Happiness Review 2019 – Summary Of My Journal & Lessons Learned

Hugo
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Last updated on October 3, 2020

Now that 2019 is officially over, it’s time to have a final look at my personal happiness journal. This is something I’ve done for over 5 years already since I want to take my lessons from last year to hopefully make this next one an even happier year! Let’s take one final look at the data before archiving 2019!

This post will reveal my biggest happiness factors of 2019, and how they influenced my happiness. This includes my work, relationship, family, mental health, physical health, you name it. If there’s anything I can do to make 2020 a happier year, I’m all in.

To start things off, I’ve created a simple line chart of every single daily happiness rating of 2019. While already interesting, this chart alone tells me nothing. The rest of this article will reveal exactly what I plan to do differently in 2020.

happiness ratings 2019 with comments 2

Table of contents

Obligatory introduction

As always, it’s a good idea to first introduce the concept of Tracking Happiness here. If you’re new to this, it’s actually really simple!

Tracking Happiness is something I started doing at the end of 2013. I wanted to know how my happiness moved on a daily level. Logically, I also wanted to know which factors made my happiness move.

Thus the simple method of Tracking Happiness was born. It’s super simple, and based on 3 steps:

  1. Rate your happiness every day on a scale from 1 to 10.
  2. Determine the positive and negative happiness factors that significantly influenced your happiness
  3. Keep it up!

That last step sounds pretty silly, no?

I don’t think so.

In fact, it’s arguably the most important step in this process, since a single happiness rating has practically no value. Measuring happiness is something that has been tried many times, but a fully objective approach has never been created. That’s because it doesn’t exist.

Objectively measuring happiness is impossible, because it’s something emotional and psychological. We are not robots and are thus influenced by biases, emotions and gut feelings. Every night – when I rate my happiness before going to bed – I am seriously influenced by these human “flaws”.

For that reason, happiness ratings are only valuable when they come in bulk. It’s the day-to-day (or month-to-month) happiness movement that’s valuable.

How happy was I in 2019?

This is one of my favorite questions in the world. “How happy are you?” Whenever people ask this question, they expect an answer along the lines of “I’m pretty happy”, or “It could be better”. However, when I get asked this question, I’m pretty quick to blurt out a number that’s accurate to 2 decimal places. This usually raises some funny follow-up questions.

So how happy was I in 2019?

Well, on average, I rated my happiness with a 7.68 on a scale from 1 to 10.

I am aware that happiness cannot really be quantified this accurately, because it’s all biased data that’s heavily questionable. But I still like this give answers like these for 2 reasons:

  1. It is the best answer I can give. If I hadn’t tracked my happiness every day in 2019, I would answer this question with something like “hmm, probably somewhere between a 7.5 and an 8.0. Not any higher though, but certainly above a 7.
  2. I get to see their reaction, which is often interesting because no one expects such an accurate answer.

The follow-up question is usually something along the lines of:

“So, what, you’ve been keeping track of your happiness every single day, like some kind of weirdo robot?”

To which my answer can be summarized in this GIF:

Based on 365 happiness ratings, my average happiness level was 7.68 on a scale from 1 to 10. For your information, this is how 2019 compares to other years:

My happiness calendar

As usual, my happiness journal automatically creates a calendar view of all my happiness ratings. This calendar shows “bad days” in red. What are bad days, you ask? Bad days are days where I rated my happiness with a 5.5 or lower.

happiness review rating calendar 2019 1

First things first: 2019 was a good year for me. I consider a 7.68 on a scale from 1 to 10 to be pretty good.

Funnily enough, out of all the years that I tracked my happiness, I was only less happy in 2015.

The thing is, I consider myself to be very happy, and I’m super grateful for that! Everything bad that happened to me in 2019 pales in comparison to some of the things other people have to deal with. I’m healthy, my parents are healthy, my girlfriend is healthy, my family is healthy, I didn’t get run over, break my back or accidentally killed someone. Luckily, nothing exceptionally bad happened in 2019.

This is crucial to know before reading the rest of this post. I’m looking for things to learn from 2019 while already knowing it was a pretty good year for me. This article would look wildly different if something truly awful happened in 2019 (like losing my parents, my girlfriend, or getting seriously sick or something of that magnitude).

That said, I still want to learn as much as possible from this year.

The first thing you noticed in my happiness calendar was probably that crappy period that started in week 34 and lasted until week 37?

Here’s what happened: I had to work on one of my employer’s projects in Russia, which coincidentally went to shit on the exact moment I arrived. What followed was maybe the most shitty period of my life, ever. Clicking this link will take you to my monthly happiness journal update of that time. I’m re-reading it now as I’m writing this, and I can’t help but laugh at myself and how fucking miserable I was.

What’s interesting to notice in this calendar is that I was much happier on weekends than during the workweek. This was already the case last year, but the difference is actually growing.

Spoiler alert: this is caused by my increasing dislike of my work (more on that later).

What were my happiest months in 2019?

