Does life feel overwhelming?

  1. Step back.
  2. Breathe.
  3. Put it all in perspective: Will this matter six months from now?
  4. Create an attack plan on how to move forward.
  5. Remember that you’ve got this.

What I’ve learned by tracking my happiness

It’s been a few weeks since I first started using “Track your Happiness.” I’ve enjoyed learning more about myself through the app; I’ve learned how awareness and mindfulness impacts my happiness, how taking the time to fill out the survey three times a day gets me to focus my attention on the present which increases my feelings of happiness.

Even though it’s time to call it quits–I haven’t kept up with answering the survey over the past few days as much as I’d like, and instead of wanting to fill it out I’m starting to feel anxious whenever I miss it–I can say that I’ve learned some interesting tidbits about myself.

What have I learned? Here are some survey results:

Question: What are you doing?

Of the times I responded to the survey I answered using technology the most. Apparently, I was happiest when I answered watching television and least happy when I answered exercising. It’s probably because I’m in a slump with running at the moment.

Question: If you could jump ahead in time to the end without consequences, would you?

I answered no the most and, on average, I was happiest when I answered no. Considering what we know about awareness, this doesn’t come as much of a surprise.

Question: How would you classify what you are doing?

I listed that I was doing leisure activities the most. According to the survey, I was on average happiest when I answered leisure and least happy when I answered travel / commuting. I believe that’s because I was stuck in an airport at one point and on the road once when the weather was not great.

Essentially, “Track your Happiness” didn’t teach me any profound character traits that I didn’t already know about myself. What I did learn was exactly what Killingsworth said I would learn: I discovered what happiness looks like in my day-to-day interaction. “Track your Happiness” has been an excellent reminder that happiness isn’t only found in grandeur and excitement; my happiness is also found in the everyday experiences that I have. And those minute experiences matter; they add up to a life.


Although I will delete the app right after I finish this post, I’m thankful that I took the time to try out this app and write about it. Hopefully I’ll stay more aware and mindful of how my moment-by-moment experiences influence my happiness.

Feelings of happiness are fleeting–and that’s not so bad

Today, I started noticing that the result of my “Track your Happiness” survey answers are becoming more robust. I’ve used the app for a while now, and I’m finally in the very early stages of seeing my own patterns on my moment-to-moment experiences (interested in a more detailed explanation of how this works? Sign up for “Track your Happiness” to try it out yourself!). It’s far too soon to make any summations–I’m no scientist, but I’m wise enough to at least know that–but I can see that, so far this week, I have found interacting and talking to be pretty enjoyable while I’ve found working out to be not-so-enjoyable.

Even though it is too soon to truly analyze the data, I will make one small observation. Each time I respond to the survey, the app includes an emoji to express how I say I’m feeling on its happiness scale. Out of the 10 times I’ve responded this week, I’ve garnered 5 neutral emojis, 4 smiling emojis, and 1 frowning emoji.

What if this trend continues, and I keep having mainly neutral emojis trailed closely by happy emojis? This reminds me of the episode “Simply Happy” from TED Radio Hour where psychologist Dan Gilbert talks how, most of the time, our feelings are neutral. Good and bad emotions only last for a short amount of time; there are many reasons for this, but one is simply the nature of emotion. “Happiness is an emotion; it’s a feeling,” says Gilbert. “The human brain isn’t built to sustain a single feeling over the long-term.” Comparing emotions to a compass, Gilbert says that “human beings need their human emotions to both be elicited but also to come back to baseline, and happiness is one of the emotions that does that.”


As Gilbert seems to indicate, I’ll never get to a point where I constantly feel blissfully happy because that’s just not how emotions work; more than likely, I’ll spend most of my time feeling neutral. However, like anyone, I’d rather have more happy feelings than unhappy ones. So if I find that, over time, my neutral and happy emojis in this app stay about the same as they are now, then I can say that I’m headed in the right direction.


Is mind-wandering really all that bad?

