Welcome to May, the best month of the year. Or at least, that’s what I think. It was actually my happiest month of the year at the time, but more on that later. 🙂 In May, I finally saw the high happiness ratings that I enjoyed so much during the previous year. I also got to prepare for another 2 months of work on a project abroad, which started near the end of the month. I traveled to Costa Rica to work as an engineer on a project again! How did I cope with this period, knowing that the previous period abroad was absolutely miserable? That’s exactly what I want to find out during this Monthly Happiness Report.
I have summarised the happiness data in the table below.
As you might see, this was the best month of the year 2015 to date! This already tells me that the period abroad at the end of the month was not as terrible as my previous experience. Let’s have a look at the specific data for this month!
The chart below shows my happiness ratings during May, 2015:
My happiness was very high throughout the entire month. I spent a great deal of my time doing the things that I loved. During this period, I perfected my normal, uneventful lifestyle, which I got to practice a lot during the previous months. I must say though, I never experienced this period as boring. On the contrary, I loved every moment of my simple life in the Netherlands. I especially prioritized spending time with my girlfriend. We both knew we were on the verge of entering another Long Distance Relationship period together, and wanted to utilize our time together.
I traveled to Costa Rica on the 21st of May, to work on another big project for a period of 2 months. I had just experienced a terrible period on another project abroad, and was not really eager to have a similar experience. This next period abroad needed to be much better!
So naturally, I started to analyze my happiness tracking data from the months I had to spend in Kuwait. What did I do wrong in this period? By asking myself this critical question, I found the following reasons to be the biggest culprits:
- I lost all my passions overnight (my girlfriend, running, music, gaming, friends, family, etc), and…
- I had a serious problem with getting enough sleep
Please note that I didn’t think working >80 hours per week was the source of my problems. Sure, working these crazy hours was challenging. But I needed to deal with these challenging conditions differently. Specifically, I needed to focus on things that were within my control. I certainly didn’t want to experience another ‘Worst Day Ever‘.
“I certainly didn’t want to experience another ‘Worst Day Ever'”
My good happiness ratings tell me that I succeeded in this strategy. Or at least, I managed to deal with the challenges in May, even though the period abroad on the project was still fresh and exciting.
The table below says it all. There were only a handful of negative happiness factors influencing my happiness in May, 2015. I was very happy during this period.
This table contains all the happiness ratings for May, 2015, including the factors that influenced it.
As you can see, I traveled to Costa Rica on the 21st of May. This was the start of a new adventure.
The days prior to my traveling consisted mainly of my happy, uneventful life. I absolutely perfected the simple life that I had. There were only 3 negative factors that influenced my happiness during this period. I don’t think it had ever been this low. I especially loved spending time with my girlfriend. We both knew we were about to enter yet another long-distance relationship period, so we wanted to make the most of our remaining time together.
Traveling to Costa Rica
I left the Netherlands on the 21st. It was the start of a new adventure, and I was super excited. I had never been to the North American continent before, which only added to my excitement. I absolutely enjoyed the journey to this new continent. Just the idea of traveling made me happier. I first traveled to Panama City, and then continued on a short flight to the capital city of Costa Rica: San José. After a quiet night in a beautiful hotel, I continued my journey to the project site, which was in the South East of the country.
I was very surprised to find out that I was the only person traveling to the area by plane. This meant that I was the only passenger on a small plane with two pilots. This made me feel like some kind of big shot, even though I was only 22 years old at the time. Nonetheless, I enjoyed every moment of my journey from the Netherlands to Costa Rica, and it resulted in a promising start to this new adventure! I especially enjoyed the views from my ‘private’ plane. Costa Rica looked spectacular from above.
As soon as I arrived at the project, my work started to dominate my life. I started working 7 days a week, busting my ass for 80 hours from Monday ’till Sunday.
Based on my previous experience, I knew what to expect. I had dealt with these kind of conditions before in Kuwait. My happiness ratings throughout this previous period were aweful, and I knew it. Therefore, I knew exactly what not to do in order to keep my happiness as high as possible. It was necessary insight, that tracking happiness gifted me.
Where was I going to live?
I was going to be stationed in Limón, a relatively big city in the South East of Costa Rica, on the Caribean coast. The population is about 55.000, which makes it the 2nd biggest city of the country. Before the start of this adventure, I was already warned by my company and colleagues that Limón is not the safest place to work, especially when compared to the rest of the country. Crime rates are among the highest and the area has a bad reputation in general. These circumstances were definitely going to impact my daily life.
“The average homocide count was about 3”
I decided to never run alone in the city. We received weekly sitreps (situation reports) on any violent and risky activity in the area, and the average homocide count was about 3. That’s right, a weekly average murder rate of 3, with a population of only 55.000. Sure, nearly all of these reported homocides were related to organised crime – mostly drug cartels and gangs – but I still wasn’t going to risk my life by running outside on my own. Better safe than sorry!
