Q&A with Hugo at Tracking Happiness

Bio: Hugo is the creator of TrackingHappiness.com, a website about tracking the things that influence your happiness the most, in order to steer your life in the best direction possible. He loves spending time with his girlfriend, running, playing music and looking at nerdy data. Hugo is on a mission to inspire the world to focus on happiness above everything else.

1. Tell me about your Tracking Happiness project. What is it? And, how do you track your happiness?

I believe the absolute purpose in life is happiness. No matter what different things we value in life, we all try to be as happy as we can for as long as possible.

The things we do to make us happy vary per person. Some may find that rich relationships lead to happiness. Others might argue that money provides happiness. Whatever you believe makes you happy, we all share the same goal.

And that is what this project is about.

My biggest goal is to inspire you to find the things that make you the happiest, and to avoid the things that have the biggest negative influence. Finding these so called happiness factors is easy when you start tracking your happiness. I believe that everybody is able to steer their life in the best direction possible when you start to learn from the data you track.

Knowing just how much certain factors influence our happiness is critical, and tracking happiness is what makes that easy for us.

Tracking happiness takes me less than 5 minutes per day, and consists of the following:

  1. I track my happiness at the end of every single day on a scale from 1 to 10.
  2. I determine the factors that have influence my happiness ratings the most for that day.
  3. I keep this up, track my data and learn from it whenever I can.

Based on my data, I have written a number of very in-depth data-driven happiness essaysthat cover my biggest happiness factors.

2. What have you found makes you happy?

My biggest positive happiness at the moment are my relationship, relaxing, family and running.

Spending time with my girlfriend almost always has a positive effect on my happiness. But I do enjoy a lot of other things as well! For example, I like running long distances, playing the occasional videogame and learning to play a new song on the guitar a great lot.

What is interesting is that these things all sound very simple. And that’s because they are. I’ve found that it’s the rather small things in life that can make me the happiest!

Work has been very busy lately, so I especially have come to enjoy spending a relaxing Sunday morning with a cup of coffee and a book. Things like that – no matter how insignificant they might seem – have a huge effect on my happiness.

3. What are some common things you have found that make other people happy?

The friends that I’ve made on Tracking Happiness all resonate in one area: the most common positive happiness factor seems to be social relationships.

Spending time with friends, significant others and family seems to have the biggest positive effect on happiness.

It does for me as well. My happiness is so far one of my biggest positive happiness factors. And I was able to prove it in one of my happiness essays about love.

4. What are some common things that make you and others unhappy?

It’s funny, actually.

My relationship might be (one of) the biggest positive happiness factors in my life, it is also quite a big negative happiness factor from time to time. What this means is that my relationship has caused me to feel miserable quite sometimes as well.

This usually happened while my girlfriend and I were in a long-distance relationship.

I’ve written another happiness essay just about these long-distance periods.

I’ve learned from those periods that it’s best that I just avoid long-distance relationships as much as possible! No matter how well my girlfriend and I prepare for them, they always have a negative effect on our relationship.

Funnily enough, this is also a common negative factor for others. Social relationships can cause a lot of harm as well, especially when arguments evolve into something unhealthy.

5. What is the happiest moment of your life?

According to my happiness tracking data, I was the most happiest when I spent a weekend in the Bay of Islands in New Zealand. This weekend was filled to the brim with amazing activities, like hiking, cliff-diving, rafting, racing karts and drinking beers. It was one of the best moments in my life, and I still remember this memory fondly!

As of right now, this weekend is still the highest rated on my happiness scale. I rated those 2 days with a 9,25 on my happiness scale from 1 to 10.

6. When you are feeling unhappy, what do you do?

It depends a lot on what is causing my unhappiness.

But one thing I always do is that I write about it. I have continued to journal ever since I first started when I was 20 years old. Writing about my struggles really helps me contain each negative thought. It is a great outlet for me and allows me to come to peace with a lot of the negative thoughts that may build up in my head.