Last night I watched Dr. Matt Killingsworth’s TED talk “Want to be happier? Stay in the moment” to get a better understanding of Killingsworth’s research and the “Track your Happiness” app.

A lot of what he said about mind-wandering struck me: For example, he says that “mind-wandering is likely a cause, and not merely a consequence of unhappiness.” Also, “47% of the time, people are mind-wandering.” Mind-wandering seems to pervade everything we do, which is disconcerting considering that mind-wandering and unhappiness are related (according to Killingsworth’s research).

Killingsworth seems to say that, to be happier, we should try to mind-wander less. But how do we do that? How do we do a better job of directing our attention?

“That’s the million-dollar question. And I don’t know the answer,” says Killingsworth in TED Radio Hour’s “Simply Happy.”

It seems that, to keep from mind-wandering, we need to pay attention, focus, be aware, and concentrate. To “stay in the moment” I can use all four, but it seems that each word means something a little different. So, I checked the Oxford English Dictionary for the proper definitions of each word.


Here are some of the definitions that stood out most to me:

Attention, n.: 1a. “The action, fact, or state of attending or giving heed; earnest direction of the mind, consideration, or regard; esp. In phr. To pay or give attention. The mental power or faculty of attending; esp. With attract, call, draw, arrest, fix, etc.”

  1. “Practical consideration, observant care, notice.”


Focus, v.: 1a. “To draw to a focus, to cause to converge to or as to a focus.”


  1. “To bring into focus; to bring (the image, etc.) to the proper focus.”


Awareness, n. “The quality or state of being aware, consciousness; (also) the condition of being aware (of something or that something is).”


Concentration, n.: 2a: “The action or an act of coming together at a single place, point or focus, esp. With a resultant increase in intensity or power; the action or an act of bringing things together in this way, or of bringing together power, wealth, resources, etc., in the control of one or more individuals; the state of being so concentrated.”

6b: “The continued focusing of one’s attention on something; the ability to sustain such focus.”


So, awareness isn’t as focused as focus is; through awareness, you’re conscious of what’s going on but you’re not necessarily honing in on one particular thing.

The definitions of concentration and focus seem to overlap; to concentrate is to have “the ability to sustain such focus” on something.

My favorite, though, is the beauty of the definition of “attention”: “earnest direction of the mind, consideration, or regard.” The definition reads like a gift; if you truly want to be attentive, you must practice “observant care, notice.” Your time and attention is a gift to others and to yourself.

Killingsworth says that he doesn’t know how to direct our attention. And, I’d say it’s safe to surmise that there’s not one right way to hold our attention. We can keep from mind-wandering by focusing or concentrating on something; we can also do it by simply being aware of what’s going on around us and by giving others or ourselves the gift of our attention. Maybe it really does come back to “be here now”: Whatever you’re doing at this moment, be all there.

But, what impact can mind-wandering have on our productivity or our self-discipline? I checked the definition of mind-wandering in the OED; the second use of “mind-wandering” as listed in the OED is found in 1890, when philosopher and psychologist William James used the word “mind-wandering” in his book The Principles of Psychology. In the section “The Varieties of Attention,” he talks about the sensitivity of sensorial stimuli on children’s and young adults’ attention spans:

“Childhood is characterized by great active energy, and has few organized interests by which to meet new impressions and decide whether they are worthy of notice or not…this reflex and passive character of the attentions…makes the child seem to belong less to himself than to every object which happens to catch his notice…it never is overcome in some people, whose work, to the end of life, gets done in the interstices of their mind-wandering” (James).

This quote reminds me of a quote from Essentialism author Greg McKeown that I heard last week during my Infomagical week on information overload: “Technology makes a great servant but a poor master.” James seems to say that, if we don’t focus our attention, if we as adults don’t limit the time we spend mind-wandering, we’ll only get our life’s work done in the interstices–the small, intervening spaces. Mind-wandering or distraction becomes the master, and Killingsworth can tell us where that leads.

