Happiness tracked as I journeyed to Bhutan

It took me more than 500 days to finally reach Bhutan with my bicycle. Some of those days were quite heaven-like; whilst others were simply hellish. I remember most of the particularly emotive days quite clearly. They often brought a challenge to my understanding of the world and brought with them profound insights about life.

Yet, there were also many other days, that weren’t so explosive emotionally. Yes, amazing things still happened, because amazing things are always happening; but as I gaze back, a couple months on from returning, those relatively tranquil days have begun to fade.

Or have they?

As I journeyed I made a few notes each day as to where I was, what I was doing, and who I was with. When I connect with where I cycled to and from in a given day the memories come back flooding – it is like I am back there again. Often times I feel in complete awe of my total experience, which was vast.

However, each day, as well as noting a few details about the day, I also put a number on my levels of well-being. I recorded four different aspects of my well-being1,  which were:

  1. How satisfied I felt with my day (evaluative well-being)
  2. How happy I felt during the day (affective well-being – positive)
  3. How anxious I felt during the day (affective well-being – negative)
  4. How worthwhile I felt my day was (eudaimonic well-being)

I recorded each one on a scale from 1 (not at all satisfied / happy / anxious / worthwhile) to 10 (completely satisfied / happy / anxious / worthwhile).

Actually, these four questions parallel the questions that are routinely asked by the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) in their annual well-being survey (although the satisfaction and worthwhile questions that the ONS ask are about life overall rather than the day). Each of the four questions conform to the major aspects of well-being (read this for a deeper understanding of the different aspects of happiness and well-being – evaluative, affective, & eudaimonic).

It is perhaps hardly surprising that I did this. I enjoy numbers and I made a career for myself from quantifying happiness and well-being. Plus I thought that tracking my well-being might be useful as a way of helping me to understand my journey to Bhutan a little better. It also offers another way for people to connect with my journey. I’ve only recently completed inputting these scores onto my computer and all I have for now are some graphs of a 3-day moving average across my journey.

happiness graph1Perhaps once I eventually link it to other things that took place on my trip some insights might emerge. For now I am just struck by the scale of the ups and downs, as well as the regularity with which the low times seem to occurred (just about every month or so one challenge or another came along).

Though, of course, I am not surprised by the up and down nature of the trip.

And neither am I surprised that my days typically felt more worthwhile than they did either satisfying or happy. As the journey unfolded it became increasingly clear that my journey was guided primarily by meaning and purpose, rather than moment-to-moment happiness or a sense of satisfaction. It was, in the end, purpose that got me to where I needed to go. It was purpose that helped me endure my roller-coaster of a cycling journey, much as it always has done throughout my life.


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