The Secret to Happiness

What makes you happy? When are you most energized and productive? We all have vague notions about the answers to these questions, but what if data could provide us deeper insights to help us be happier and more successful versions of ourselves?

This June, Pebble launched the Happiness App, an experimental app that enables users to record their mood and energy levels throughout the day. In the days following the Happiness App release, nearly 10k users installed the app and started logging their responses!

So what makes people happy?

For most people, happiness was a tank that was slowly filled throughout the day, with a happiness peak at lunchtime and then a sharp peak in the evening at 7pm. This is the hour when people are most likely to be spending quality time at home with loved ones, or hanging out with friends and decompressing from the day. The data clearly demonstrates the emotional value that this “happy” hour brings to people! Furthermore, this is not the first time that research has postulated 7pm to be the happiest hour of the day. A prior study assessed happiness in 20 countries around the world, and found that 7pm was an overwhelmingly happy time (1).

In assessing the impact of company and location on happiness, we found that users recorded the best moods when they were in the company of friends, significant others (SO), and family. “Social events” was also found to be the happiest location.

The emotional impact of socialization is not a novel concept. Previous research suggests that supremely happy people are highly social and more extroverted than less happy individuals (2). Similarly, the world’s longest study on happiness had the following take-away message:

“Good relationships keep us happier and healthier, period.”

Cheers to Happiness

After looking at mood scores as a function of an individuals’ activities during the prior hour, we found that alcohol was the strongest predictor of high happiness scores. So… bottoms up? Not necessarily. It is well-known that alcohol makes people happier in the moment… key phrase being in the moment, since it is also well-established that the happiness effect of alcohol is only short-lived, without evidence for a longer-term impact on wellbeing (3). Strong predictors of happiness in our data also included yoga, exercise, socializing, and meditation… all things that are extremely healthy and mood-inducing both in the moment and beyond!

The Bump and the Slump

While happiness is central to one’s general well-being, it has also been shown to have a direct impact on one’s energy and productivity (4). As we have discussed previously, energy and alertness is closely tied to the body clock that follows a 24-hour cycle (5). Most adults experience a high point of biological alertness in the late morning that declines into the afternoon, resulting in high susceptibility to distractions between the hours of 12–4pm, the so-called “afternoon slump” (6-7). Furthermore, evidence also suggest that alertness can take a dip after eating a meal (7).

Results from the Happiness App demonstrate all of these phenomena! We see peak alertness in the morning, the post-meal slump after lunch, and finally the distractible (low energy) period from 1–4pm. The energy bump ~7pm is likely attributed to excitement of post-work activities and spending time with friends and loved ones (i.e. a HAPPY bump energy-emotion interaction!). Finally, there is a quick energy decline as the internal clock determines that it is time for sleep.

Let the Good Vibes Flow

People were most energized after yoga and exercise, followed by socializing, alcohol, caffeine, and meditation. We all know that that yoga, exercise, and meditation are immensely valuable for long-term wellness. Now we can also see that these activities will have powerful short-term benefits as well, since individuals reported such high energy scores directly after finishing the activity! Personally, I have found this supremely motivating for getting out the door to yoga class.

So why should you be interested in thinking about your energy? Just think how valuable it would be to make more informed decisions about your day! When are you most alert, creative, thinking constructively, and able to tackle difficult issues? Tony Schwartz of the Energy Project argues that “manag[ing] your energy, not your time” holds the greatest potential for productivity (8). According to Schwartz, the core problem with working longer hours is that time is a finite resource. Energy is a different story. Defined in physics as the capacity to work, energy comes from four main wellsprings in human beings: the body, emotions, mind, and spirit. In each, energy can be systematically expanded and regularly renewed…”

Thus, understanding one’s personal energy patterns and triggers, optimizing for those, and establishing renewal rituals to improve energy dips, is the clear path towards greater energy and maximizing productivity.

All In a Day’s Work

The Happiness App data afforded contextual richness as to when people were working, playing, etc. Below you can see darker signals when more people were partaking in the respective activity at the given hour.

  • Morning Joe: Caffeination was strongest in the morning between 9–11am
  • Social Noms: Lunch and dinner appeared at 1pm and 7–8pm, also particularly social hours
  • Sweat Breaks: Exercise was most common during lunch and after work
  • Namaste: Yoga and meditation were common in the morning before work, and again at the end of the day
  • Cheers to a productive day! Happy hour began at 5pm and ramped up through 10pm

For individuals, the power of this data will be in identifying one’s personal triggers for mood and energy, and understanding the flow of one’s daily patterns. One can then use this information to optimize when/where/how to feel one’s best, and also understand more deeply why they might be feeling certain ways in different situations. Thus, happiness is… whatever is most important to you! Data can help you arm yourself with the tools to be the happiest, most energized, and successful version of yourself.

References

  1. Guillaume E, Baranski E, et al. The World at 7:00: Comparing the Experience of Situations Across 20 Countries. Journal of Personality. 2016.
  2. Diener E, Seligmen M. Very Happy People. Psychological Science. 2002.
  3. Geiger B, MacKerron G. Can alcohol make you happy? A subjective wellbeing approach. Social Science & Medicine. 2016.
  4. Oswald A, Proto E, Sgroi D. Happiness and Productivity. Journal of Labor Economics. 2014.
  5. Roenneberg T, Kuehnle T, Juda M, Kantermann T, Allebrandt K, Gordijn M, Merrow M. Epidemiology of the human circadian clock. Sleep Medicine Review. 2007.
  6. Matchock R, Mordkoff J. Chronotype and time-of-day influences on the alerting, orienting, and executive components of attention. Experimental Brain Research. 2009.
  7. Shellenbarger S. The Peak Time for Everything. Wall Street Journal. 2012.
  8. Schwartz T, McCarthy C. Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time. Harvard Business Review. 2007.

Data: All Happiness App data was collected anonymously and analyzed in aggregate.