Monthly Archives: February 2017

Can you design a life?

Talk about a high energy talk. Last week I was fortunate enough to attend a presentation by one of two Stanford faculty members who’ve recently published a book that’s doing really rather well: “Designing Your Life”. When I say it’s doing rather well, we’re talking a No. 1 New York Times bestseller.

It’s written by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans (it was Dave who gave the talk I attended) and its gist is that you can use “design thinking” to, as the authors suggest on the cover, “build a well-lived, joyful life.”

Design thinking is very in vogue for businesses at the moment, but using its methods to build a life is a relatively new idea. Actually, I say that, but Messrs Burnett and Evans have helped thousands of Stanford students find their way before they wrote their book.

When you use design thinking, it’s not surprising that you’re encouraged to think like a designer. Among other principles, this means doing lots of ideating (coming up with multiple possible solutions to problems), and “building your way forward” – trying things out, as quickly as you can.

I do the book a great disservice by trying to sum it up in such a very few words, but I’m enjoying it myself and it’s certainly making me think.

I’ll leave you with just one sentence, from the first chapter, which I love:

“You can’t know where you are going until you know where you are.”

It made me think of the mood tracking I’ve done over the years, and looking back I can certainly see where I was…

On a different note, huge thanks to the hundreds (wow) of kind readers who’ve already completed the little mood questionnaire I mentioned yesterday. It’s a bit different, because it contains twelve conventional questions about emotions, then asks you to select one of four images that best represents how you’re feeling.

Although I haven’t yet done the proper number-crunching, I can already see that there’s going to be some fascinating findings, which I hope to reveal in a couple of days, on Wednesday. If you didn’t manage to get to it yesterday, there’s still a little more time:

Thanks for being here, as ever, and I hope this can be a good week for you.

Measure your mood, pick a picture.

How would you like to take part in some super-quick research with a difference?

A week ago I asked for your help completing yet another questionnaire, and hundreds of readers got involved, generating some fascinating results in the process.

A little surprisingly, quite a few people told me they actually enjoyed taking part, and after a conversation with my friend Josh, this inspired me to think about experimenting with another piece of research that’s intended to provide us with something more entertaining than another long list of numbers.

So this one’s a bit different.

There are 13 questions in total, the first twelve of which are intended to capture how you’re feeling.

The final question, though, asks you to select one of four images. I’m really interested to learn more about the choices people make.

I’ll say no more for now, but once I’ve crunched the numbers I’ll share what I discover. It should take a couple of days to do this, so expect some feedback on March 1st (this coming Wednesday).

Here’s the questionnaire:

Thank you hugely. I have a feeling this one could be fascinating.

Why keeping a daily diary is one of my top emotional health tips.

Right now, I’m fortunate enough to know that my own emotional health is better and more stable than it has been in a long time.

Of course it hasn’t always been that way, though. When I look back through twenty years of diaries (many of them with appropriately black covers) I have written evidence of having struggled through the toughest of tough times, which I know I’ve experienced in common with so many Moodnudges readers. Perhaps including you?

Despite the unmitigated sadnesses that many of their pages captured, however, my bookshelf of diaries is one of my dearest possessions. On trips back to the UK, I’ve returned with a few more volumes each time, and they’re now safely gathered together again here in California.

If you’re a fellow diarist, that’s great news. But if you’re not, starting to keep one would be one of my strongest emotional well-being recommendations, particularly if you sometimes battle with low moods.

I don’t write my own diary for anyone other than myself, but the ten minutes or so that it takes me each day is something I greatly look forward to.

Different people have different diary strategies, some using them to pour their hearts out. That’s not really how I use mine. For me, it’s more about capturing what happened the day before, even if nothing much did (which has been the case during darker times).

After I’ve written about the day, I put the diary away and in some ways feel I’ve put the day away too, however good or bad it was. And that seems to free me to start anew again. Just as today’s page is blank at that stage, the day ahead can feel full of potential, too. New day, new page.

It annoys me that it can be hard to buy a diary after the year has started, but if you don’t have one, perhaps you’ll find one in the reduced section of a stationery store? It’s also sometimes possible to get hold of “any year” diaries, where you fill in the 2017 bit yourself.

