Quantification

Ball in the Sky The idea of measuring mood directly relates to one of the items listed by Carl Sagan in his baloney detection kit: quantification.

Sagan was specifically talking about making claims about physical activities. And it is a whole lot easier measuring repeatable, physical phenomenon than measuring mental activity. Thoughts and emotions are transient, inconsistent and amorphous. But couldn’t that have been said about all aspects of nature before science was applied to it?


If you drop a ball from your hand, it hits the ground most of the time. It would seem easier to quantify that behavior than quantifying an emotion you feel. But the ball may not hit the ground every time it drops from your hand. If the wind is blowing hard enough, the ball could be whisked away. The ball may take longer to hit the ground depending on what height you drop it from (depending on air resistance). There are a number of variables that have to be controlled in order for nature to seem consistent. This applies to thoughts and emotions also.

I have been taking part in the trackyourhappiness.org experiment for a few weeks now. You give the site your email or phone number and tell it how often you want to be polled throughout the day. You will then get sent an email (or text message if you so choose) asking you to take a survey. The survey consists of a few random questions related to what you were doing right before filling out the survey. The main question is: How happy are you? Then the survey asks you a series of related questions such as: How much sleep did you get last night? Are you alone? Are you focused on what you are doing? What are you doing? etc. It then creates charts relating all these variables to your happiness.

So far, no charts have provided any insight into what makes me happy. Focus, sleep, fullness. No attribute shows a direct correlation to happiness. Regardless of those results, I have found that the process of measuring my mood has helped me out. Many of the same benefits of quantifying physical claims can come from quantifying thoughts or emotions. When you quantify your thoughts, you are forcing yourself into being objective. This also leads to you being consistent in your evaluation of yourself.

When the survey asks how happy I am, I think back to the last time I answered the question. If I feel happier than the previous entry, I move the slider more towards happiness than the previous entry. So, the act of filling out the survey simultaneously causes me to be mindful of my emotions and to be objective about the extent of what I feel at the time.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Rappeneker 

Leave a comment