Studying My Happiness Journal - Lessons Learned 
Updated 14 August 2019
by Hugo: Founder of Tracking Happiness, marathon runner, data junkie and happiness tracker for almost 6 years.
It's time to study my own happiness journal! With 2018 in the past, I want to study what went right and what went wrong. I've tracked my happiness the entire year - every single day - and now is the time to learn from all this data.
The goal of this post is to learn as much as possible from my numbers. Which things made me the happiest, and which things should I try to avoid going into 2019?
This animation right here shows my (updated) happiness journal for some of my most common happiness factors. You can see on which days my factors had an influence on my happiness, both positively and negatively!
But let's not forget about the goals I set specifically for 2018! I made a similar article at the end of 2017 and created 4 lessons learned that I wanted to focus on in 2018.
Let's see how I did, okay?
Journaling, gratitude, mindfulness, and introspection. What do all these things have in common? It's that they're all significantly correlated to your happiness. Find out more about how you can learn from this in Chapter 4 of the biggest (freely available) guide on how to be happy.
Before diving into the details of this happiness study, I think it's a good idea to first explain what tracking happiness is all about. 🙂
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:
- Rate your happiness every day on a scale from 1 to 10.
- Determine the positive and negative happiness factors that significantly influenced your happiness
- 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. See, 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 "qualities".
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 infinitely more interesting than a daily happiness rating!
Before boring you to death, let's have a look at these "happiness ratings". After all, that's what you're here for, right?
Happiness ratings in 2018
My happiness journal automatically created a calendar view of all my happiness ratings and factors. The image below shows the 365 happiness ratings that I tracked in 2018.
First things first: 2018 was a very happy year for me.
And I'm super grateful for that! Nothing really bad happened, I'm healthy, my parents are healthy, my girlfriend is healthy, my family is healthy. Further, I didn't get run over or lost my job. Luckily, nothing exceptionally bad happened in 2018.
That's a really important thing to know before reading the rest of this post. I'm looking for things to learn from 2018 while already knowing it was a great year for me. This article would look wildly different if something truly awful happened in 2018 (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 happy year.
What's interesting to me here is that Mondays were NOT the worst days of the week for me. In fact, Mondays were rated the third best on average right after Saturdays and Sundays.
I guess I don't hate my work that much, right?
Tuesdays received the lowest happiness ratings on average.
Here's an interactive line graph showing the same results. I've added some context in this chart, so you can see what was happening every month in 2018.
This graph includes a black, dotted line. This line represents the monthly average happiness rating.
One thing I'm always interested in is how much is my happiness influenced by the seasons. I want to find out if summer makes me happier, just like it did for Alex of the Happiness Research Institute.
What were my happiest months in 2018?
Based on the average happiness ratings, the happiest months in 2018 were:
- April (7.98)
- May (7.98)
- December (7.98)
- July (7.95)
- June (7.93)
- October (7.92)
- March (7.90)
- November (7.87)
- February (7.75)
- August (7.72)
- September (7.69)
- January (7.29)
Since the difference in average happiness ratings is so small, I've created the column chart below that amplifies the results a little.
It's impossible to determine how much the seasons influence my happiness from this graph alone. I think the differences are too insignificant to base conclusions off, and other factors have likely had a much bigger effect.
For example, December was such a happy month because I enjoyed a great Christmas break. On the contrary, September (a late Summer month) was relatively unhappy because I was stressed from work and had quite some sleepless nights.
What this shows me is that happiness ratings alone don't do a good job at explaining my happiness.
That's why I also track my happiness factors!
You probably saw the animation at the top of this page, right? It showed a number of my most common happiness factors in 2018. This is a pretty cool feature of my new happiness journal!
Wait... what are happiness factors exactly, you ask?
Happiness factors are things that have a significant influence on my happiness. It can literally be anything: as long as it the thing had a significant influence on my happiness on a daily basis.
Allow me to explain:
If I go to work and I have a terrible day and it stresses me out, then my work is a happiness factor. My happiness was affected by my work, so I know that work is one of my happiness factors.
I consider whether or not a factor had a positive influence or a negative. Being stressed at work is obviously a negative happiness factor while going on a date with my girlfriend usually is a positive happiness factor.
