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Happiness Hack: Give Away Money

I loved this article about a couple who lived on 6.25% of their combined income, so that they could give $100,000 to charity in 2013. The article provides some insight into why this couple ended up happier as a result, citing several studies linking generosity and altruism to improved happiness and well-being.

Of course, this doesn’t make sense if you’re barely making enough money to get by. But for those of us who are lucky enough to have disposable income each month, giving a percentage to others is a surefire way to feel good. I’ve found that the more I give, the better I feel.

What about you?

 

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The Ten Ideas Habit

Exactly 56 days ago I started a new practice of writing down ten ideas each day. The ideas range from new projects to recipe ideas to silly little one-liner jokes. Sometimes I have a theme like “Ten healthy things I can do this week” or “Ten ways I can surprise people in my life (in a good way).” Other times, it’s just a list of ten, disconnected ideas.

It’s not easy. Some days, I really struggle to come up with ten things. And I’ve not always finished the list on time (though, as of this writing, I am fully caught up). Also, most of the ideas are bad. Or, at least, they’re not something I’m likely to follow through on. But of the 560 ideas I’ve documented so far, I’ve completed about 15 of them, including writing an angel food cake-themed parody version of Beyoncé’s "Halo," creating printable badges for the Picnic Society, and creating a S’more the Planet bookmarklet to make web pages look more marshmallow-y.

In addition, there are about two dozen other ideas that I’ve starred and intend to follow up on.

I’m quite sure that I wouldn’t have thought of these ideas if I hadn’t started this daily ritual. It really is like exercising a muscle—you get better at it with practice. Giving myself this challenge has forced me to push myself, to make connections between seemingly disparate things, and to pay more attention to my surroundings. Throughout the day, I’m looking for inspiration. It keeps me awake.

Here’s what my practice looks like:

  • I write them by hand in a yellow legal pad, with the date at the top of each list. At the bottom of each list, I include the cumulative total number of ideas (for example, at the bottom of today’s list, I wrote “560.”) I like writing by hand because I find it inspires creative thinking.

  • Because I don’t always have my legal pad with me, I do sometimes jot an idea down on my phone. I later transfer this to the pad.

  • If no ideas are coming to me, I’ll sometimes read something for inspiration. It doesn’t take much. One interesting article can sometimes inspire all ten ideas for the day. But I do find that my best lists happen when I force myself to just think for as long as it takes with no distractions. I let my mind wander to problems I have, or problems I’ve noticed others have, or things that make me laugh. All of those seem to inspire interesting ideas.

  • I go back and read previous days’ lists every so often. I’ll put a star next to ideas that still seem good, even after a few days. And I put checkmarks next to ideas that I actually implemented. I am not precious about ideas. I’ll write down ideas that I know are bad, as long as they amuse me or seem at least original.

  • I’ve noticed a few broad categories have emerged, though most of the ideas don’t fit into any category. The categories I’ve noticed are things like, “Daily habit ideas,” “Jokes,” “Apps and other digital things to make,” “Art,” and  “Halloween costume ideas.” I’ve now started to use these labels in the margins, so I can find them more easily.

Since I started this practice, I’ve discovered James Altucher’s “Ultimate Guide for Becoming an Idea Machine,” in which he describes a similar habit. His practice seems to be directed towards business and career development (though his lists appear to cover wide ground, like mine). I can see how this would be a natural benefit to cultivating this habit. But for me, the major benefit is simply coming up with things to do and make. I guess that’s what I want I want for my life—to do and make things. 

Do you have a similar practice? How does it work for you?

image by Flickr user Julian Santacruz

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So Many Feels

When someone asks you how you’re doing, do you tend to give a general response like “I’m doing well, thanks” or “Not so good, actually”? Or do you give a more specific response such as, “I’m feeling really proud of myself because I finally finished a project at work” or “I’m a little embarrassed actually; I just had an awkward encounter.”

Of course, it probably depends on the context, but if you tend to identify and feel a wide range of specific emotions, you might have a high level of “emodiversity.”

Emodiversity (dibs on the band name!) is “the variety and relative abundance of the emotions” one can experience. There can be emodiversity within positive emotions—feeling not just “happy,” but also the more specific emotions of amusement, awe, contentment, joy, gratitude, and love. And, as you’d expect, there can be emodiversity within negative feelings—that is, feeling not just “sad,” but specifically feeling anger, embarrassment, fear, disgust, guilt, or anxiety.

The ability to recognize and name these different emotions is called “emotional granularity”. That ability, combined with the evenness of the distribution of feelings, makes up emodiversity.

According to this report highlighting the results of two studies measuring the effect of emodiversity on mental and physical health, higher levels of emodiversity correspond to lower levels of depression and fewer trips to the doctor. 

This might be a bit counterintuitive. For a long time, people thought that well-being was having lots of positive emotions and few negative emotions. But these recent studies, along with several others, are showing that perhaps a mix of emotions, positive and negative, is the best path toward well-being. Study participants high in emodiversity were less likely to be depressed than people high in positive emotion alone.

I tend to be pretty skeptical of studies like these that depend on the self-reporting of their subjects, but you can read the methodology and judge for yourself. The study results do reinforce my own belief that naming specific negative emotions can help to resolve them. And my takeaway from the studies is to try to specifically name positive emotions as well, so I can feel them more deeply.

You can measure your own emodiversity by taking the test at http://www.emodiversity.org/.

