We measure our cholesterol levels, blood glucose levels and vitamin levels -- all components of our health. But did you know that you can measure what many thought to be an elusive concept -- happiness?
According to a study from Harvard University, happiness can be tracked (with the help of an iPhone app), especially when monitoring it in accordance with factors like one’s ability to live in the present.
The study, led in part by doctoral student Matthew A. Killingsworth, highlighted the fact that we spend almost half of our waking hours with our minds wandering from the general task at hand, resulting in unhappiness.
“People in our study reported mind-wandering almost 50 percent of the time in everyday life but were significantly less happy when they did so. Additional evidence suggests that mind-wandering is very likely causing them to be unhappy, rather than the other way around,” said Killingsworth.
The app, which is now open to the public at www.trackyourhappiness.org, asks participants questions, like whether or not they want to be doing a particular activity, the level of focus, the level of productivity and so on in relation to the experience of happiness. Other questions include answering how many people you’re currently interacting with at the moment as well as the more personal, like the general time frame of the last time you’ve had sex.
“I always knew certain things contributed to my unhappiness, as in lack of sleep and hunger pains, but I wasn't sure exactly how that related to real life, like my job, how focused I was, if I was alone or interacting with people," she explained. "I decided to take the survey to find out more about what impacts my happiness versus what I knew on the surface."
Each question and answer session takes less than five minutes. Participants can answer via text or by e-mail and can also set the interval for how many times per day they want to be surveyed. Upon receiving a survey notification, participants should answer immediately so that the present mood can be monitored and evaluated.
The site constantly generates graphs, but the more information participants contribute, the more accurate. After completing the set of surveys, the site outputs a series of final graphs, indicative of various elements like how your level of happiness is associated with sleep, for instance. If you’ve only gotten four hours of sleep every night for an entire week, chances are that the correlation of happiness based on sleep alone isn’t going to be exceptionally high.
In terms of a timeline, it took Denicola about three weeks to complete the study. Denicola found her personalized data intriguing, because the graphs were a scary emphasis that the types of stress and associated levels of unhappiness are often at her own expense. Additionally, she found that thinking in the present is a concept she needs to work on.
“I am an anxious person and also a planner, so I tend to always worry about what's to come. I need to learn that when I am watching a movie, I can focus on the movie and not on the laundry sitting in the dryer that needs to be folded,” said Denicola. “Living in the moment provides you that freedom that you need from your daily responsibilities for the time being and ultimately will help you by easing stress in the future.”
That’s why experts, like Killingsworth, are pointing out that to live in the moment has its perks -- for example, a Sunday brunch with a friend is just that -- an enjoyable time, free of thoughts involving the dread of the upcoming work week.
“People who are happier tend to be healthier, and some evidence suggests that happiness may actually cause people to be healthier," Killingsworth said. "I am interested in the causes of human happiness and created trackyourhappiness.org to help investigate this question. My hope is that in addition to furthering our scientific goals, trackyourhappiness.org will allow people to learn what factors are associated with happiness and unhappiness in their everyday lives."
So sure, you may know that your boss lowers your happiness meter, but did you know that you’re at your best when being productive? Or that you need to work on mentally living in the moment?
For those like Denicola, looking to learn more about themselves, check out the app and tap into the root of what makes you want to jump with joy.