7. What is the most important learning experience of your life?

Probably that there are always going to be bad periods. As much as we try to be happy every day, it is simply impossible to have only “sunny days”.

I really appreciate the words of Bob Ross – the painter from TV – he said you need darkness in order to show light.

It may sound cliché, but I believe that to be true. Happiness and unhappiness work together, and good periods are always frequented by bad periods.

I’ve learned this after tracking my happiness for a long time now. As much as I know about my own happiness, I cannot control every factor in my life.

Accepting just that is very important: eternal happiness is non-existent.

Knowing how to go with the flow and roll with the punches is just as – or even more – important.

8. What is the most common mistake you have seen people make when they try to be happy?

What I’ve found is that there is a difference between short-term pleasures and long-term happiness. Usually, the short-term reward is often the most easily accessible. We all know the following example: I want to lose weight, but I would really like a snack right now.

What do you do?

A snack might stimulate your happiness immediately, without having to wait for it. That’s why a lot of people decide to take the easy route. However, long-term happiness is built on a solid mixture between the two.

We need to remind ourselves of what it is that will truly make us happy in the long-term.

Tracking happiness is something that can help with this issue. If we collect the data that shows us just how much a certain thing influences our happiness, it’s much easier to then make the best decisions in our lives.

And that’s what it’s about: to steer your life in the best direction by using the information you collect about yourself.

9. What sort of work do you do and how does that influence your happiness?

I’ve been working as an engineer at a large contractor in the Netherlands for the last 4 years.

My job mostly consists of working on my computer, trying to make sense of an endless amount of spreadsheets.

And I actually enjoy doing just that. It’s something that I’m good at and feel appreciated for. The job also comes with the weekly mandatory meetings, big deadlines and some occasional crunch-mode periods.

These periods usually coincide with big deadlines and it means a lot of overtime. It’s part of the job, and something I can handle, as long as it doesn’t happen too often and structurally. I also get sent abroad a couple of times per year, which is pretty exciting stuff for me!

My work is something that I’ve analyzed in a lot of detail as well. I’ve analyzed my entire career up until now, which consists of 1,382 days. The result of this happiness essay is that I tolerate my job quite well.

I’ve come to this conclusion by comparing my happiness on my non-work days to my work days. Over all the days, my average happiness rating is just 0.07 lower on work days compared to non-working days. This is not a lot, in my opinion.

Given the fact that I’m paid well for what I do, I feel like this is a very good deal! In fact, I am even growing to like my job as I’m getting more experience, so that negative effect on my happiness is shrinking as the days go by.

I don’t feel like I have a reason to complain!

Results of my happiness essay on my career

10. What would you say to someone who doesn’t like their work and it makes them unhappy, but can’t change jobs because of financial or family obligations?

This is a really good and tough question! Maybe the only right answer is to follow your heart. But in order to do that, I would still suggest that person to consider every option.

It may sound corny, but I’d really advice that person to start tracking happiness. Or at least to start writing a journal about the job.

If you can pinpoint exactly what it is that causes your unhappiness, then you might be better able to deal with that. Do you have a terrible boss? Does your workload wear you down? Do you simply not like your job?

But perhaps more importantly, are there some aspects you still like about your job? And what are the likely consequences of you quitting your job?

If you can answer these questions for yourself, and also anticipate how your happiness will be affected by it, then you’ll at least be able to base your decision on the best knowledge possible.

In the end, I think it will still come down to what your heart wants. But it’s good to still make this decision with the right information available.

11. Anything else we haven’t covered you think is important or interesting to know about?

What I find most interesting is that everybody is unique. What drives my happiness will not necessarily move yours. It’s what makes interacting with others such a great experience.

That doesn’t mean we can’t learn from each other though. The factors that influence my happiness may not necessarily mean much to you, but perhaps they will inspire you to focus more on the factors that actually do have an influence.

I want you to focus on the things that have the biggest positive influence on your happiness. If you ever want inspiration or help on how to start focusing on your happiness, you can read more about it over at Tracking Happiness  .