Based on the average happiness ratings, the happiest months in 2019 were:

  1. May (8.15)
  2. February (7.93)
  3. April (7.88)
  4. March (7.87)
  5. July (7.73)
  6. December (7.74)
  7. November (7.72)
  8. June (7.70)
  9. October (7.55)
  10. September (7.38)
  11. January (7.25)
  12. August (7.03)

May is clearly the winner here, which can be attributed to a surprise birthday weekend to Edinburgh with my girlfriend, beautiful weather and lovely relaxing days. It may have been one of the best months of my life.

Since the difference in average happiness ratings is so small, I’ve created the column chart below that amplifies the results a little.

Happiness factors

Let’s continue with my happiness factors. These are the things I write down at the end of each day that significantly influenced my happiness.

I suppose this chart below explains it best, which shows every single positive happiness factor in 2019:

And here’s the same chart, but now with just the negative happiness factors of 2019:

From these lists of happiness factors, I am going to focus on the most commonly occurring factors. The factors that I think I can learn the most from are:

  1. My relationship
  2. Relaxing & taking it easy
  3. My work

But even more so than any of these factors, I want to also focus on something bigger. Something that I’ve discussed in this article about stepping out of your comfort zone. More on that later!

1. My relationship

As with any other year, my relationship was my biggest source of happiness in 2019.

I’ve said it a lot of times already, but I love my girlfriend and she makes my life so much better. It almost sounds cheesy to repeat this every month, but I just don’t want to take this relationship for granted. I feel lucky to have her in my life and wouldn’t want to imagine what it’d be like if it was any different.

Here’s how often my relationship made me happier, plotted over a calendar of 2019.

relationship happiness calendar 2019

What’s funny here is that my relationship had a negative effect on some days (5) in 2019. This usually came down to my girlfriend and I having an argument that wasn’t resolved that same day. Trust me, my girlfriend and I have many more arguments, but since most of these get resolved right away they don’t actually have a negative impact on my happiness that day.

We’ve survived much more difficult years in our relationship (cough couch 2015 cough cough).

2. Relaxing & taking it easy

At the end of 2018, I challenged myself to worry less and relax more.

How did I manage?

  • In 2018, I was feeling too much stress on 28 days. In 2019, I felt stressed on 38 days. Crap.
  • In 2018, I felt really relaxed for 100 days. In 2019, I was able to relax on 107 days. Yay.

Here are both these happiness factors visualized on calendars again:

relaxing stressing happiness calendar 2019

What can I learn from this data?

I need to find a way to live my life less stressful. 

I think I’ve become pretty good at relaxing. For me, relaxing means one of the following things:

  • Reading
  • Watching Netflix
  • Watching soccer game recaps
  • Drawing
  • Browsing the internet
  • Reading Reddit
  • Watching silly Youtube videos
  • etc

This is something I definitely want to continue going into 2020! I want to become an expert in relaxing.

However, I still need to try to steer my life in a direction where there is less stress. But how can I do such a thing?

You might’ve guessed it: my work.

3. My work

Let’s cut to the chase right away. I’ve started to hate my work over the past year.

Let me explain with some context. Back in 2018, I described my job as follows:

I work an office job as an engineer. More specifically, I work at a big contractor in the field of offshore & marine engineering. You may have noticed how the North Sea is quickly seeing a lot of development of offshore wind farms. This market is currently booming, and the demand for construction projects is rising sharply.

Naturally, my employer wants to have a piece of that cake. So my colleagues and I are running around the office trying to make beautiful plans that can convince our potential clients to award these construction projects to us.

These plans are always created under the following conditions:

  • Not enough time
  • A strict deadline (if you’re a minute too late, your effort goes to the special filing cabinet, a.k.a. the trashcan)
  • Not enough info
  • Not enough capacity/resources

Unfortunately, my employer has never properly addressed the issue of not having enough resources. Therefore, my workload has exponentially increased, up to the point where I’ve grown to dread my work.

If you go back to my happiness ratings, you can see a big dip in happiness somewhere between August and September. That was entirely caused by my work, and it was perhaps the most miserable period of my life. A lot of other dips are also caused by my work, and they are all connected to stress, mismanagement and draining procedures.

I’ve tried to be an advocate for positive change, but have so far not seen any results. This worried me a lot in 2019, especially since I’ve always been good at my job and I generally liked my career.

That’s not the case anymore, as you can see in the calendar below:

my work happiness calendar 2019

This brings me to my next point.

Something much bigger needs to change…

Okay, I’m aware that this sounds a little vague. Something big needs to change… but what then?

It’s something me and my girlfriend have been thinking about for a loooong time, but we’ve finally made the decision:

We’re taking a “sabbatical” in 2020. 

I’ve talked about it in this article already, but what it comes down to is this:

Our plan is to travel to the USA and Canada and road trip/van-dwell for an entire year, starting in September 2020.

What does this mean?

  • We have to resign from our jobs.
  • We have to leave our apartment (so we’ll be basically homeless).
  • We’ll have to get rid of both our cars.
  • We’ll put our relationship to the test since we’ll be traveling together pretty much 24/7 (we’ve obviously never done this before).
  • We’ll be left with no income for a year, and no guarantee of a job on return.

