40% Happier? A Skeptic’s Update

Published on August 28, 2014 by   ·   No Comments

Unfortunately, my 100 Happy Days were a little bit short-lived.  You may remember my previous post about starting up this social media challenge (if you missed it, you can check it out HERE), and as anticipated, one of my stumbling blocks was technology – no big surprise there!  Without a smartphone (or much desire to acquire one), posting a daily update involved a lot more work: either I would have to decide what my update was and then scour google images for something that I felt represented my happy 000000 Happy 1st Worldmoment, or I’d have to try to take a picture myself, hook my camera up to my computer and upload it, attach it to the post, etc.  I know, I know, cry me a fuckin’ river, right?  This is happiness we’re talking about – it should be worth the effort, shouldn’t it?

The thing is, all of that effort didn’t make me happy – in fact, I felt like it distracted me from being happy.  There were days where I would get so wrapped up in doing the thing that made me feel happy that I’d forget to post, and then I’d feel guilty because I didn’t post it on the day, and the 100 Happy Days challenge website says, “No cheating” because “you’re only cheating yourself.”  Real motivational, huh.  Other times, I would be getting ready for bed and realize I hadn’t posted for the day and I’d drag myself to my computer to start the process.  It never seemed like much fun, and it leeched some of the happy out of whatever happy thing I was posting about.  It felt too much like work, like an obligation I wasn’t looking forward to completing.  Total first world problems: isn’t it terrible that I don’t have a smartphone so I have to go back to the house I live in to post on social media from one of the two computers I own, my desktop or my laptop?

Well, I made it about 40 days, so I guess that means I should be about 40% happier.  I don’t know if that’s really how it works, but let’s go with that.

000000 Happy 01And 40%, as it turns out, is actually a significant number.  A researcher at the University of California Riverside found that 40% of our happiness is at least somewhat within our control.  50% is genetics (this sets your happiness baseline, like your weight), 10% is stuff that happens to you and environmental factors, and 40% is stuff that you do to positively or negatively impact your happiness.  That’s why, in theory, the 100 Happy Days challenge is a good idea: by taking time to consciously focus, every day, on something that makes you happy, you can affect your state of mind and positively impact your level of happiness.  (For more information about the UCR study and some tips on improving happiness in your life, please check out this article by Seth M. Baker on the blog Happenchance)

The keyword for me here is intentional: you should be choosing ways to celebrate happiness and blessings in your life that matter to you.  If it feels like an unwelcome obligation, you’re probably defeating the purpose.  As someone who has some experience with depression, I know it can be a struggle just to take care of the day to day things; if your happiness work also feels like a struggle, then it’s probably not making the positive changes you’d like to see.

Not that happiness should be effortless.  A lot of the things that I feel happy about take effort and work.  I feel happy when I’ve written a blog piece I think is particularly good, or if I manage to create something challenging in the kitchen without making a small fire.  Crafty projects like making jewelry or sewing a new costume make me feel happy.  It’s not that happiness doesn’t involve work, but rather that the work itself, just as much as the final product, makes you feel fulfilled, like you’ve accomplished something.

000000 Happy WishThat’s because there are two different kinds of happiness (at least according to this slideshow article I found posted by Prevention with 25 simple ways to increase that 40%): hedonic and eudaimonic.  Hedonic is all about pleasure: in  the moment, immediate pleasure.  Have a fantastic and flavorful meal, get a massage, plan some really great naked time with someone you enjoy (or someone you just met).  It’s no-waiting, instant gratification happiness.  Eudaimonic happiness is about the bigger picture: the happiness you get from challenging and/or satisfying work, something that builds your skills or abilities or otherwise contributes to your overall, meaningful happiness.

So I guess my lack of technological prowess inhibited my ability to really benefit from the 100 Happy Days Challenge: it was too much work to contribute to my hedonic happiness, but lacked enough substance or payoff to contribute to my eudaimonic happiness.  That’s not excuses, that’s science.  Or at least possible science as quoted in infographics in a slideshow by Prevention magazine.  And that’s good enough for me.  But just because specific challenge wasn’t for me, doesn’t mean that the overall project isn’t a useful one, and I certainly gained some insight into what makes me happy along the way.

Besides, the 100 Happy Days challenge is so yesterday; now it’s all about throwing a bucket of ice water over your head.  It may not improve my happiness, but I know I can operate all of the technology involved in that challenge.  And in some small way, that makes me happy.


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