Testing the Happiness Calculator

Before all categories in the tool were finalized, I was very curious about my own ratio of happiness and categories in the formula. I predicted about 5 categories in mine, but as I went through the first exercise, that was not the case.

On Day 1 my happiness ratio was 85%, which was higher than I expected. I thought that one category that I’m not satisfied with would outweigh others, but it didn’t because I value several other categories just as high in priority. Even though sometimes I grouch about something, it means that I keep forgetting how blessed I’m with other things in life and I can’t take them for granted.  

I took a moment and imagined some scenarios… I would not be as happy if that one category was high on my satisfaction scale, but low on priority, or if some other categories were low in satisfaction, because I know they are my high priorities, like friends, health, environment, etc. My results varied slightly daily, and I’m sure that they would vary more if I measured my happiness monthly! At the end of the week I got really curious about my feelings on the days of measurements, and I reconstructed my activities that week.

On Day 1, my ratio was 85% and I worked at home all day and didn’t even have time to go out.

On Day 2 , though, I interacted with a lot of people: went rollerblading with a group of friends and had a nice dinner, laughed a lot, but my happiness ratio went down to 82%, and I think mainly because there were moments  of melancholy that day when I thought about that one damn category.

On Day 3, I went to work and after work I wrote a blog post and worked more on promoting the meet-up event in Boston on June 22, contacting some people and … my happiness ratio was at 87% that day. I didn’t work out, I didn’t have good food, I didn’t’ spend time with friends or family,  I just worked on my Project after work and that gave me my boost of happiness.

On Day 4, I played with the tool by building constraints and expanding limits. I decided to only include 5 categories in my formula, so I picked 5 the most important ones.  My happiness ratio plummeted to 69%. I changed importance scale from 0-4 to 0-5, so I had to answer all questions again.

There were some shocking results. (When I answer questions , I hide previous answers, so that I don’t get distracted by my old answers). My happiness changed in just 5 minutes by +1%! Just in minutes my importance of hobbies to my happiness went  down by 66%! It is funny, that I changed my mind about some categories so quickly and I didn’t remember how I rated them only minutes ago.

Main lesson learned: try to be as honest as possible when answering questions, because your mind will play games with you, so listen to your heart.

Lastly, I was curious to create graphs for each category, and I did it. On Day 6 I wanted to know why I felt one way or another and wished I wrote down my thoughts on low points and highlights of categories…

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Three Questions of Life

One day it occurred to a certain emperor that if he only knew the answers to three questions, he would never stray in any matter. What is the best time to do each thing? Who are the most important people to work with? What is the most important thing to do at all times? The emperor issued a decree throughout his kingdom announcing that whoever could answer the questions would receive a great reward. Many who read the decree made their way to the palace at once, each person with a different answer. In reply to the first question, one person advised that the emperor make up a thorough time schedule, consecrating every hour, day, month, and year for certain tasks and then follow the schedule to the letter. Only then could he hope to do every task at the right time. Another person replied that it was impossible to plan in advance and that the emperor should put all vain amusements aside and remain attentive to everything in order to know what to do at what time. Someone else insisted that, by himself, the emperor could never hope to have all the foresight and competence necessary to decide when to do each and every task and what he really needed was to set up a Council of the Wise and then to act according to their advice. Someone else said that certain matters required immediate decision and could not wait for consultation, but if he wanted to know in advance what was going to happen he should consult magicians and soothsayers. The responses to the second question also lacked accord. One person said that the emperor needed to place all his trust in administrators, another urged reliance on priests and monks, while others recommended physicians. Still others put their faith in warriors. The third question drew a similar variety of answers. Some said science was the most important pursuit. Others insisted on religion. Yet others claimed the most important thing was military skill.

