Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Measuring Happiness

So on the surface it seems like an impossible task, measuring happiness – how can something so subject have any sort of objective metrics applied to it? Of course, this goes on all the time, and while I may joke about “hedons,” (a single unit of pleasure) there are some very real and interesting measurements one can make. Take in point this great graphic that FourSquare  put out in honor of reaching 10 million users.

They mapped the happiness of these the major metropolitan areas by assigning value to reported status from “Awesome” at the happiest end to “WTF” at the bottom, so it’s interesting to see where these “happiness clusters” end up – Manhattan’s looking pretty good. Of course the Disneyphile in me wishes they would have included the greater Anaheim area in this collection to see if it was true that Disneyland is the happiest place on earth.

In the realm of measuring happiness, there’s been some interesting work over at the London School of Economics.To oversimplify and summarize, they are exploring the question of what public and economic policy can lead to happier citizens. In their latest attempt to capture data and test some hypothesis they release an iPhone app called Mappiness

As a self-professed rational and enlightened hedonist, I naturally downloaded it as soon as I discovered it. The app pings you at least twice a day and asks you to report how happy, relaxed, and tired you are (as measured on a sliding scale). It goes on the query where you are, who you’re with, and what it is you’re doing. Oh and occasionally asks you to take a picture. After you’ve used this app for a while you can download the information and see what interesting things it might reveal about your own happiness.

So, in my case I can answer my FourSquare question at least for myself and see that compared to other places I’ve been this year, Disneyland ranks pretty happy (Green)  – the hospital and hospice where my mom spent her last days, not so much (Orange & Red).

That’s sort of a “d’uh” realization as is the fact that I seem to be happiest on the weekend:

Or that I’m Happier at home than at work:

And perhaps you could even say that about my happiness over time:

In which you can see the obvious dip surrounding the illness and death of my mother earlier in the year. But then again, it does show me on an upward trend and over time should at least capture if in my self reporting I actually am getting any happier, or just staying at the status quo.

Mappiness itself cautions against reading too much into these charts, but it does create a benchmark of sorts and so for the time being I hope to play around more with this tool and check in from time to time to see how I’m doing. With any luck, we’re all trending to happier times.



  1. That's cool. I'm going to add that app to my phone. I'm glad you're on an upward trend. :)

  2. I got sick of foursquare because i was an early adopter and no one used it yet. When it exploded long after I abandoned it, i was already so over it. But I think I'll try Mappiness!

  3. Alas, since they won't use your data unless you're in the U.K. (and since I can't be bothered figuring out the time difference so I won't be bothered for info in the middle of the night), I think I'm going to regretfully have to pass on Mappiness. Too bad.

  4. That's okay, I wasn't really expecting anyone to use it, I just thought it might be a cool tool to test out things like - does the pleasure spike of going out on a school night get washed out by the happiness hangover the next day? - I might do more or less school night activities depending on the results. If the app doesn't give you hedons, then as a rational hedonist, you should pass on it.