Does your score surprise you? Let us know in the comments.

p.s. The study reminded me of this TED Ed video that showcases the positive role sadness can play in our lives.

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What's so creepy about happiness?

I saw a headline in my news feed recently that stopped me in my tracks.

“Chief Happiness Officer Is the Latest, Creepiest Job in Corporate America”

Why would promoting happiness be considered creepy?

The piece, written by Josh Kovensky for New Republic, offers a pretty cynical take on the movement to improve workers’ well-being. He actually compares the concept of “chief happiness officer” to the “war on terror.” I think he means to draw only a linguistic comparison, but I honestly can’t tell for sure. He worries about privacy violations, intrusions on employees’ emotions, and that the bottom line will always be profit over people.

I suspect Kovensky’s concerns are valid in some cases. But I don’t think we should throw the concept out entirely. Even if you find the idea of a “Chief Happiness Officer” to be hopelessly condescending, I don’t think we should discourage companies from investing in employees’ happiness. And that applies even if the motive is only to increase the bottom line. Happiness as a side effect of a profit increase? Works for me (assuming it’s not at the expense of another group’s happiness).

Alexander Kjerulf, who literally speaks for Chief Happiness Officers on his blog, argued in a recent interview that investing in employee happiness is the moral thing for companies to do. He said, “It’s also a question of right and wrong. Creating a workplace where people hate to work...that is just wrong. That is ethically and morally a bad thing.”

I couldn’t agree more.

I certainly don’t think companies should violate their employees’ privacy. That’s a no-brainer. There are ways to increase happiness without reading your employees’ email.

Nor should employers mandate cheeriness. It’s not good to be happy all the time, and it’s not a character flaw to be unhappy. Perceived unhappiness should not be used as an indicator that someone isn’t fulfilling their professional duties. Especially when you consider the fact that certain personality types—quiet types, introverts—might be misunderstood as unhappy.

Having said all that, I have no problem whatsoever with the idea of a Chief Happiness Officer. Workplace culture is a key part of any organization, and I’m always glad to see companies caring about it. Even if the appointment of a CHO is meant to advance the bottom line, I imagine the types of people who would be drawn to this role are a bit less cynical in their approach.

Here’s what I’d do in the role:

  • Recognize that productivity does not correlate to time spent “working.” Productivity is about value delivered. Period. Sometimes high value is delivered in a short amount of time.

  • Maximize agency. Be as flexible as possible about when, where, and how the work gets done. Of course, sometimes rules are needed, but they should be for a specific, proven reason. They should never be arbitrary or because "that's the way we've always done it."

  • Recognize that people will be happy and productive when they have enough time to fulfill their responsibilities to their families and take care of personal issues.

  • Recognize the introvert/extrovert spectrum. Social interaction with co-workers should not be a job requirement. No “mandated fun.”

  • Implement 80/20 time or, better yet, create a full-time culture of employee-led innovation. Create opportunities for low-risk experiments, and allow employees to place little bets.

How about you? Would you appreciate a Chief Happiness Officer at your place of work? Or would you feel imposed upon? Curious to know your thoughts.

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Possible Happiness Hack: Quit Facebook

For the past few weeks, I’ve been chewing on the idea of deleting my personal Facebook account (or doing the closest thing to that, since apparently it’s pretty difficult to actually delete it).

Here are the ways in which I think I might benefit from deleting my account:

  • More time! Facebook is a total procrastination tool.
  • A clearer head. Five minutes of scanning the newsfeed sends my brain in 12 different directions.
  • Lower blood pressure. The political content on Facebook often makes my blood boil. I don’t need that!
  • I think I might actually get smarter. Honestly, there’s not a lot ofnews on Facebook, though there’s a lot of opinion. There are editorials, blogs, memes, Reddit threads, niche articles/conspiracy theories disguised as mainstream news, stories that assert truths without any citations, and long threaded comment sections.  I’m realizing that this steady diet of unsupported claims does a lot of things—it feeds my own biases, and sets off my injustice alarms—but it doesn’t actually help me learn anything. It might actually be making me less informed. I think a side effect of quitting Facebook might be having time to read more actual news.
  • The pleasure of opting out. It would feel good to know that I’m not a product being sold to advertisers. (Realistically, for that, I’d have to opt out of many more sites as well.)

I can feel myself getting ready to opt out, but I’m not there yet. I’m making baby steps. I pruned the list of people I follow. I started limiting my experience to one day a week, and even then for only 20 minutes. I’m being very particular about what I choose to click on. I think eventually I may be ready to cut the cord.

In the meantime, I need to replace the best things about Facebook, which for me, boil down to three things:

  1. seeing photos and news about family and friends who don’t live in the same place as me
  2. having a place to express some of the ideas that are important to me, and forcing myself to work those ideas out
  3. comment threads amongst my funniest friends (the puns!)

So for replacing those things, I’ve got a few alternatives in mind:

  1. A group of friends recently started a virtual writing circle. We’ll meet regularly to catch up on life news and support each other’s various writing projects. I’d like to schedule similar catch-up time with other groups of faraway friends and family.
  2. I’m going to start journaling again! I used to do that, and I miss it. I think it builds happiness.
  3. I’m starting a weekly email chain for my Friends Who Like Wordplay. The puns will go on.

Have you opted out of Facebook, either because you never started or because you tried it and quit? Or have you ever considered leaving it? Share your stories in the comments!

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