Experiment: Happiness, Part 1: Happiness and Productivity

This is part one of my series of experiments on happiness using Track your Happiness, a “scientific research project that aims to use modern technology” to help you understand what makes you happy. It is the project of doctoral candidate Matt Killingsworth at Harvard University. During the course of many weeks the system polled me about my happiness (via text message and iPhone-friendly site). At the end, a number of charts were generated for me to analyze, and my data became of a part of the larger pool available to Matt and his team. This series of posts is a reflection on what I learned, what surprised me, and how it has changed my life.


I’ll start with one of the easiest conclusions from the experiment: the predominant driver of happiness for me is my perceived productivity. I’ll get to more about what I mean by that word “perceived” later (hint: work is not the only thing in the world which implies productivity). There is a clear linear trend (especially if you were to remove two or more outliers):


Productivity vs. Happiness



I would submit that the importance of this “primary happiness driver” goes far beyond just understanding why I am happy. Managers of teams know that it can be very effective to understand the motivational factors of employees and how they relate to job satisfaction. This video says it all, really:




If you take away nothing else from the above video, let it be this: the three best motivators of any individual anywhere are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. If we can figure out how the thing(s) that drive our happiness fit into these motivational structures, we can effectively hack our motivation.






Hacking Happiness


While traveling, I learned foreign languages and ran my software company.


It’s neither a surprise nor happenstance that these three things match the three motivational factors above perfectly. I traveled for autonomy, learned foreign languages for mastery, and ran a software company for purpose. I even earned just enough money to “take money off the table” (as the above video puts it), meaning I could continue the lifestyle in comfort. It was a direct application of these motivational structures in order to achieve happiness.


But there is still a disconnect between “what you are doing” in the general sense and in the specific moment-to-moment sense. I could have been miserable while doing all the above, despite the perfect “fit” with the 3 human motivators. Motivation pushes us into the future and drives these major choices, but happiness is still about a feeling at any given moment.


The truth is, that moment-to-moment happiness is a lot more subtle than general motivations. By realizing that I have a high correlation between productivity and happiness, I began to develop a system by which I could teach myself how to become happier.


It is really not as crazy as it sounds. I will detail the system in full after examining the rest of the data from my happiness studies in detail (in subsequent posts) to illustrate how I came to develop the method.


In a nutshell, though, the method is based upon two basic precepts: (1) any thought can be “trained” to be linked to another thought (2) any thought that takes you to your key driver of happiness will make you happy. The first statement is neurologically true: the very way thoughts work is to “flow” into each other. We are reactive creatures; when presented with a set of stimuli, we use the many learned patterns in our brain to respond… but these are nothing more than patterns etched through repetition. The second statement is also supported by neuroscience, in the sense that “priming” elicits an emotional state based upon association. For example, people can be made happy by seeing smiles or exposed to other content associated with happiness.


In essence, the method involves using the “primary driver of happiness” as a gateway to flow present thoughts into happiness. If this sounds a bit nebulous, I will be solidifying the concept with examples of how I applied the method in the coming posts…



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Zane Claes
I've compiled everything I've learned about happiness and productivity. You might enjoy the posts about craftsmanship or experimentation. Below are some of the most popular posts to get you started. If you have something to share, I'd love to hear from you. - Zane

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