Wouldn’t it be great if happiness could last forever? How can I make my happy feelings last as long as possible? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and wanted to see how long a feeling of happiness can last. Is it possible to be happy for weeks, months, or even years in a row? I’ve decided to take a data-driven approach in order to answer this question.
So just how long can happiness last? The truth is that happiness is finite. It’s impossible to be happy now and remain happy for the rest of your lives. My longest streak of exceptionally happy days has lasted 29 days. But the average streak of happy days actually only lasts 3 days before my happiness returns to average or even turns into sadness. This obviously differs from person to person, but the fundamental answer remains the same: eternal happiness does not exist.
This article combines my own personal happiness journal data with additional research that I’ve done in order to give you the best answer. After reading this, you will have a clear idea of how long your happiness may realistically last on average.
What is happiness exactly? What is there to learn about happiness? This article is a part of the most in-depth guide on how to be happy, which answers these questions in the first section: What Is Happiness?
Happiness doesn’t last forever
Even the happiest person alive will at some point feel unhappy. It’s because happiness and sadness are emotions that are constantly evolving and moving up and down in our lives. There is no happiness without a little sadness every once in a while.
Because happiness is influenced by countless factors. A lot of these factors are outside our influence of control. No matter how hard we try, our happy lives are at some point going to be affected by a negative factor.
Think about these examples:
- The weather
- The health of the people we love
- Our job security
- The moment you get a flat tire
- Your flight is delayed with 3 hours
- Getting struck by lightning
Okay, maybe that last example can be avoided, but you get the point, right? Our happiness can’t always be shielded from these external factors. We can try to keep a positive mindset while disaster strikes, but that won’t keep you happy all the time.
You’re better off accepting that eternal happiness is a myth. You can’t be happy all your life.
This answers the first part of our main question – how long can happiness last? – because we know that it doesn’t last forever. That’s a start! 🙂
How long does my own happiness last?
The next step in my research was to have a close look at my own personal happiness.
Let’s imagine that we sit together on the subway and we start talking about happiness. Eventually, you start asking me questions:
Q: how long can happiness last?
A: After having researched my own happiness, my best estimate would be 3 days.
Q: Wait… How do you know this?
A: Because I was bitten by a special kind of spider when I was a kid, and now I possess the power of knowing all there is about happiness.
A: No, I’ve just been keeping a personal happiness journal! 🙂
My personal happiness journal
I’ve been tracking my happiness for over 5 years by now, which I do inside my personal happiness journal.
What does this mean? It means I spend 2 minutes every day to reflect on my day:
- How happy was I on a scale from 1 to 10?
- What factors had a significant effect on my rating?
- I clear my head by jotting down all my thoughts in my happiness journal.
This allows me to constantly learn from my evolving life. For example, here’s how I’ve rated my happiness during the last month:
I’ve been tracking my happiness like this for over 5 years now, which means I have a lot of data that I can learn from. More interestingly, I can use a little mathematics to try and answer this question of how long my own happiness lasts.
- How? By looking at streaks of happy days.
- What is a streak of happy days? I’ve defined it as a continuing series of days which I rated with an 8 or higher on my happiness scale.
- Why an 8? Because that’s my arbitrary threshold for defining a happy day.
This histogram shows the duration of every single streak of happy days within my set of data.
How should you interpret this histogram?
You can see that 24% of my happiness streaks are not really streaks at all since they only last 1 day. What this means is that if I experience a really happy day, then there’s a 24% chance that the next day will return back to “normal” (aka a happiness rating lower than an 8). However, there’s a 16% chance that my streak will last one more day.
My longest streak of consecutive happy days has lasted 29 days. This fantastic streak started on the 9th of July 2015 and ended on the 7th of August. I spent most of this period on a holiday in Croatia with my girlfriend. This streak of happy days was a clear outlier, though. The average happy streak lasts only 3 days. So whenever I feel happy, it is reasonable to assume that this happiness will last 3 days on average.
This obviously depends on an endless list of factors which are impossible to quantify. I also don’t expect you to have similar results. That’s because our definition of happiness is unique for every single person. What I define as happy does not necessarily mean happiness to you. It’s what makes happiness such an interesting concept.
So how long does my own happiness generally last? The best answer I can give you is 3 days.
How long does my sadness last?
My happiness journal is easily exported to a spreadsheet, so I can do all kinds of fun analysis with my data. When creating this post, I really had to put a leash on my inner-geek. This article would have been triple as long if I didn’t.
However, I did analyze one more thing: how long does my sadness last?
This is very similar to my happy streak definition.
- How? By looking at streaks of sad days
- What is a streak of sad days? I’ve defined it as a continuing series of days which I rated with a 5.5 or lower.
- Why a 5.5? Because – again – that’s my threshold for defining a sad day.
This histogram looks pretty different from the first one, right?
That’s a good thing because it shows that my sadness generally doesn’t last as long as my happiness does. In fact, over 50% of my sadness lasts only 1 day. This means that whenever I feel unhappy, there’s a good chance that I will not feel sad again the next day!
The longest streak of sad days over the past 5 years was back in November 2015, when my girlfriend and I were in a terrible long-distance relationship.
Why am I tracking my happiness?
Simple, because I am a huge nerd and my goal in life is to create histograms of abstract data…
I track my happiness because I want to continuously steer my life in the best direction possible. Everybody wants to be the happiest for as long as possible, right? Unfortunately, eternal happiness just doesn’t exist. Happiness and sadness co-exist and there’s nothing that we can do about that.
But what if I told you that we can actually influence how happy we are?
I’m not saying that you should look in a mirror and convince yourself that you’re happy by repeating the phrase “I am happy” 37 times. No, I’m trying to say that you can influence what factors you allow to affect your happiness. From tracking my happiness, I’ve learned that my relationship, running and my friends are one of my biggest positive happiness factors.
This is just one of the maaaany things that I’ve learned from tracking my happiness. You can see a lot of other very interesting stuff that I’ve learned in my data-driven Happiness Essays.
By learning everything I can about my happiness, I can purposefully steer my life in the best direction possible.
And I believe you can do the same.
So how long does my happiness generally last? My personal answer is 3 days, but that’s only my current best guess. This answer obviously differs from person to person and from time to time.
I consider myself to be a happy person, and that’s supported by the fact that my sadness generally doesn’t last as long as my happiness. 🙂
Now, I want to hear more from you! How long does happiness last for you? What has been your longest streak of happy days? Let me know a personal story or anecdote about something that made you happy! I’d love to hear all about it in the comments!
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.