09 December 2013

Why happiness tracking matters by Vik Paruchuri

For most of my life, I have struggled to figure out what matters most. I doubt that I am alone in this. Data is everywhere these days – I rarely buy a book without consulting Amazon or walk into a restaurant without checking its rating on Yelp. Yet the more integral that data becomes, the less relevant to my life it seems. Sure, I can find out what the best book to buy is, or where I should eat lunch, but why do those things matter?

As I was walking home one day, I realized what the disconnect is – the tools that we use daily can easily answer the questions of where, what, when, and usually even how, but almost never the question of why. Facebook can show me how all of my friends are doing, but it doesn’t tell me why each of those people matter to me, or why I should read their updates. Twitter gives me a constant stream of information, but it doesn’t tell me why that information matters. The assumption generally is that the utility of these services is self-evident. But as we transition from information scarcity to information saturation, that argument is starting to seem a bit thin.

After thinking about the disconnect for a while, I started trying to answer the why question. I read books because I derive some amount of enjoyment and happiness from them. Theoretically, higher rated books on Amazon will give me more enjoyment. Similarly, I get some happiness from seeing about how my friends are doing. Twitter is a bit harder to categorize, but I certainly get some dopamine rush from seeing interesting content. The theme of happiness is one that kept coming back to me – I mostly engaged in activities with the idea that some momentary or long-term happiness would result.

What can we do about it?

Interestingly, this expectation is almost never explicit. I don’t say “oh, I need a momentary burst of enjoyment, let me check Facebook.” More often, it is “I haven’t checked Facebook in a while, let me check Facebook.” Given this lack of self-reflection, it is extremely hard to nail down exactly how much Facebook contributes to my happiness. It is similar with other services. So how to tell if my activities are actually making me happy? Do higher rated books on Amazon actually give me more happiness? To be slightly more broad, does travelling make me happier? Does socializing make me happier? I couldn’t answer these questions well, important as they were.

The reason I was unable to answer these questions was the absence of reliable data. Sure, I can reflect and tell you that I think biking makes me happier, but I can’t break that down into short term, medium term, and long term happiness, and I certainly can’t tell you how my feelings about biking have changed over time.

Happsee

This lack of data led me to start working on Happsee. Happsee is a service (currently available as an android application, and coming soon to web and other platforms) that allows you to track, visualize, and discover the things that make you happy. Most importantly, it lets you share your happiness level with the people closest to you. You are prompted a few times a day to enter in some information about your happiness. You can then explore these entries in various ways. Happsee has only been around for about a month, but I and the other people using it have been collecting some amazing data.

I have learned a lot about myself and what makes me happy already. For example, new situations and socializing make me happier, and I have been spending much more time engaging in them. Long days at the computer seem to make me incredibly unhappy, and I have been working on breaking them up. Physical health matters a lot, and even though I used to rarely seek out doctors, I have been taking better care of my health.

These answers may seem simple, but the act of self-reflection is something that we don’t prioritize, and even thinking about these things a few minutes a day (which Happsee absolutely helps with) can make a huge difference.

If you want to try out Happsee, we have a signup box at www.happsee.com. If you have an android phone, we will invite you to our alpha. If not, we will contact you when Happsee becomes available on your platform.

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