Sunday, February 26, 2017

How to become happier #3 Happiness by Design

In 2014 a self-help book written by a London School of Economics Professor of Behavioural Science unexpectedly topped the best-sellers list.. The book? Happiness by Design by Paul Dolan.  Here is what one reviewer thought of it.

 His book is a powerful reminder not to get caught up in overthinking things, but to focus instead on maximising what actually delivers joy. "Listen more to your real feelings of happiness than to your reflections on how happy you think you are or ought to be," Dolan writes, and most of us would benefit from listening to him
Dolan says that one reason we arent as happy as we don't do enough detective work about what makes us happy.  We are creatures of habit - and how many of you can say that your habits are fine-tuned to optimise your happiness? How much internet browsing have you done today? Has it made you happy? Did you watch TV last night? How happy did that make you feel?
I honestly don't know the answers to those two questions, and that is the point. Although it is useful to provide lists of habits that in general make people happy, we are all different and what makes you happy might be very different to what makes me happy.

Happiness by Design is certainly a book I would recommend. However apart from my "there's a lot of interesting ideas here" reaction, my main response was "This is very similar to how we CBT therapists teach our depressed clients to get out of the pit of depression  - why  Dolan doesnt mention that!"

To redress the balance, here are my own thoughts about how to create Happiness By Design, acknowledging my debt to CBT and a blend of it called "Behavioural Activation"

Of all the ways to become happier, this one has probably the most evidence, so long as we include evidence of helping really depressed people to get back to a more or less normal level of happiness. 
It does require more work than some of the ideas - detective work usually does - but I believe it will be worth the effort.

Here is what you do.

For  a day, on an hourly basis, record what you have been doing, and then record how much you pleasure you got in  the hour, what sense of achievement it gave you,

For example

1200- 1300   Cooked lunch     Enjoyment (P) 6 Achievement (A) 7  
1300- 1400   Had lunch           Enjoyment(P) 8 Achievement(A) 3 
1400- 1500   Watched fairly poor TV and dozed Enjoyment (P) 3 Achievement (A) 1 
1500-1600     Did gardening   Enjoyment(P) 7  Achievement (A) 9  

You can record this on your phone, on a sheet of paper, or on your computer.  A form to help you do this is provided here.

It is good practice to record what you did as close to the time as possible, as otherwise it becomes difficult to remember what you did and how you felt. Each hour should contain
a)   a brief description of how you spent the time during that hour
b)   Two numbers labelled P (for pleasure) and A (for achievement) out of 10
Often the two numbers for P and high will be similar but this isn't always the case. What do you think the figures would be for
1) Eating your favourite food
2) Competing your tax return

 A day is the minimum time to do this activity, which is called activity monitoring.
For depressed clients, we suggest a week. You might like to try it for at least a couple of days, one a weekend day and one a work day.

The second phase is activity planning or activity scheduling , and this is when you get to reap the benefits of your detective work.
You review your patterns of activity and related pleasure and sense of achievement and then design how to be happier. Here are some ideas that help
  •         Repeat activities with high scores for P or A
  •         Think about  activities you can do similar to those with high scores and plan those. For example, if playing one sport gives a high score, think about other sports you could try out
  •      Detect your own happiness fingerprint - what sort of things lead to high Ps or high As. Many people find high scores go with socialising, being outdoors and being physically active and low scores with being on ones own, worry or ruminating and being unfocussed. We are all different though, so the unique value of this exercise is to detect what brings happiness to you
  •         Reduce activities with scores that are  low for both A and P. If you can’t reduce them, think creatively of ways to improve your experience of them. For example, suppose a checkout cashier finds their job low in A and P but they need the money. A useful idea would be to try to make their experience of being  a checkout cashier more pleasurable - perhaps by  smiling at customers and asking them about their day so far - or having a greater sense of achievement from it - by deciding to pack items in bags for customers when they dont have to do this, or by setting performance related targets, for example, how quickly they scan items.
  •           Aim for an overall balance of high A and high P activities in a day. It’s fine to have some activities that are just high A and some that are just high P.
  •        Plan activities that will you predict will give you higher scores, and then spend a second week monitoring activities.
I hope that this activity monitoring and planning idea will help you become happier, by design.  
     The activity monitoring sheet is freely available here

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