Wednesday, March 14, 2007

I started a happiness journal today. It's something I've thought of doing for sometime now. The original idea was to include color-coded dots on calendar pages (red for sad, green for happy), with more dots meaning more intense emotion. The ultimate goal is to have a historical record of when I was happy, when I was sad, and to get an idea of whether these moods are cyclical, or are highly dependent on exterior events, or just totally random, or whatever.

Think of the main character in Pi. He was so certain that if he just had enough data, and massaged it in the right way, he could find patterns in anything: the stock market, the weather, the Bible. I guess it's the economist in me, always looking for a way to quantify the unquantifiable, in hopes that numbers reveal patterns and patterns yield control, or at least knowledge.

The idea has grown more expansive since the color-coded dot days. It's now a full-on journal, with highly detailed subcategories of all the variables that might affect happiness/sadness on a given day. The categories I've included in the first day's entry: weather, music, sleep, food, readings, external events (social life kind of stuff, as well as current affairs).

My problem, though, is that I don't want to keep this journal for nine months, realize I forgot some very important variable, and then have to throw away the first nine months of data. I'm trying to prevent that by posting my first day's journal here in full. I want your input. What am I missing? What other categories should be included on a regular basis?

Lastly, I'm creating a Lexicon of Happiness and Sadness. Early on, I realized that happy/sad is much too broad to be useful. Think of all the different types of happiness: contentedness, giddiness, optimism, etc. Actually, that's what I've got so far. For sadness, there's pessimism, dejection, bleakness, worthlessness. Are any of these categories superfluous/overlapping? What else should I include?

I eagerly await your input.

Happiness Journal

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Weather: A mid-March spring day. There's been a warmth trend for the past few days, but nothing higher than the fifties. Today it's almost seventy. A little humid and overcast in the morning, with pale light, but clearing to pleasant blue skies later in the day. Feels more like spring than any day since (strangely) January.

Music: A new song, downloaded last night from iTunes. "Indie Rock Spock Ears" by Dianogah. Comes to my consciousness courtesy of This American Life. It's been on repeat all morning. Simple guitar and bass, mostly. Calmly jubilant, with a slow-build crescendo.

Sleep: Took Nyquil last night around 11pm. Watched an episode of The Wire, downloaded music, then allowed myself to fall asleep a little past 1am. The alarm was set for 8:20am, but I reset it and snoozed until 8:35. Sleep quality was very good (thanks to Nyquil) -- can't remember waking at all.

Food: No breakfast at home. A coffee at Philip's and a slice of pumpkin nut bread. Burrito for late lunch around two. The night before, dinner of noodles and broth at Republic on Union Square. A glass and a half of sangria with dinner, followed by a Guinness.

Readings: Have been reading (and very much enjoying) Into the Wild for the last few days now. This morning, an article in American Scholar by a biophysicist (Robert Lanza) about consciousness, its limits, and the truth behind perceived reality.

External events: Last night, dinner with CR and IG at a terrible noodle house on Union Square. The food was good, but the drinks overpriced and small, and it was impossible to hear one another. CR and DB broke up. Drinks at a Joyce-approved Irish pub afterward. Bad interaction with roommate later at night, but I rubbed it off easily. Email from new roommate, so all is confirmed on that front. Stock market was down yesterday, and foreign markets closed down today. A red spot on my lower left eyelid, planting thoughts of malignancy in my mind.

Details: I've been extremely happy since around 11. The morning was contented enough, out of the house on time, at work a little early. But nothing too special. But I have this new song in my head (see above) and then read this scientific article on American Scholar, a biophysicist's treatise for including consciousness in any unified scientific theory. We, as scientific observers, as human beings, construct our own realities; the act of observing something changes that something. Quantum theory, philosophy, the cosmic coincidences that have lead to life. Article is here: http://www.theamericanscholar.org/sp07/newtheory-lanza.html.

The article left me with a deep feeling of contentment. I walked outside to get my burrito for lunch, and all seemed right with the world. On the way back from lunch, listening to Dianogah again, a sense of connection with others. Like people were a little bit friendlier than usual. My thought at the time: that since, according to Lanza, we're all interconnected but otherwise isolated realities, and since objective reality, whatever that is, may be much, much more expansive than what we perceive of it, and that we lack the tools to perceive more, perhaps it's possible to read one another's sense of wellbeing, and respond to it?

Contented feeling ebbed over the afternoon, but never left completely. Heading home, walking from the subway, a TAL story on mother's day at the women's prison hits my earphones, and a sense of melancholy happiness returns. A feeling whose aural equivalent might be, It's all bullshit, but we're all in it together.

4 comments:

rt said...

are you taking this journal with you to India?

I think you should change your experiment from: What makes me happy?, to: What are the effects of these factors listed on my happiness?

That way, if you realize you forgot something, it doesn't invaidate your data. Essentially, you should limit the scope of your experiment into something more manageable, and therefore, tenable. I think a bigger risk in nine months is not forgetting some variable, but forgetting you were supposed to be keeing a happiness journal.

Also, remember when you wrote about hieracrhy of needs? You should include sexual activity. If you are embarrassed to write down that sort of thing, may I suggest the "skills" terminology? Masturbation could be "solo skills."

Also, I think you should note with dots or something how each thing makes you feel, like, did you like your noodles? Were you happy you read those articles?

amg said...

in a strange day of blogged feelings redundancy, i came across this http://wefeelfine.org/. check it out.

Anjali said...

I admire this endeavor, partly because I think it is cool, partly because I myself have never been able to keep any sort of journal for longer than three days.

I agree with everything Rachel suggested, and only think maybe you could add in dreams (if this is not the same as sleep), or keep this log in conjunction with a dream journal? My dreams always seem to go along with / sometimes influence my state of happiness.

Also, upon first glance, I got confused by your initial/acronym system and thought DB and your crazy roommate had broken up.

Much love (and happiness) to you!

Barrett said...

All good suggestions. I like the "dots" idea, especially because that was my original idea for the journal. Just dots in a calendar or something like that.

I do keep a dream journal, albeit very sporadically. So it definitely can be correlated to the happiness journal.

The We Feel Fine project looks pretty amazing. Too bad I don't have any coding skills, otherwise I'd aspire to such universality. Of course, their little project is plagued by selection bias, because they're only recording voluntary and self-reported emotions. So maybe they find that Europeans are happier than Americans, but maybe the truth is that Americans are happier than Europeans, but Europeans like to brag about it more? Still, a cool idea.