Maybe that’s something to consider next time we let our minds wander or we get distracted by cat videos, memes and listicles: Paying attention matters to our happiness. We don’t have to be constantly focused, but letting our minds wander too much means we aren’t really living our lives as our truest selves.

Let’s think back to the “Track your Happiness” app: By answering the questions that the app sends me, I have the opportunity to pull myself back to the reality of focusing my attention on the here and now instead of on mind-wandering. I can regain control of my attention.


How focusing on the little things brings joy

“How do you feel?”

The Track your Happiness notification popped up on my phone while I was filling my old salt and pepper shakers.

salt and pepper.jpg

“Tell us about your experiences at the moment just before you were notified,” the app advised.

Honestly, I wasn’t focusing on cleaning out the shakers. I’d been wondering about what else I needed to clean, where I’d be next week at this time, whether I’d have the courage to finally throw out the wilting daffodils that had been sitting on my counter all week.

Considering the question “how do you feel,” I decided I felt ambivalent about filling the salt and pepper shakers. I also realized how tired I’d grown of using the boring-looking shakers that I’d purchased from Walmart, which is the reason I pulled out the pair that I bought at The Grand Old Trunk in the first place. They’re definitely a throwback to the sixties, which I love.

“What are you doing?”

I clicked “doing housework.” I turned back to the shakers, filling one to the brim with salt.

The more I thought about it the more I realized that I actually was enjoying what I was doing. These are my favorite shakers; I’ve kept them in the cabinet for years now, but I’m finally pulling them out and planning to use them. And, after pouring salt directly out of the 26-ounce container for months–what can I say, I’m not the most organized, tidy person–I was finally putting my shakers to good use. Pulling out the shakers was a simple pleasure; it was nothing out of the ordinary, but it was simply enjoyable.

It would have been so easy for me to miss this moment. Usually when I clean the house I listen to a podcast and zone out while I wipe down the counters or put the dishes away. Today, though, I decided to focus on what I was doing. And that’s when I found myself enjoying my salt and pepper shakers for what they were: Something simple that brings joy to my life.

Can you imagine how many little joys I may have missed in recent years as I’ve hurried to get things done and move to the next task? If I slow down and pay attention to what I’m doing, I have a chance to appreciate the little, minute details of everyday life.


Track Your Happiness

Should we all be tracking our feelings of happiness throughout the day? And, if we do, will we be happier?

I first heard about the app “Track Your Happiness” while listening to TED Radio Hour on an episode called “Simply Happy.” I’ve been interested in the topic of happiness recently, having read Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project and thinking about the correlation between creative living and happiness from the Infomagical challenge.

“Simply Happy” looks at a number of ideas on what makes people happy. From slowness to less stuff, experts weighed in with a variety of ways to be happy. One such expert, Dr. Matt Killingsworth, is a happiness expert that created a way to track moment-to-moment experiences in people’s daily lives because he had a hunch that “happiness has an awful lot to do with the contents of our moment-to-moment experiences.” I became interested in his app “Track Your Happiness” mainly because of its emphasis on focus. We can increase our happiness if we focus on and are more aware of what we are doing, even if that’s sitting in traffic or doing the dishes.


So, in light of what I learned during Infomagical about the importance of single-tasking, I have decided that, this week, I will utilize the “Track Your Happiness” app and see if it impacts my feelings of happiness. Not to say that I am not happy, but I am interested in seeing how upping my awareness of what I am doing or thinking impacts my daily outlook.

I believe that, if I am more aware of what’s happening around me, I’ll make more decisions that are in line with who I am and be less indecisive. I want to fully appreciate and feel grateful for the little and big things in life.

During his interview for “Simply Happy,” Killingsworth talked about how the million dollar question is how to be more aware. I would like to be mindful about that, too: What can I do to be more focused and increase my happiness? What are some tactics that help me to be more aware or attentive in my daily life?


