Experiment: Happiness, Part 2: The Activity Surprise

This is an experiment on myself to see what works best when learning new things. Check out skillhacking to find out what works best when learning something new!

A number of weeks ago, I wrote the first post on hacking my own happiness. I participated in a study conducted at Harvard, and the result was a bunch of data collected from real-life about what made me happy. In the last article, I took a super-high-level look at the data. This time, we’ll delve a little deeper…

Having seen that my happiness is greatly correlated with my productivity, it was no surprise that there was also a strong trend between happiness and focus:


Focus and Happiness


At this point, I thought I had cracked the code. I am a productivity-centric creature, and therefore I am destined to be a workaholic. These themes are echoed throughout different facets of my life (for better or for worse), and did not come as a surprise to me.

But wait! There, the story took a turn. When I started to look at some other graphs, I began to notice something odd. Work-related activities were not, in fact, related to high spikes in happiness. In fact, they were actually situated well in the middle (or even near the bottom) of related graphs:


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Activity and Happiness


Happiness: Who With?


I must admit, I was thrown for a loop. How is it that housework and came in at the top? And strangers above friends or co-workers?

This suggested something different entirely. Clearly, focus and attention were not the whole story. Or, at least, I was not deriving maximum focus and attention from the source I though I did (work).


Focus, Novelty, and Anticipation


Think about what is interesting to you. What event created the most memorable experience in the last day? Odds are, it was something novel.

You don’t focus on boring old stuff. It is boring because it is old. Rather, the new and the novel is what is interesting. Notice that, after the strange case of housework (more on that in a moment), the top 3 activities which correlated with my happiness are all related to absorbing new content (radio, news, television, talking, conversation, shopping and errands).

When I was interacting with strangers, having conversations, doing errands, etc. I was doing activities highly dissimilar to my default activities of any given moment. There was a sort of intent that brought them about, in addition to their novelty. I had to explicitly choose to leave the house and do something. I do not have cable television, so if I want to watch TV I have to search out the content online (Hulu, etc.) If I was out and about, it was likely because I was planning a get-together with friends or meeting new people intentionally.

Likewise, when I was doing housework, it was because I was intending to have people over. Or, at the least, I was visualizing having people over sometime in the near future (as this tends to be my main motivator for having a clean house).

Planning and anticipation go hand in hand with experiencing new, interesting things that result in focus and attention on the current situation. In all these cases, I experienced happiness spikes from the new and the novel (or the anticipation thereof).


Descriptive Happiness

This above was a descriptive version of what it means to be happy (for me, at least), but is not a prescriptive answer.

To figure out how to elicit such a mental state, I still had lots of planning to do…

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