Happiness—How Does It Work?

Traurig sein hat keinen Sinn,
die Sonne scheint auch weiterhin.
— Farin Urlaub: “Sonne” (2005)

I know, I know. Not yet another one of those “How to find happiness” articles 🙄. So why am I writing this anyway? First of all, I think that writing is probably the best way of self⸗reflection—sadly, an art that is performed way too little by those who would need it the most. Second, because I moved to the United States recently—which can be considered a pretty significant life event I guess—I thought it might be a neat idea to read the various diaries and notebooks I’ve kept over the past ten years. So, while I was going through my diary entries—dating back as far as January 2007 (three months before I started my Bachelor studies at the University of Koblenz)—I noticed there might be some interesting patterns. And since I’m a guy who likes to play around with data from time to time, I prepared an Excel sheet and did a little number crunching. I’m not going to give you the raw data (because privacy), but it looks something like this:

met friends often? had a goal? worked out regularly? read a lot? happy?
yes yes yes yes 😊
some­what yes some­what some­what 😐
no yes no yes 😔

Here are the higher⸗level results I found (spoiler alert: the following is kind of obvious). It seems like I was happier at times when I (in no particular order)

  • didn’t worry about money
  • often met with good friends
  • worked out a lot
  • did competitive sports on a regular basis
  • pursued my hobbies

compared to times when I did none or only few of the above.

You’re still reading the article? That’s nice! Of course, from a statistical perspective it must be noted that the above are mere correlations (threshold = 0.7). This means, it could be that I just work out more when I’m happy for different reasons and working out doesn’t actually contribute to my happiness, but that’s beyond the scope of this article. Since all of this is about myself, I can ensure that a certain degree of causality is given.

beachHowever, the point of all this is not primarily to just tell you what makes me personally happy. Rather, I’ve observed that quite some people are not really aware of what actually contributes to their happiness. As I noticed, in this case, it can be very helpful to keep a diary and do the same little analysis that I’ve done. It’s really insightful to simply note down what you did and didn’t do at times when you were happy and at times when you were not, then search for underlying patterns. Because every now and then, we all easily miss the obvious.

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