Don’t have a passion? Pursue curiosity.

Maybe you’re unsure of what major to pick, or you found out that your dream job isn’t exactly what you thought it would be. You’re thinking about picking up a hobby, but you can’t think of anything in particular to pursue. It’s time for a change, but you don’t know exactly what to do.

Your well-meaning family members or sympathetic coworkers might give you what they think is helpful advice: “Follow your passion.”

But, you might not find that advice to be particularly helpful. Perhaps, like me, you find this advice to be more disconcerting than comforting. What if you don’t have a clear passion? What if you used to have a passion but now you’re not sure if it’s still for you?

Big Magic author Elizabeth Gilbert says that the well-meaning advice of following your passion isn’t very helpful: “It can be an unnecessary piece of advice, because if someone has a clear passion, odds are they’re already following it and they don’t need anyone to tell them to pursue it” (235). In her own creative life, Gilbert says that she doesn’t “sit around waiting for passion to strike,” that she doesn’t “always feel actively inspired, nor do I always feel certain about what to do next.”

Maybe it’s time to skip passion. What if, instead, we followed curiosity?

happiness is fleeting on purpose

Curiosity, says Gilbert, is quieter, more stable than passion:

“In fact, curiosity only ever asks one simple question: ‘Is there anything you’re interested in?’ Anything? Even a tiny bit? No matter how mundane or small?” (238)

Instead of waiting around for passion to strike, we can follow the inquisitiveness that comes naturally to most of us. Passion might seem all-consuming and romantic but, like any whirlwind affair, it only lasts so long. Curiosity, on the other hand, can be more consistent and steady; it can slowly take us on an adventure that we never dreamed of.

Curiosity—it’s found in the moments of reflection and contemplation, when we keep our eyes out for the quiet questions we might have.

In Big Magic Gilbert looks at passion versus curiosity in the context of creative living, but her advice can easily apply to many areas of life. Here are some ways that curiosity might help you as you consider career choices:

Curiosity can help us find more meaning in our work.

We all get tired of the work we do; no job is completely blissful at all times. So, when you have those down-in-the-dumps moments where you wonder if you should have chosen this career path, consider following your curiosity. Does your career path or major match with your values and priorities? What do you love most about the work you do? What do you wish you could change?

Chances are, you’ll find that you have more to be grateful for than you initially realized. Maybe you have a great boss, or you’re thankful for the positive impact you get to have in the lives of others. If you remind yourself why you picked this career path or major in the first place, you’ll likely be re-energized and confident about moving forward.

However, what if you find that your current job or major is not right for you? What if making small changes during your daily routine just won’t cut it? Curiosity can also help you to find clarity. If there’s something you’re interested in and want to learn more about, this is the time to follow it. Learn what you can about what it’ll take to make a change. Even if you realize that the current path you’re on isn’t right for you, at least you’ll know that something has to change.

Curiosity might help you get out of analysis paralysis.

Maybe you know you need to change jobs or switch your major, but you’re beyond confused about what to do next. Instead, you’ve spent so much time worrying about your options that now you don’t even know how to take a step forward.

If you choose to get curious instead of waiting for passion, you can ask yourself that simple question, “Is there anything you’re interested in?” You don’t have to passively wait for passion to show up. Instead, you can actively examine the interests that you already have to see if one of them might work for you. It might be scary to look into the requirements for switching your major to marketing or to figure out what tasks a copywriter does, but chances are you’ll get closer to figuring out what you want to do than if you wait for passion to appear.

Follow curiosity, and we just might find what we’re passionate about.

If you follow curiosity, you might just find what you’re passionate about. In Big Magic Gilbert talks about how we should view curiosity as a scavenger hunt: we find clues along the way that might help us find the answers we’re looking for. Following curiosity, says Gilbert, “may even eventually lead you to your passion, albeit through a strange, untraceable passageway of back alleys, underground caves, and secret doors.”

What are some other ways that curiosity might change your perspective on the work you do?