A Systematic Approach to Happiness.

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In my quest to build a deeply satisfying life, I see three important questions: (1) What is life? (2) How do I measure satisfaction? (3) What’s the building process? Here are my thoughts on each:

I. What is Life?

Life is a series of events, taking place over time. Sticking to the building metaphor, events are the building blocks of life.

I see time as a line. Events take place on a timeline. I choose which events take place, and in what sequence.

Time equals focus. There’s never a point in time where I’m not focused on an event. I’m focused externally, on events taking place in the objective “real” world, or internally, on events taking place in my head.

Because time equals focus, I refer to my timeline as a “sightline.” I’m not completely sold on this term yet, but I think it’s important to emphasize focus,  as opposed to time. Managing happiness is more about focus management than time management.

How I feel is a function of how I’m focused. Happiness is dependent upon what’s happening within my field of attention. Some events are, subjectively, more satisfying to focus on than others. Imagined events can be just as satisfying or dissatisfying as real events.

Every moment offers a buffet of potentially satisfying events to focus on. I have complete control over which events I give my attention to, therefore I’m in control of my happiness.

Figure 1 - Life

II. How Do I Measure Satisfaction?

I see satisfaction as a scale with four values: (1) Hell No, (2) No, (3) Yes, (4) Hell Yes.

I’ve assigned a color to each (1) HN = Dark Blue, (2) N = Light Blue , (3) Y = Orange, (4) HY = Red. It’s based on the children’s game of “Hot & Cold.”

Every event has 2 satisfaction values: (1) How I expect to feel during it, and (2) how I actually feel during it.

I choose to depict the scale as a graph.

Figure 2 - Satisfaction

III. What’s the Building Process?

I just defined the basic tools: events, the sightline, and the satisfaction scale.

Sticking to the building metaphor, my current blueprint consists of six activities: (1) Plot, (2) Track, (3) Review, (4) Pivot, (5) Explore, (6) Flow.

This is more of a system than a linear process. Also, I’m noticing there are different levels of profeciency.

Figure 3 - System

Here’s a brief overview of each level and activity:

 

Level 1 – Beginner – Plotting as many Y / HY events as possible, and tolerating the N / HN events.

 

 I. Plot

At night, I plot the next days events on my sightline. I was using iCal to plot, but decided to go analog. On a sheet of 8.5 x 11 paper, I created an hourly planner split into two halves. On the left half, there’s space for plotted events (basically my loose plan for the next day). On the right half, there’s space for the events that will actually take place. You can download the sightline template here.

As I plot tomorrow’s events, I make a note of the estimated level of satisfaction for each event; what I think I will feel.

Here's a real life example of what plotting and tracking looks like for me.
Here’s a real life example of what plotting and tracking looks like for me.

II. Track

During the day, I track the events that actually take place. On the right side of my sightline, I make a note of the duration of the event, and how I actually felt (HN, N, Y, HY).

I don’t track minute by minute, I just make a note between events, or every couple of hours.

III. Review

At the end of each day, I compare the plotted and actual events of the day. I’m looking for positive and negative discrepancies between the two, then thinking about what caused them, and what I should do differently in the future. This step is important, but it’s been the most difficult to adhere to thus far.

 

Level 2 – Intermediary – Turning plotted N / HN events into Y / HY, before the day starts.

 

 IV. Pivot

After I plot my next day, I examine the estimated No & Hell No events. The goal is to turn that space on my sightline into Yes & Hell Yes events.

At the moment, I have a simple 4 step protocol. Each step represents a skill that I can use:

Figure 3 - Pivot Protocol

First Resort – Eliminate
The first step in dealing with a HN / N event is to ask “Does this event really have to take place, or can I get away with not doing it.”

Second Resort – Delegate
If I can’t eliminate it, can I give it to someone else? Can I pay someone else to do it?

Third Resort – Elevate (or sweeten)
If I can’t delegate it, can I add another more satisfying event to focus on in parallel. For example, I take long walks, sometimes an hour and a half. Listening to certain podcasts, is a Y / HY event for me. By turning my attention to that, more so than the distance traveled, I’m raising the satisfaction level of that portion of my day.

Last Resort – Reframe
If I can’t elevate it, my last resort is to change the way I’m looking at the event. I have two choices, I can frame it as an obstacle or an opportunity. As an obstacle, I’m framing the event as this thing that’s standing in the way of some other Y / HY that could be taking place in that portion of my day. So, to reframe it as an opportunity, I must connect it some other Y / HY event. For example, if I’m dreading a freelance gig, but it’s the only thing available right now, it helps to turn my attention to the satisfying events I will spend the money on. Similarly, finding gratitude about all of the Y / HY events that had to take place to even make this event a possibility. I’m noticing that there are many useful reframing tactics, but these are the ones I’ve played around with so far.

V. Explore

When I first started plotting, I noticed myself struggling to fill up the free time on my sightline with potentially Y / HY events. I ran out of ideas. Exploring is about mind-mapping to pinpoint events that could be potentially satisfying. At the moment my strategy is to brainstorm, starting with the events that have satisfied me in the past, then branching out to things that are closely related. It could be as simple as going to Amazon and looking at one of my favorite books, then checking out the “People also bought” section, or the new bestsellers in the same category.

Basically, just keep a long, exhaustive list of things I love. Be as specific as possible. Seek out opportunities taking place in my area or online. Take satisfying deep dives into interesting subjects.

 

Level 3 – Turning unforeseen N / HN events into Y / HY moments, in real-time.

 

VI. Flow

This step is the most difficult, but it’s basically Pivoting in real-time. When life throws unanticipated N / HN events my way during the course of a day, flow is about having the awareness and skill level to stay focused on Y / HY events. It’s recognizing that I’m in control of my focus, therefore my satisfaction level, and no matter the conditions, there are potential Y / HY events to give my attention to. That’s unconditional happiness; the holy grail. Like most skills, it requires practice. I’m not there yet.

It’s recognizing that I’m in control of my focus, therefore my satisfaction level, and no matter the conditions, there are potential Y / HY events to give my attention to. That’s unconditional happiness; the holy grail.

 


 

That’s all of I have at the moment. I’ll share more as I explore. I’ve been experimenting with this for a little over a month. I see some promising results, so much so, I’m conducting a 21 day experiment (April 9th – 30th), with 4 other people, to see how it works for them. If this seems interesting, and you feel inspired to try it out, please do. If you discover any helpful hacks and tips along the way, please share. If you have any questions, please comment below.

Special thanks to Bri, Elyce, Reiana, Rheanna, and Whitney for their feedback on this post.

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KLCY

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