The emperor was not pleased with any of the answers, and no reward was given. After several nights of reflection, the emperor resolved to visit a hermit who lived up on the mountain and was said to be an enlightened man. The emperor wished to find the hermit to ask him the three questions, though he knew the hermit never left the mountains and was known to receive only the poor, refusing to have anything to do with persons of wealth or power. So the emperor disguised himself as a simple peasant and ordered his attendants to wait for him at the foot of the mountain while he climbed the slope alone to seek the hermit. Reaching the holy man’s dwelling place, the emperor found the hermit digging a garden in front of his hut. When the hermit saw the stranger, he nodded his head in greeting and continued to dig. The labor was obviously hard on him. He was an old man, and each time he thrust his spade into the ground to turn the earth, he heaved heavily. The emperor approached him and said, “I have come here to ask your help with three questions: When is the best time to do each thing? Who are the most important people to work with? What is the most important thing to do at all times?” The hermit listened attentively but only patted the emperor on the shoulder and continued digging. The emperor said, “You must be tired. Here, let me give you a hand with that.” The hermit thanked him, handed the emperor the spade, and then sat down on the ground to rest. After he had dug two rows, the emperor stopped and turned to the hermit and repeated his three questions. The hermit still did not answer, but instead stood up and pointed to the spade and said, “Why don’t you rest now? I can take over again.” But the emperor continued to dig. One hour passed, then two. Finally the sun began to set behind the mountain. The emperor put down the spade and said to the hermit, “I came here to ask if you could answer my three questions. But if you can’t give me any answer, please let me know so that I can get on may way home.” The hermit lifted his head and asked the emperor, “Do you hear someone running over there?” The emperor turned his head. They both saw a man with a long white beard emerge from the woods. He ran wildly, pressing his hands against a bloody wound in his stomach. The man ran toward the emperor before falling unconscious to the ground, where he lay groaning. Opening the man’s clothing, the emperor and hermit saw that the man had received a deep gash. The emperor cleaned the wound thoroughly and then used his own shirt to bandage it, but the blood completely soaked it within minutes. He rinsed the shirt out and bandaged the wound a second time and continued to do so until the flow of blood had stopped. At last the wounded man regained consciousness and asked for a drink of water. The emperor ran down to the stream and brought back a jug of fresh water. Meanwhile, the sun had disappeared and the night air had begun to turn cold. The hermit gave the emperor a hand in carrying the man into the hut where they laid him down on the hermit’s bed. The man closed his eyes and lay quietly. The emperor was worn out from the long day of climbing the mountain and digging the garden. Leaning against the doorway, he fell asleep. When he rose, the sun had already risen over the mountain. For a moment he forgot where he was and what he had come here for. He looked over to the bed and saw the wounded man also looking around him in confusion. When he saw the emperor, he stared at him intently and then said in a faint whisper, “Please forgive me.” “But what have you done that I should forgive you?” the emperor asked. “You do not know me, your majesty, but I know you. I was your sworn enemy, and I had vowed to take vengeance on you, for during the last war you killed my brother and seized my property. When I learned that you were coming alone to the mountain to meet the hermit, I resolved to surprise you on your way back to kill you. But after waiting a long time there was still no sign of you, and so I left my ambush in order to seek you out. But instead of finding you, I came across your attendants, who recognized me, giving me this wound. Luckily, I escaped and ran here. If I hadn’t met you I would surely be dead by now. I had intended to kill you, but instead you saved my life! I am ashamed and grateful beyond words. If I live, I vow to be your servant for the rest of my life, and I will bid my children and grandchildren to do the same. Please grant me your forgiveness.” The emperor was overjoyed to see that he was so easily reconciled with a former enemy. He not only forgave the man but promised to return all the man’s property and to send his own physician and servants to wait on the man until he was completely healed. After ordering his attendants to take the man home, the emperor returned to see the hermit. Before returning to the palace the emperor wanted to repeat his three questions one last time. He found the hermit sowing seeds in the earth they had dug the day before. The hermit stood up and looked at the emperor. “But your questions have already been answered.” “How’s that?” the emperor asked, puzzled. “Yesterday, if you had not taken pity on my age and given me a hand with digging these beds, you would have been attacked by that man on your way home. Then you would have deeply regretted not staying with me. Therefore the most important time was the time you were digging in the beds, the most important person was myself, and the most important pursuit was to help me. Later, when the wounded man ran up here, the most important time was the time you spent dressing his wound, for if you had not cared for him he would have died and you would have lost the chance to be reconciled with him. Likewise, he was the most important person, and the most important pursuit was taking care of his wound. Remember that there is only one important time and is Now. The present moment is the only time over which we have dominion. The most important person is always the person with whom you are, who is right before you, for who knows if you will have dealings with any other person in the future. The most important pursuit is making that person, the one standing at you side, happy, for that alone is the pursuit of life.” Leo Tolstoy http://www.yuni.com/library/docs/200.html