More than anything, if you’re at all curious about what it might entail, rather than worrying about not being able to commit to the process every day, forever, why not just give it a try for a few days, or a week? And also free yourself from the tyranny of feeling you have to complete the whole page/section every day. Do, though, promise yourself to write something, even if it’s just a word or two.

I’m interested. If you already keep a diary, what have you learned from your experience? Alternatively, if you shy away from the very idea, what’s the reason? I’d love to know.

And the opposite of Angry is…

…well, a bit complicated.

Yesterday I asked you, as a Moodnudges reader, for your thoughts about a positive word which means the opposite of Angry. If you were one of the almost 300 people who kindly pitched in to help, a massive thank you.

Although the process was set up so you could see other people’s aggregated responses after casting your vote, I thought I’d give you a sense of what we learned, and also encourage you to read the excellent and thoughtful reflections that have been posted on the Moodnudges blog.

Just as Happy seems logically to be the opposite of Sad, you’d think it would be plain-sailing to pinpoint an adjective that complements Angry, and indeed there was one hugely clear favourite: Calm.

Others, however, were also strong contenders – Peaceful, Good-tempered, and Unruffled stood out, for example.

As well as providing a number of possibilities for which you could vote, there was also a field for other suggestions – terms I’d not considered – and these were of great interest. I’ve listed below, in order of mentions, those that were spontaneously suggested by more than one person. The number of mentions is in brackets:

1.   Content/Contented (13)
2.   Serene (11)
3.   Accepting (9)
=4.  At peace (3)
=4.  Chilled (3)
=4.  Cool (3)
=4.  Equable (3)
=4.  Tranquil (3)
=5.  Balanced (2)
=5.  Even-tempered (2)
=5.  Happy (2)
=5.  Laid-back (2)
=5.  Loving (2)
=5.  Mellow (2)
=5.  Pleased (2)
=5.  Unperturbed (2)

If you think about some of the opposites people suggested, it demonstrates (at least it did to me) that people can view anger in differing ways. Some see it as a kind of dissatisfaction. Others as a state of agitation. Other ways of looking at it are as an unhappiness, or a dislike for others.

DJ emailed me a reminder that getting angry can also be a way to demonstrate to others that you care passionately about something, referencing this rather nice tweet from BBC Radio 3:

And thanks to the anonymous reader, by the way, who suggested that the opposite of Angry is Depressed – since “anger is sadness expressed, while depression is sadness repressed.” That got me thinking.

I also loved the tongue-in-cheek suggestions of two readers who recognised how relatively hard it is to find a word that works precisely – what about, they proposed, Unangry or Angerless? Hmm, I do know what you mean.

Incidentally, I’ve been making use of a terrific online resource called Power Thesaurus, that’s ‘crowd-sourced,’ in that users can vote for the most apt synonyms and antonyms.

Their users, just like our readers, have made Calm the top antonym for Angry.

What I found thoroughly intriguing though, was looking up the highest-voted opposite of Anxious, using the same resource.

Yup, you guessed.


Help. What’s the opposite of Angry?

Sorry, yesterday slipped by without a Moodnudge. It was Presidents’ Day here in the USA, so routines got a bit disrupted. I also had my head down all day, working hard to make sense of the amazingly useful data we collected last Friday.

At the risk of running your “help tank” dry, there’s actually something I’m struggling with, so I wonder if you might briefly lend a hand once again please?

The thing is, I’m trying to pin down a fairly simple word that means the opposite of Angry, but despite trawling through the antonym sections of thesauri/thesauruses, I can’t seem to find exactly what I want.

I’ve therefore assembled a shortlist, and will welcome your vote(s) for words you believe are right, as well as suggestions for any I’ve not thought of.

Here’s the list:

The form has been set up so that you should be able to review other people’s responses (all anonymously, of course) after you’ve submitted your own thoughts.

Let’s see what the wisdom of the crowd comes up with. Could be interesting.

As ever, a “yuge” thank you (well, it was still Presidents’ Day when I wrote this) for your generosity, and willingness to participate. I really do appreciate it.

Some results from Friday’s research.

Thank you. As ever, I was delighted by the response to my Friday request to complete a short mood questionnaire, even though I’d explained that it wouldn’t actually give you any feedback at its conclusion. 310 people were kind enough to take part, which is over 10% of our readership – an impressive response rate. So, as I say, thank you hugely to everyone who helped out.