In theory, these are all things that we could stress over during 2020. However, my girlfriend and I feel completely ready for these challenges, because the truth is:

  • We’ve been saving money for a long time already, and have carefully planned this sabbatical.
  • We are still young, and losing a year of career development is not the end of the world. In fact, a lot of people our age are just now finishing university, and they all turn out fine! And even then, no one is able to predict the future. A lot of people invest heavily in a certain career or degree only to get pushed out when a market crashes.
  • Yes, our relationship might also crash, but that’s always a possibility anyway, whether we’re at home or not.
  • Yes, we may get sick, but again, that’s always possible, even when you’re safely tucked away in your bubble of happiness.

What we’ve learned, is that there are always going to be reasons not to do this kind of thing. But in the end, you only need one good reason to go. For me, I have plenty of reasons to go, and with my job being miserable lately, these reasons are only amplified.

That, and I’m absolutely 100% sure that I’ll never regret this decision. Even if our sabbatical doesn’t work out as planned, we’ll never regret trying it.

Either way, my girlfriend and I are going to make a huge change in our lives in 2020. This makes it all the more interesting to keep track of my happiness throughout these life-altering times!

Lessons learned in 2019

The main goal of this end-of-year review is to learn from my personal journal. I want to use this data to steer my life in a better direction, and what better moment to do so than now?

That’s why I’m taking a moment here to plan for the next year. How can I make 2020 a happier year?

Start, stop & continue

At the end of 2018, I planned my year according to 3 activity categories:

  • Start
  • Continue
  • Stop

I wanted to continue doing the things I already did well, I wanted to start doing things that I thought I could improve, and I wanted to stop certain negative things from affecting my happiness.

Here’s that same format, only now based on the things I learned in 2019.

In 2020, I want to start…:

  • Living a free life, away from a 9 to 5 office job.

Even though this change is temporary (our savings will eventually run dry), I can’t wait to exit the rat race in 2020. I want to step out of the busy life and enjoy a simple life in a way that I’ve not been able to for as long as I can remember. This will easily be the most drastic change in 2020, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how this works out.

In 2020, I want to continue…:

  • Trying new things more often.

This is something that has gone pretty well in 2019, especially in the second half. For example, I picked up skateboarding again out of nowhere and immediately fell in love with it. I also tried other new things, like drawing, cycling and cooking more “exotic” dishes. These are small changes that have a great influence on my life. I want to continue this habit of curiosity, and I have a feeling this won’t be difficult given the fact that we’re taking a sabbatical.

  • Spending money carefully and intentionally.

I’ve always been diligent with my finances, as I try to make the most of every dollar. In 2020, this is going to be an even more important aspect of my life, as my girlfriend and I will lose our steady incomes. Without a proper plan and budget, this would freak me out. But I have a feeling that this will work out just fine if I manage to keep a cool head and maintain financial sanity.

  • Spending quality time with my girlfriend.

I believe my relationship with my girlfriend is so good because we are both willing to put in the work. We go the extra mile for each other, and this is something that has to continue in 2020, especially with these big changes coming up.

  •  Staying physically active.

Let me be honest here: my hobbies keep me in shape, mainly running and lately skateboarding. I am a big eater, and if I were to stop these physical activities, I’m sure I’d gain weight quickly. I don’t want this to happen in 2020, so I definitely want to continue to stay physically active. I don’t think I’ll run another marathon in 2020, but I do hope to continue skateboarding and going on the occasional long-distance run.

In 2020, I want to stop…:

  • Letting my happiness be influenced by my work.

This is a big one. My work has easily been the worst happiness factor in 2019 for me, and I want to change that in 2020. Of course, this will all be resolved once I put in my notice and leave my employer, but that will only be somewhere around June 2020. This means that I have a good 6 months left that I need to weather out. This year, I want to stop letting my happiness be influenced by my work!

There you have it. This is my plan for making 2020 an even happier year!

With that said, I want to close the books on 2019!

If you want to find out more about my happiness journal for a specific month, please use these links below to navigate to my monthly happiness reports!

See you next year! 🙂

hugo huyer author of tracking happiness small

Hugo Huijer

Founder

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 6 years.

4 thoughts on “Happiness Review 2019 – Summary Of My Journal & Lessons Learned”

    • Thanks Adam. 🙂 Do you still struggle with work now that you’re retired, or do you mean other types of work?

      I’m hoping to temporarily “unlink” my happiness from work completely in 2020. 🙂

      Reply
      • > Do you still struggle with work now that you’re retired, or do you mean other types of work?

        It’s roughly the same actually. Before “success” was a combination of work + side projects + any personal projects. Now it’s often just the last two. Trying untie success from that and being happy with a day I just hang out with my wife, watch some TV and walk my dog has been a struggle after a lifetime of conditioning to think productivity = success.

        I was watching a random youtube video (John Harris I think) who was talking about life in a small village in Switzerland. No one was pursuing “side hustles” to be happy – they were just living life. That’s a hard mindset to get into after growing up in our work-focused culture, but it’s what I’m striving for!

        Reply

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