like figuring out what you truly want in life makes it all easier.

Imagine that.