Here's how I've been tracking this data in my happiness journal in 2018:
365 days of happiness factors
You're probably wondering now how many happiness factors I tracked in 2018.
So am I!
Below pie-chart shows a quick overview of how many happiness factors I tracked in 2018.
This is looking promising!
621 positive happiness factors versus 156 negative happiness factors.
What this means is that for every negative happiness factor, there is an average 4 positive happiness keeping me happy. It's probably the reason why 2018 was such a happy year for me!
Here's a bar chart containing every single positive happiness factor I tracked in my happiness journal in 2018:
There's quite a lot of things to learn from this chart already, but that'll be covered later. Let's first have a look at the same chart for my negative happiness factors:
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:
- My relationship
- Being tired and sleep deprived
- Being sick
- Friends & family
- Feeling stressed
- Relaxing (taking it easy)
This is also a good time to look back at what I wanted to do well in 2018. I studied my happiness in 2017 as well and had some targets that I wanted to focus on in 2018. What did I learn from 2017? These were the things I wanted to focus on going into 2018:
- To continue spending quality time with my girlfriend
- To run as much as possible without getting injured
- Take control of my sleep habits
- Take it slow and relax more
I want to find out in this article which things I did well and more importantly, which things I could have done better.
Let's start right away with the best and biggest happiness factor of 2018: my relationship. My relationship was also my biggest focus at the end of 2017. I wanted to continue the great state my relationship was in and savor as much of it as possible.
The image below shows a pixelated overview of when my happiness was positively and negatively influenced by my relationship.
I suppose you want some context, right?
My relationship with my girlfriend is probably the best thing I have in my life. We started dating back in February 2013, and are currently going strong for almost 6 years.
We've also moved into an apartment together right at the start of 2018. You can probably see from the happiness journal that this situation really improved my happiness. Hell, it positively influenced my happiness on 218 days!
What about those 4 red days?
We probably had an argument on those days, which was big enough to negatively influence my happiness. Don't worry, we argue a lot (!) more, but these arguments don't always have a negative impact on my happiness. 🙂
My relationship is as solid as it's ever been. We've endured much more challenging times during our 6 years together, notably caused by all the long-distance periods that we've survived.
All in all, I can easily say that my girlfriend was the biggest source of my happiness in 2018! I feel lucky to have my girlfriend in my life. 🙂
(I'm not just saying these things because my girlfriend might be reading this and will get pissed if I don't. I promise! Heeeeeeelp meeeee)
By the way, those average numbers you see at the bottom of my happiness journal calendar (for my relationship, that's 0.81, 0.66 etc):
Those are calculated by taking the positive number of happiness factors and subtracting the negative happiness factors. That number is then divided by the total number of days.
For example, 81% of all the Sundays were positively influenced by my girlfriend.
Let's continue with the next big happiness factor.
In case you didn't know yet: I freaking love to run.
It's not that I am super fast or competitive or something like that. No, I just love to go out there and explore on foot while challenging my body. It's why I signed up for my 5th marathon in April 2019.
I wanted to run as much as possible in 2018 without getting injured. Let's see how I did!
I think I succeeded pretty well here.
I ran 782 kilometers in 2018 and averaged about 2.3 runs per week. And I really enjoyed it too.
Looking at the calendar of my happiness journal, I spot 2 gaps of running. Luckily, these were not caused by injuries. Let me explain:
- January was super busy because my girlfriend and I moved in together and I came down with a pretty big fever.
- I spent 4 weeks in September and October traveling through Vietnam with my girlfriend.
I had to rebuild most of my stamina, endurance, and speed in 2018. After recovering from my big injury, it felt like I had to start at zero again.
I eventually signed up for and completed a half marathon on the 16th of September, which went more than okay (finished in 01:48:30). Right after finishing, I signed up for the Rotterdam Marathon of 2019.
Yes, I'm ready to make 2019 an even better year for running! More about these goals later in this post. 🙂
The third goal that I wanted to reach in 2018 was to take control of my sleep habits.