Making the Happiness Formula

Last weekend I finalized happiness categories to be in the formula. The whole process of identifying and validating them took at least four months. I had to read psychology books, self-help books, philosophical works, summaries of religious views, results of various happiness studies and tests. I studied Maslow hierarchy of needs. To collect more modern happiness categories from real humans, I conducted happiness survey back in March. I combined my survey findings with research findings and then removed duplicates. It is important to exclude overlapping categories as much as possible, but have remaining categories complement each other and to form happiness base.

Last month while searching for categories, I found 2003 Happiness model generated by psychologists after interviewing 1,000 people. Its categories were lumped into groups (to make formula short) and that was hard to understand from the user point of view. The model I generated is about having separate defined categories, that don’t have to be in the formula all the time. Individuals will be able to pick and choose what categories apply to their happiness and generate their own formula, which will be unique. Even if everyone on the planet was happy at the same time, all individual formulas still be different as people’s happiness is derived from different sources and amplitude of it is different.

You will be able to create your happiness formula which describes your particular state of mind, outlook on life, if you wish, which will be constantly changing, and you will learn later why.

It would be strange to impose some ideal formula of happiness on someone and say that they have to conform.  People go through different stages in life and some parts of the formula maybe not be understood or accepted by them. Some categories may be absolutely unimportant to some people at some point of their life or throughout life. They just need to understand the whole spectrum of happiness sources to be prepared for changes and to maintain their happiness level long-term.

So I unbundled some broad group categories (like environmental mastery) into standalone categories. And created phrase categories that are easy to understand and identify as the same need to a certain limit. For example, category Love: do you have enough love in your life? This will most likely be interpreted as romantic love that could be platonic or not, but could also be parent’s, sibling’s or friend’s love. etc. So it is up to you what kind of love you want, you just need to be able to tell how much of it you have now in your life. For those who are confused on what love is there will be a way to clarify that later in subcategories.

So in short the formula is about what is it that we want for us to be happy vs how satisfied are we with it now. When I finished describing categories, I created a model in Excel file with formulas of how it will work and started using it daily. Today is the 5th day of my testing and I found some interesting facts.

Why do we need Happiness Formula?

Everything changes… What I thought was important to me and made me happy changed over the years. My happiness varied too: some days, months, even years I was happier than others… So does it mean that I’m a happy or unhappy person? Could that be measured over time? At this point I really care about being happy now and in the future.

According to “Stumbling on happiness” people can’t really predict well what will make them happy. We can only answer what makes us happy now… Even past happy experiences may not have the same affect on us today,  because we change… If we had a formula for happiness, we may be able to avoid chasing some goal in our life that will not make us happy. That constantly developing formula could help people of all ages.

Young people make mistakes by choosing paths that would not lead them to happiness. They often crave things they never experienced before, but believe would make them happy.  They don’t have wisdom yet.

Middle aged people are busy working and raising children to think about happiness and meaning. They don’t have time yet.

