Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Value x Time = Happiness Level?

Help. I've hit an interesting and thorny challenge.

Let's say you're creating a picture of your future lifestyle. Each activity or action you plan to do has a time cost and an effect on your well-being. What I'm trying to do is figure out how varying experiences contribute to overall happiness.

For example, maybe you work 40 hours a week at a job you dislike. For pretty much the whole time you're working, the effect on your mental, emotional health is negative. In that same week, you engage in your beloved recreational pursuit (maybe windsurfing) for about four hours -- during that time, your mental, emotional and physical health is off the chart in the positive.

What I'm trying to do is to find a way to display an average or cumulative level of happiness over a period of time that includes all different kinds of activities. So let's stay with our example and assume that I want to be able to show a general happiness level for the week in which you were miserable for 40 hours at work and thrilled for four hours while you were windsurfing.

The main question is this: should those two activities have equal weight in the weekly calculation of happiness? Or should happiness (or negative effect) derived from each activity be multiplied by the amount of time spent doing it before averaging it out for the week?

Another quick example. You're a teacher, but you don't much like teaching. What you love about it is having 10 weeks of vacation every year. Over the course of your year, what is the net effect of having 42 weeks that you've rated as negative and 10 weeks of bliss? Or you're an oil-patch welder who hates his dangerous, uncomfortable, exhausting work, but you work two weeks on and two weeks off...and you love the time off. Is the net happiness result over the course of one month neutral?

I realize these are oversimplifications and generalizations, but I think there's the kernel of something important in this process. My theory is that wide fluctuation in happiness over the course of a day, week or month is probably not healthy for most of us. But I wonder if the inverse is true? Would less fluctuation always be better?


Jason said...

Hey Jer. I think your windsurfing example can't work. Well, that's not totally true. The only way it can work is if you rip it into hour long blocks (or week blocks if you look at the teacher example). But the problem is, let's say you enjoy windsurfing at a level of 8, you enjoy your job at a level of -8 (all are out of 10 or -10), and you enjoy reading a book at about 6. You spend 16 hours awake per day; you spend 8 of that at work and the rest doing whatever, then on the weekend you get 3 hours of reading and 4 hours of windsurfing. So you get 32 points for the windsurfing, 18 points for reading, no points for the rest of the weekend, and -320 for work. So for you, your happiness level is at -270. The thing is, that's just for you. Windsurfing can't be 8 for everyone. Nick came in, does this make sense? Anyway, it's all about if you can live with a level of -320. Can you?

Jeremy said...

You totally get it, J. Your equation is exactly right. I'm assuming there are probably other positive factors that might nudge the overall score closer to zero (friends, home, going for coffee), but if it still ends up negative, that's a great learning moment. When you realize it, you could say, "well maybe that's why I've been bummed out for months...hmmm...what should I be changing to put this into positive territory?"

I love that everyone would have different combinations and different ways of valuing their activities...that's the beauty of this kind of toolkit, I think.