My biggest negative happiness factor in 2017 was Tired (meaning I was so tired, it significantly affected my happiness). I wanted to change that in 2018!
Unfortunately, I have to admit defeat here. I was still tired a lot in 2018. In fact, it was again my biggest negative happiness factor.
I was tired on 43 days in 2018. That's about 12% of the time, which is a little worrying to me.
What's even worse is that I suffered from a bit of insomnia in 2018 as well. Didn't I want to take control of my sleep habits? This was a massive fail since I spent quite a couple of nights frustratingly staring at the ceiling unable to sleep!
This is something I really want to focus on in 2019: I'm noticing that sleep is becoming more and more important for my happiness. It's time I take control of it and steer it in the best direction possible!
That said, being tired is not necessarily a bad thing.
Of course, being tired is to be avoided, but what if you're tired for the right reasons? For example, feeling tired after a very productive day or a great day of traveling? If I never want to be tired again, it means I have to prioritize sleep over anything. And that probably won't result in me being the happiest. Because sometimes, traveling, working hard or going out on late night dates with the girlfriend is worth the feeling of being tired!
Being sick is something every person deals with from time to time. That includes me. It's not always something I can avoid, but when it happens, it has quite a big impact on my happiness.
It's the biggest negative happiness factor in my happiness prediction model! My happiness usually declines with about 3 whole points on sick days!
Being sick negatively influenced my happiness on 25 days in 2018. Here's all of them:
25 days of being sick is a bit too much for me. Quite frankly, I'm sick of being sick that often! (pun intended, sorry, I'll show myself out now...)
What can I do about this? Actually, two things!
- I need to take things easier (getting better sleep, stressing less, exercising more, and relaxing more) in order to strengthen my immune system.
- I need to get a flu shot
Well, I actually already had my flu shot! I got my shot on the 19th of November (week 47).
Good news, I didn't get sick after getting my shot! Hopefully, I'll get less sick in 2019, but I know I can only really influence that by maintaining a healthy life.
Here's one of the more interesting happiness factors: work.
I've been working as an engineer for well over 4 years now. During this time, my career has been interesting, fun, frustrating, boring, and exciting. It's been like this every single year, and 2018 was no exception.
Here's how work has influenced my happiness in 2018:
What I see here is that my work was pretty nice for most of 2018. Unfortunately, this slowly changed the last couple of months.
Well, my work is mostly in renewable energy. This market is currently booming. The amount of wind farms in the North Sea is exploding, and my employer obviously wants a piece of that cake. However, engineers are currently not easy to find, so our relatively small team has not grown as much as the market demands.
Therefore, I feel like I've been running at 150% for the last couple of months. On some days, this really drains my energy up to the point where I'm just a broken mess. That happened a little too often in the last months of the year, and I want to do something about it.
Specifically, I want to say NO more often. It's going to be difficult, but my own happiness needs to be prioritized over the happiness of my managers, colleagues, CEO, and especially our clients. Fuck them! (not really, I'm sorry)
It's going to be interesting to see this one develop in 2019!
Friends and family
They say happiness is only real when shared.
That's why I feel extremely lucky to have a loving family and a small group of close friends that I cherish.
Below images show the pixelated happiness factors of Friends and Family.
I really like this one since there was not a single day in 2018 that was negatively influenced by either my friends or my family!
I'm also happy that I got to spend quite some quality time with these people. What's funny here is that my friends were mostly having a positive effect on my weekends, when I'm not working. Fridays and Sundays were most often spent with friends.
These days were also spent with the family a lot (both my own family and my girlfriends family). Wednesday is a funny outlier here. If you have a look, you'll see that I enjoyed the company of my family on 21% of the Wednesdays, which is similar to my weekend days! This is because my girlfriend and I tried to have dinner at our parents on Wednesdays a lot!
I definitely want to continue these great habits in 2019! Let's see if I can create a similar-looking happiness journal this year! 🙂
Feeling stressed was the 2nd biggest negative happiness factor in 2017, and I obviously wanted to change that in 2018.
Unfortunately, I again have to admit defeat here. Feeling stressed had a negative influence on my happiness on 27 days in 2018, compared to 23 days in 2017.