Now I know this probably won’t interest everyone, but I thought I’d give you some of the results in today’s post. Please feel free to skip them, and come back tomorrow if this kind of thing isn’t your scene. However there are some quite intriguing findings, which have already helped me as I continue to work towards finding a really versatile mood test.

Here we go then. First, the top line numbers for three overall themes – Anxiety, Anger, and Sadness.

The percentage figures are the proportion of respondents who fell into each of six “buckets”:

Very – 0.3%
Quite a bit – 7.0%
Moderately – 16.1%
A little – 30.8%
Very slightly – 41.1%
Not at all – 4.7%

Very – 3.3%
Quite a bit – 10.0%
Moderately – 28.1%
A little – 38.5%
Very slightly – 18.4%
Not at all – 1.7%

Very – 7.0%
Quite a bit – 14.0%
Moderately – 19.1%
A little – 25.8%
Very slightly – 31.4%
Not at all – 2.7%

Of the three broad emotions, Anxiety and Sadness seemed the most top-loaded, while Anger was relatively less common (certainly in this sample).

Now we’ll get into a lot more detail. (Hopefully not TOO much, but as I said earlier, please feel free to skip the rest if numbers aren’t your thing.)

A few paragraphs down, you’ll find a table of sorts.

Its first column is a correlation coefficient, which is a way of understanding how closely the two items in the second column are related. In this table, a score of 1 would mean that the two terms are completely in sync – in other words, all 310 people who took part in the survey selected exactly the same answer for both of the two items. For example, everyone who said they were Moderately Sad would have needed to also say they were Moderately Downhearted.

Where a pair of terms are a combination of a negative and positive term, I’ve reversed the scoring. So to arrive at a coefficient of 1 (the maximum, remember) everyone, for example, who said they were Not at all Sad, would also have had to say they were Very Happy (an opposites kind of thing).

A correlation coefficient of 0 (zero) would mean that there was absolutely no relationship between the two items. You might get a result like that if you asked people to report on their eye colour alongside their weight. As far as I know, the two are entirely unrelated.

Looking at our results, then, we see that the strongest relationship of the 66 pairs was between Sad and Downhearted. Not too suprising, that, and it’s evidence that Downhearted pretty much means the same as Sad.

The weakest relationship? It was between Confident and Annoyed: there’s very little connection between NOT being Annoyed, and feeling Confident. Again, I’d suggest this isn’t too surprising.

So, what – if any – surprises WERE there? Well, after all the more obvious pairings, when you get about twenty items down, you start to see a few quite strong connections between unhappiness and anxiety. Certainly for Moodnudges readers, anxiety seems to contribute quite strongly to a lower overall mood.

0.77    Sad – Downhearted
0.73    Upbeat – Happy
0.70    Happy – Good-Tempered
0.69    Annoyed – Angry
0.68    Happy – Downhearted
0.68    Nervous – Anxious
0.65    Good-Tempered – Easygoing
0.65    Sad – Happy
0.62    Happy – Confident
0.62    Happy – Easygoing
0.62    Upbeat – Downhearted
0.62    Upbeat – Good-Tempered
0.61    Upbeat – Confident
0.60    Upbeat – Sad
0.59    Good-Tempered – Downhearted
0.59    Sad – Good-Tempered
0.57    Downhearted – Angry
0.54    Downhearted – Anxious
0.54    Good-Tempered – Angry
0.53    Downhearted – Confident
0.53    Sad – Anxious
0.53    Sad – Confident
0.51    Unworried – Happy
0.50    Good-Tempered – Annoyed
0.50    Good-Tempered – Confident
0.50    Nervous – Downhearted
0.50    Sad – Easygoing
0.49    Downhearted – Annoyed
0.49    Easygoing – Anxious
0.49    Easygoing – Confident
0.49    Easygoing – Downhearted
0.48    Confident – Anxious
0.48    Unworried – Anxious
0.48    Unworried – Good-Tempered
0.48    Upbeat – Easygoing
0.47    Sad – Nervous
0.47    Unworried – Easygoing
0.47    Upbeat – Unworried
0.46    Anxious – Angry
0.46    Good-Tempered – Anxious
0.46    Unworried – Downhearted
0.44    Happy – Anxious
0.44    Sad – Angry
0.44    Unworried – Nervous
0.44    Unworried – Sad
0.43    Unworried – Confident
0.42    Nervous – Confident
0.41    Happy – Angry
0.40    Anxious – Annoyed
0.40    Nervous – Easygoing
0.39    Easygoing – Angry
0.39    Nervous – Angry
0.39    Nervous – Happy
0.39    Upbeat – Anxious
0.38    Upbeat – Angry
0.37    Happy – Annoyed
0.37    Sad – Annoyed
0.36    Easygoing – Annoyed
0.36    Nervous – Annoyed
0.36    Nervous – Good-Tempered
0.35    Unworried – Annoyed
0.34    Unworried – Angry
0.33    Confident – Angry
0.33    Upbeat – Nervous
0.30    Upbeat – Annoyed
0.26    Confident – Annoyed