Finally, it is when people get to the mature age they see everything in retrospective based on their experiences. They have the time and wisdom (if applicable) to see through their own mistakes, like wishing they picked another major or didn’t work that much but spend more time on hobbies and with people they cared about. Unfortunately, at that point not all mistakes could be corrected.

What if… we knew early in life what is really important, then we would not spend time on trivial stuff, stupid worries, false goals, but concentrate on what empowers us now and build upon it. By learning universal sources of happiness and applying them to our own personal formula, we could capture what is important to us in this particular moment and then further develop the formula throughout life and enrich it by our own experiences.

Results of the Happiness Survey

Back in March I crafted a survey to help understand what makes people happy and if technology can help us become happier. Volunteers completed the survey anonymously either online or on paper. There were two groups of respondents: a) middle class, age range of 20-40 y.o., who use technology for social purpose, not particularly religious, mainly employed, b) middle to upper class retired people, i.e. 50 y.o. and above, who are not too fond of technology vs. face-to-face meetings for social purpose, mainly non-religious, but with high priorities on ethics and humanism (representatives from Boston Ethical Society). Thank you to all participants!

The Happiness survey is phase One of The Ultimate Answer project, which is about:

  • ›What makes people happy?
  • ›How open are people to share their ideas about happiness and help each other?
  • ›Are there any “common denominators” of happiness?
  • ›Is it possible to measure happiness and how?
  • ›How can happiness be increased in the world?
  • ›Can technology leverage human potential to increase happiness and how?
  • ›What is the meaning of life and how to find it?

82 people answered the survey: 15 from Boston Ethical Society(BES) and 67 from non-BES.

Here are some highlights:

  • 99% knows what happiness is, but only 72% knows what the meaning of life is. Those 28% who have no clue really need to catch up on Monty Python…
  • People are more likely to give a piece of advice than to receive it.
  • 9 out of 10 said that happiness is not permanent, it changes over time.
  • Answers from BES (more ethical and older) group were different from non-BES respondents.
  • Meaning of life is different from personal happiness.

Please, feel free to check out the results of the survey for yourself Happiness Survey Results

Losing Meaning: Part Two

Plenty of fish. The name of this dating site hardly suggests unique value and authenticity of an individual. If you don’t like someone, no worries, just discard them, there are millions out there waiting to be found. The idea of being easily replaceable makes people feel insecure and unnecessary.

I remember reading one of Kurt Vonnegut’s novels about ten years ago, the following episode shocked me: government was concerned with its citizens, who became so abundant with no jobs and losing meaning that a quick service for taking people’s lives (volunteers) was allowed. All you need to do is to go to a special life-ending station ( like a tanning salon place) and as a bonus you would get a good meal before you say farewell… It was totally Ok, because no one really cared about one another … Does it sound like too distant future, too sci-fi now?  Well, the first part about too many of us, lack of jobs and less meaning is true, the second part got modified: some people don’t need a meal to be motivated or a third-party service, they do it themselves.

Some would argue that religion will save us all, but being religious doesn’t really guarantee your life has more meaning. It’s not something that comes by default when you are born into religion or you follow all rituals.  You prove that you are a decent human based on your actions towards others, no matter what religion. Religion helps some stick to concrete rules and whether this world’s massive ups and downs, but unfortunately not all religious people are truly compassionate to others.  If they were, we wouldn’t have religious wars.

People do become rigid by trying hard to defend their beliefs, but why would they do it at the expense of others? Why hurt and discriminate others just because they don’t share your views, whether they are religious or not. We forget that what really unites us is the fact that we are humans, and we should not differentiate from one to another and divide ourselves into subgroups.

We just get lost in the models we create for ourselves. What if we all disappear together with the planet today? What would we say was the point of us inhabiting this planet for 10,ooo or more years ?

Who are we and where are we going?

I truly hope that we, mammals or divine creatures, are heading somewhere where we don’t hurt but care for each other and create spiritual and physical environment that not just humans but other species can thank us for.

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