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In the business world, many people scoff when they hear the words “goals and metrics,” probably because both are often abandoned soon after creation (if you’re lucky). But when it comes to figuring what I want from life and how I’ll know I’ve achieved it, there hardly seems a more worthy activity.

One of the big turning points in my pursuit of happiness was discovering Jennifer Michael Hecht’s definition of the term in her book The Happiness Myth. She suggests there are three aspects to happiness, and while all must be present to truly achieve the state, they are also often at odds with one another.  Here, I break down each aspect and offer my thinking in terms of goals and metrics.

1. A good day: forgettable mild pleasures and rewarding efforts

The greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our dispositions, and not our circumstances.  Martha Washington

I need two things for a good day, the first being about 7 hours of sleep the night prior.  If you want to know what happens when I don’t get enough, just hang out with a two-year old who’s missed their nap.  Getting enough sleep makes everything easier, it enables me to see the silver lining in the day’s events.

The other thing I need is a collection of Little Things.  By definition, you probably don’t realize the power of individual Little Things, like a cup of tea, a snuggly, sleepy cat, a warm Spring day, or a long shower.   But put enough Little Things together, and the synergy really adds up.  Whenever I suspect I’m going to have a stressful day, I prep myself by taking a long shower, putting on my favorite pair of underwear,  and drinking a good cup of tea.  It’s amazing what I can conquer with that set of Little Things!

Metrics for a good day: at least 7 hours of sleep and 5-6 Little Things.

2. Euphoria: intense and memorable happiness

To the woman who complained that riches hadn’t made her happy, the Master said “You speak as if luxury and comfort were ingredients of happiness; whereas all you need to be really happy, my dear, is something to be enthusiastic about.  Anthony de Mello

This was an interesting aspect to consider, because at first, I really wasn’t sure what brought about euphoria for me.  That may sound odd, but recall that by necessity we are talking about infrequent events.  As the quote suggests, I learned what really makes me euphoric are ideas, whether it’s for a book I want to write or how I can make it as an entrepreneur.  Ironically, I don’t even need to follow through on the ideas to experience the euphoria.  (One reason why too much euphoria can be dangerous!)

Metrics for euphoria: time to dream up an exciting idea about 1-2x per month

3. A happy life: requires a lot of difficult work (studying, striving, nurturing, mourning, etc)

The human spirit needs to accomplish, to achieve, to triumph to be happy.  Ben Stein

Hecht argues modern society focuses too much on this aspect of happiness in our quest for productivity and longevity.  I’m not sure I completely agree.  In our attempts to accomplish, achieve and triumph, it’s easy to get bogged down in the pain and frustration and quit before we get to the good stuff.  I think this happens a lot in the business world which has become risk averse and is at the core of a lot of morale problems on the job.

A happy life involves risk, which is why it often clashes with a good day or euphoria.  Woody Allen said, “The talent for being happy is appreciating and liking what you have, instead of what you don’t have.”   Who takes happiness advice from Woody Allen?  But we hear this kind of advice a lot and I think it’s deceiving.  Raging consumerism will not produce a happy life, but wearing the cloak of a life-long learner just might (it does for me).    Whether or not “wanting more than what you have” is a bad thing depends a lot on what you’re talking about.  Sure, some say ignorance is bliss, I just don’t happen to subscribe to that theory.  Wanting more wisdom, more opportunities to explore through travel, and more courage to tackle meaningful challenges all sound perfectly aligned with a happy life.

Metrics for a happy life: May I never stop yearning

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6 Responses to Are We There Yet? Happiness Goals & Metrics

  1. Good Day = staying excited about whatever it was I thought about the night before (usually something I’m writing—a scene, etc.) & something to sustain the juice/the little things (i.e., a good book, a compliment, the opportunity to make my wife smile with an email exchange, fun time with Rigoletto (our dog), a good session on the drums/in the weight room.

    Euphoria = Mahler, Beethoven, Mozart … or a really good blues session with our band (whenever the opportunity arises).

    A Happy Life = Old Ben has a point … so might Woody if it’s at end of day (i.e., after you’ve done your striving, achieving and learning, etc.).

    Truth of the matter is, however, I couldn’t imagine having any of the above without my tomata (Ann Marie) … consider me her whale.

    Hey, I enjoy reading your blog big time, Jenn. For one thing, I get to use the dictionary a lot … it’s also very encouraging to see how well read and incredibly smart people can be. I remain in awe of people 1000x’s smarter’n me.

    • Charlie,
      Of course, I should have said that the significant others in our life have a profound effect on all the aspects of happiness (sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, depending on your situation!). Certainly many of my fondest memories revolve around Kyle and Ingrid. In fact, Kyle and I celebrate 10 happy years together this year! :)

      Thanks so much for sharing your version of happiness. I was really hoping some people would do that. And thank you for saying you like the blog–that means so much! I’m putting a lot of heart in it and enjoying it immensely.

    • On
    • March 26, 2010 at 8:26 pm
    • reader2rider
    • Said...

    On a flight to Brazil once, I found myself sitting in front of a family of four, mom and dad behind me and two grown-up kids in their twenties across the aisle from them. The mom said how nice it was that they were going on a family vacation again “after all these years.” The four of them reminisced for a while about the trips they used to take when the kids were little, the long drives, the kids’ impatience and excitement, the great destinations. Then there was a long, meditative silence. The only sound was the muffled noise of the plane’s engines. We were less than an hour into the flight and had a few hours to go before we reached Brazil. Finally, the daughter said:

    “Are we there yet?”

    The whole plane burst out laughing. That was a good day. Euphoric, even.

    • Reader
      What a terrific story. Having just returned from a trip with my “almost 3 year old” I can definitely relate. In fact, I think that will be the subject of tomorrow’s post. You’re always good for ideas!

    • On
    • March 29, 2011 at 10:57 am
    • Ayngelina
    • Said...

    I once read a quote that stayed with me – we travel to pay attention to the things we ignore at home.

    Sunsets abroad bring us so much joy but we never pay attention to them at home.

    • Love that quote!! Though I must admit to nearly driving off the road on more than one occasion after becoming besotted with a sunset while driving home from work.