Perhaps you’ve spotted things of interest in here? If so, I’d welcome your thoughts. Please feel free to share them…

A minute of your time please.

From time to time, I ask for Moodnudges readers’ help, and am invariably blown away by people’s willingness to pitch in.

It’s one of those times again.

I’d be over the moon if you’ll be kind enough, please, to answer a very short online questionnaire (completely anonymously) that asks you to rate yourself on the degree to which you’re currently experiencing 12 different feelings and emotions.

The questionnaire is here:

My current research is in association with an exciting new project I’m working on, and at the moment I simply need to establish some averages. What proportion of people say they’re very unworried, for example? And how many report that they’re very slightly anxious?

I’m afraid the questionnaire won’t give you a score or result at the end, but hopefully it should give you a small glow of satisfaction for having done a good deed for the day.

Thanks so much. I look forward to being able to tell you more about the new project soon.

The life of meaning.

Those who know about these things tell me that an important contributor to a happier life is having the feeling that you’re part of something bigger: living a life of meaning, if you like.

For some this may involve belonging to an organised religious group of some kind, and I’ve certainly heard it said that those who go to church regularly are happier than those who don’t.

(What we don’t know, of course, is whether going to church makes people happier, or whether in general it’s happier people who go to church.)

Being only very slightly religious myself (if that’s possible), I’d say we can all live a life of meaning without necessarily being an active churchgoer.

For a start, you can be part of your community: a more active part, perhaps?

There’s an opportunity for you.

You can be part of your circle of friends: again, perhaps a more active part?

Another opportunity. For example, I decided to step up the mark today, and do a friend a favour.

At the end of the day, it’s you who chooses what you’ll be part of, but knowing what an impact it can have, makes it all the more important to hunt it down.

Trying too hard?

In Stephen Covey’s book, ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, he writes about ‘sharpening the saw’, an idea explained by the story of a man who was getting nowhere trying to cut down a tree with a blunt saw.

Struggling on ineffectively, the man explained that he was too busy to get the tool sharpened.

Do you wonder if sometimes we all try too hard?

You have a million and one things to do, but you’re tired, and this probably means you’ll (a) achieve little, and (b) end up even more tired in the process.

I was sitting at my desk the other day trying to force myself to think, but the thinks simply wouldn’t come, so with no great plan in mind I got up and went for a walk, and – well – you can probably guess the rest.

As soon as I stopped trying to force myself, everything slotted into place.

It’s worth remembering this when that same feeling strikes you.

Sometimes we all need to step away from the tree to sharpen that saw.

I’m feeling curious. How about you?

As it’s Sunday, a short but sweet, and hopefully entertaining, diversion for you today,

You may know that I often write about the happiness-building potential of learning new things.

It can help to build a healthy sense of inquisitiveness in you, stops you getting bogged down in a rut, and gives you a sense of achievement when you’ve acquired a new piece of knowledge.

So it’s rather good to know that there’s a secret little way to use Google if you like the idea of learning but don’t have a whole lot of time.

Simply type “I’m feeling curious” into Google. (“Fun facts” works, too. And you don’t need the quotation marks.)

It’ll then serve you up with a random question and answer, and make it easy for you to get another.

True. And fun.

Give it a try, and if you feel so inclined, please share something fun you’ve discovered, in the comments section.

I just found out, for example, that $20 in US quarters weighs a pound, and that there are around 1.5 billion cattle in the world.

Holy cow.