2014 was the year of self-tracking for me. I created a mood tracking spreadsheet (download it for free), to which I also added my data from MyFitnessPal. Now the results are in, and what they reveal will shock you (not so much).
The primary purpose of building my mood tracking contraption was to see which variables in my life have the largest effect on my mood, happiness, energy, creativity, stress, grumpiness, day-to-day satisfaction, and life satisfaction (we’ll call these the affects, in the psychological sense). Some of the variables I looked at were food, booze, sleep, activity, time outside, weather, season, money stress, and family time.
There was a time when I used to be able to do some simple statistical analyses, but those days are (thankfully) gone.* So in this case, I plotted some of my variables versus certain affects and looked at the trendlines for simple correlations.
Happiness, day-to-day satisfaction, and mood were strongly correlated, possibly because I didn’t do a very good job of distinguishing between them. Thus, the results were similar for all three, so I lumped them together under “mood” below. Note that all results are correlations, so the variables aren’t necessarily causal – although they could be.
- my mood (and happiness and day-to-day satisfaction) gets slightly worse the more I weigh (I fluctuated from the low 160s to the low 180s), with more tv, and with more driving
- my mood is worse with more sleep and more stress (go figure)
- my mood is not changed with strength training, on vacation, and with different forms of work
- my mood improves slightly with more family time, new activities, and more booze
- my mood improves with more cardio exercise, golf, more time outside, and more food
- my mood gets better as the day goes on
- my mood is best in the spring and fall, and worst in the winter
- my creativity decreases with booze, time spent outside, more driving time, and more tv time
- my creativity increases slightly with more sleep and more calories
- I’m most creative in the winter
- I have slightly less energy with more calories
- I have less energy the more I weigh and the more tv I watch (or, more likely, I watch more tv when I have less energy)
- I have more energy in the spring and fall
- I had 10 moments of feeling bliss/euphoria over the course of the year
- My life satisfaction was very steady
The design of my mood tracking spreadsheet is pretty rudimentary, and there are endless areas for improvement (go ahead and add your own tweaks to make it better, and share it with the group). Nonetheless, it was a good tool for me to learn more about how I operate.
Over the years, in conjunction with less valleys, the peaks in my mood aren’t as lofty, kind of like an attenuating sine wave:
Maybe in exchange for more stability, one sacrifices the intensity of one’s moods, both on the down- and upsides. Maybe in my more volatile days I felt a greater sense of relief after being in those deeper valleys, resulting in a more intense joy and excitement about having left the valley.
So what did I learn from The Year of Tracking?
- Tracking oneself is onerous. Overmonitoring and spending too much time trying to be perfect can also cause stress. It’s been a few months since I stopped tracking stuff, and now that I’m just L-I-V-I-N,** I generally feel more relaxed and, well, happy – albeit fatter…
- Tracking my food intake does help me lose weight. Tracking can help one be more disciplined.
- Tracking teaches one certain things that can be carried beyond tracking. Because I’m more attuned to many of the variables that affect my mood, I probably do a better job now of avoiding negative actions and doing more positive things (without obsessing about them).
- Overmonitoring oneself and obsessing about one’s every action can be somewhat self-centered. Worrying about tiny fluctuations in one’s mood is a Rich Person Problem. Self-improvement is fine, as long as it’s a vehicle for virtue.
- Stress can be a good thing. Some of the day-to-day stress I experience (solving a difficult work problem, putting in a physically exhausting day, cleaning roots and shit out of a tenant’s backed up sewer, writing a time-consuming post) leads to highly rewarding feelings (and higher peaks on the old sine curve).
- Although not having enough food or sleep affects my mood, stressors like money, conflict, and other real-life issues ultimately have a more pronounced and lasting impact on my mood.***
In fact, a 2010 paper by Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton indicates that the less one’s household income is, below about $75,000/year, the more money stress exacerbates other issues, and affects one’s happiness (or emotional well-being, as the authors call it). Above the $75,000 threshold, people generally don’t experience greater happiness. But people’s life evaluation (similar to what I call life satisfaction here and fulfillment in other posts), continues to rise with household incomes above $75,000. Certainly this varies with different circumstances in different households, but it’s an indication that money woes may be one of the primary issues affecting people’s happiness.
So it’s as simple as making $75,000 a year to be happy, right? Or maybe it’s about learning to live a more frugal and less consumer lifestyle to avoid the stress associated with living on less than $75,000 (this guy did it on $7000 a year). Probably it’s some of both: paying people a living wage while simultaneously working toward a less consumerist society.
Beyond the obvious stresses associated with money, doing a little tracking to figure out which variables most affect your mood can be a growth exercise. Download the spreadsheet, tweak it to fit your needs, and let us know what you come up with.
*If there’s somebody out there who loves to play around with SAS and wants to do a real analysis of my data, let me know.
**This is Wooderson’s sage advice, coming from a twentysomething-year-old guy who still hangs out with high schoolers (“I get older, they stay the same age”). If the sequel to Dazed and Confused, Dallas Buyers Club, is any indication, Wooderson’s advice didn’t pan out too well (Leto’s really good as Slater, though).
***And of course genetics plays a role in our moods, too.