I was therefore already limited in my passions from the get-go. Running had always been a perfect medicine for stress and relief after a long day at work. I felt pretty bummed out that I was not going to be able to run outside for two months.
Positive happiness factors
I have shown the positive factors of May, 2015 in the chart below.
It’s easy to see what made me the happiest during May, 2015. My relationship was a constant source of happiness. I’ve discussed the state of my relationship in the previous Monthly Happiness Reports, so I’ll not further discuss this happiness factor in this post. I was very happy to spend time with my lovely girlfriend.
Work started out just like it had in Kuwait: exciting! I was again thrilled to work on another new and big project. I knew it was going to be tough, but was looking forward to the new experiences I would gain.
The first week on the job did not dissapoint. I genuinly liked my work during, and it positively increased my happiness on just about every single day.
Just like in Kuwait, I worked from 07:00 to at least 19:00. I had to be in the office 7 days a week, but luckily for me the workload on Sunday was very small. I was usually able to finish my tasks before the end of the morning, which allowed me to relax and enjoy my free time once a week. This was a very welcome change of pace, as the Sundays turned into the happiest days during my time in Costa Rica. But I will cover more on that in the next Monthly Happiness Report.
The last Sunday of the month was especially nice, because my colleagues and I went rafting on the Rio Pacuare. This day was amazing, despite a small communicational issue (on my part) with my girlfriend. We rafted on the Rio Pacuare for about 5 hours and crossed beautiful scenes of nature. It was the first rafting I did ever since my experience in New Zealand, and I freaking loved it again. These Sundays definitely made it easier for me to deal with 80 hour work weeks.
So I was working in a pretty shady city in Costa Rica. Therefore, I didn’t consider running outside as a safe option. Was I going to lose access to one of my biggest passions? How was I going to survive this period without any physical exercise to blow off some steam after long work days?
That’s where my brother – who is the fittest guy I know – came in and forwarded me a great exercise routine. This routine contained simple floor exercises, that I was easily able to do within my safe bedroom. It consisted of push-ups, sit-ups, burpees, mountain climbers, bridges, and other full body exercises. On their own, these exercises were quite dull, but my brother insisted that I kept track of some kind of leaderboard. I was not only challenging myself this way, but also my brother. This did not make the physical excercise any easier for me, but it definitely helped me stay motivated!
I made sure to exercise as much as possible, ideally once every day. This would not only keep me physically fit, but it would also allow me to blow off steam after each demanding day of work. My past experience had already proven the positive effects of exercising on my mentality and happiness, so I wasn’t going to simply ignore it. I made sure to prioritize my exercising routine! I slowly started to treat it like it was something sacred to me. This greatly increased my happiness during my time spent in Costa Rica.
Negative happiness factors
The chart below shows the factors that negatively influenced my happiness throughout May, 2015.
Only 2 factors negatively influenced my happiness on 7 occasions. That’s actually a new record! I think I did a very good job at avoiding these negative factors, despite the challenging conditions.
Let’s quickly calculate the monthly overall happiness ratio of my ratings here. Dividing 66 positive happiness factors by 7 negative happiness factors results in a happiness ratio of 6,5! Holy cow. I don’t believe it has ever been this high before.
Not too tired?
The biggest negative factor on my happiness was my tiredness, which lowered my happiness on four days. I honestly think this is not bad at all. I traveled to Costa Rica on the 21st, and started working 12 hours per day immediately as I arrived on the project. I literally had no time to unpack my suitcase, let alone adjust to the new time zone.
With that in mind, I think it’s quite impressive that the tiredness only influenced my happiness on 4 days. It could have been a lot worse!
I was determined to not make the same mistakes that I had made in Kuwait just months earlier. More specifically, I was not going to sacrifice my sleep for short term happiness. I forced myself to get sufficient amounts of sleep, even when I sometimes didn’t really want to call it a day yet.
In Kuwait, I had made the decision to sacrifice my sleep in order to stay awake longer and therefore to enjoy more time on my own. As a result, I crashed and burned out when my body and mental fitness couldn’t cope with the sleep deprivation anymore. In Costa Rica, I made sure to not fall into the same trap again.
I was tired on only 4 days, despite a jetlag of 6 hours. At the time, I knew my strategy was working! As I’m writing this post, I cannot wait to analyse the effect of sleep deprivation on happiness. I have not only tracked my happiness for multiple years, I’ve also tracked my sleep data.
And with that I want to wrap it up again. May, 2015 was an amazing month for me, despite starting a new, challenging adventure in Costa Rica. My strategy on staying as happy as possible seemed to be working, and I was excited to find out what June had in store for me!
If you have any questions about anything, please let me know in the comments below, and I’ll be happy to answer you!
Founder of Tracking Happiness and lives in the Netherlands. Ran 5 marathons, with one of them in under 4 hours (3:59:58 to be exact). Data junkie and happiness tracker for over 7 years.