This one is closely related to my work. I work at least 40 hours a week since that's what I'm paid for. However, I sometimes need to work more when deadlines and chaos happen. As explained before, this happened a little too often for my liking in 2018. As a result, I became stressed.
Add to that the increasingly busier roads that I have to commute on and you have a perfect storm. I start my days early - I wake up at 6 AM - to avoid the rush. But in November and December, the traffic in the Netherlands was just chaos. This made me feel stressful quite often, especially after crashing my car in August...
It's funny how this feeling of stress becomes more common the closer I got to Friday. My stress levels are obviously higher on weekdays versus weekend days. But there's a small incline in stress that happens over the course of a workweek. I felt stressed on 8% of the Mondays while this almost doubled to 15% on Fridays!
How am I going to prevent this from happening more often - or even becoming worse - in 2019?
Easy. I'm going to focus on making my life as easy as possible. That means saying NO a lot more often at work, but it also covers more aspects of my life. I want to focus on doing the following things in 2019:
- Working less hard to build this website (Tracking Happiness)
- Setting fewer and smaller goals, instead of pushing myself to the (psychological) limit
- Meditating more often
- Sleeping better
- Relaxing more
I think these are good goals to set out for 2019. 🙂 And that brings me to the last happiness factor I want to share with you.
Relaxing is quite the opposite as feeling stressed. I think relaxing is a great way to deal with (or completely avoid) feeling stressed. That's why I want to cover relaxing as a happiness factor in this study.
Actually, relaxing is quite a funny happiness factor, as it covers a broad range of activities that I consider too insignificant to deserve their own happiness factor (unlike running, gaming or playing music).
So whenever relaxing is tracked as a positive happiness factor in my happiness journal, it could mean a combination of the following activities:
- Watching Netflix
- Watching soccer
- Browsing the internet
- Reading Reddit
- Watching silly Youtube videos
Here's how much relaxing I did in 2018:
This brings a smile to my face! As you can see, 2018 was already quite a successful year for my "Relaxing department". I especially enjoyed a lot of relaxing on the weekends, which makes total sense to me.
I'll be happy to see a similar-looking happiness journal in 2019.
That brings me to the most important part of this happiness study: how will I use this newfound knowledge to make 2019 an even happier year?
Lessons learned: how can I make 2019 a happier year?
What should I be focusing on in 2019 if I want to make it an even happier year?
That's the question I want to answer here, before wrapping up this yearly happiness study. To answer this question specifically, I will list things that I need to start, continue and stop.
Most of the lessons learned have already been discussed in the previous sections. Here's what I'll be focusing on in 2019:
In 2019, I want to start:
- Meditating weekly
- Saying NO more often at work
- Relaxing more
- Sleeping better
In 2019, I want to continue:
- Spending quality time with my girlfriend!
- Spending time with my friends and family!
- To run as much as possible while having fun. (maybe run 1,000 kilometers in 2019?
In 2019, I want to stop:
- Stressing over stuff that I can't influence (like traffic, weather, etc)
- Setting too ambitious goals
- Working on and worrying about this website so much (I overthink it)
This is my plan for making 2019 an even happier year! Let's check back next year and see how I did!
If you want to start tracking your happiness in your own happiness journal, then you can use my templates right away (for free!).
All the data that I show in this article is created by my happiness journal! Before you know it, you'll be able to look back on your own happiness journal and learn invaluable lessons from it as well!
You can be happier. Discover how with my free template!
- Track your happiness every day
- Learn more about what makes you happy
- Receive my custom template for free
With that said, I want to close the books on 2018!
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!
Who runs Tracking Happiness?
My name is Hugo, and I'm from the Netherlands. I have a Bachelor's Degree in Engineering, a passion for data and statistical analysis and am an expert in happiness.
I've tracked my happiness every day for 5 years in a row. And I'm now using my knowledge to inspire you to prioritize your happiness. You see, I'm a strong believer in what gets measured gets managed. I want to show you what I - and many others - have learned while tracking our happiness.
My Happiness Essays have reached thousands of people around the world and have been shared in many places.
With my data, I have inspired hundreds of others to also track their happiness. And I'm hoping this number will only grow more!