Hugo is the author of TrackingHappiness.com, and a civil engineer with an infectious passion for life! He’s agreed to share a very personal and profound learning experience with us in this post. Enjoy!
Hitting Rock Bottom: How Tracking Happiness Can Help
One of the most miserable periods of my life started when I hopped on a flight to Kuwait. I knew I was entering a “challenging” period, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It was only going to be 5 weeks, but man, those 5 weeks took a big hit on me.
I am writing this while re-reading some of the journal entries in my happiness tracking journal. It is clear to me now how badly this period influenced my happiness. I want to show you exactly how my happiness took a tumble.
You see, I have tracked my happiness during this entire period in Kuwait and thus have the opportunity to reflect on this brief episode. I want to show you how this period started as a fresh new challenge but ended up as a miserable chapter of my life. I’m going to show you some of my happiness tracking journal entries in chronological order, just so you can see how I slipped down to a state of despair.
Let’s start with the beginning! This is how my journal in Kuwait started, on the 18th of January 2015.
Day 1, happiness rating: 8,25
“Hello Kuwait! I just landed in my apartment and finally have some time to catch up. The flight was alright, my nerves were okay. This is my first night ever in the Middle East. How exciting. When the plane landed, I couldn’t help but think “Where the #$%! am I” for a moment.
So far so good. The apartment is nice, I’ve got a big bedroom with WiFi. Nice. There’s soooo much sand here. Insane. I hope I’ll be able to run outside after work.
I’ve got my alarm set for 06:00 tomorrow. It’s going to be tough. But I’m super excited! The next adventure starts here, right now. Tomorrow is day 1 of 33 or something. It’s going to be alright. Going to bed now. Adios!”
Day 1 was a good day!
Let me explain: I was sent to Kuwait to work on a huge project for my employer, a big marine contractor. I had never been to the Middle East, and this was my first assignment abroad. I was super excited to work hard and enjoy the project. In fact, I was actually looking forward to my very first day!
But when that next day arrived, I wasn’t so excited anymore.
My First Day in Kuwait
Day 2, happiness rating: 7,00
“First day was OK, but that’s all…
My colleagues are alright. The office is nice. And my desk is fine. But man, these hours suck.
Breakfast was fine. Lunch was awesome. Dinner was terrible. I don’t know… I guess today was alright. I just have to figure out how I’m going to find my pace with the project. It’s going to be a busy time.
Skyped with my girlfriend, which was nice. My apartment is still nice. I want to prove myself to my colleagues. Going to bed now. The alarm is set for 6:00 again. !@#$ me… Bye!
My first day on the job was OK, as you can read from my journal entry. But you may have noticed that I’m already a lot less confident in my writing. It looks like my optimistic energy pretty much evaporated overnight. You see, I was going to work at least 12 hours every day, for the next 5 weeks. I knew it was going to be tough.
I was hoping my work would actually be a source of energy, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was actually very demanding.
I quickly forced myself into a rhythm of working, working, working, eating, skyping, spending an hour on something that would actually be relaxing, going to bed way too late, sleeping way too little, cursing my alarm clock the next morning, and repeat.
That repetition resulted in the complete loss of my energy.
After 1 week, my happiness journal looked quite depressing already:
Day 8, happiness rating: 4.50
“I survived my first week in Kuwait. Hurray. Today was fine, despite the sleep deprivation. Woke up feeling extremely tired, but coffee pulled me through. The work today was alright. Better than expected actually, but still exhausting.
When I got back to the apartment I skyped with my girlfriend. But man, that sucked. We got into an argument, which seems impossible to fix over a shitty Skype connection. It absolutely killed whatever was left of my energy and mood. !@#$ this sh*t.
I just want to go to bed now. I don’t want to be tired again tomorrow. Hell, I just wanna go home. Where the !@#$ are my hobbies?
Just going to bed now, so this period will be over sooner. Cheers.”
Boy, that escalated quickly. Right?
So I continued to live and work in Kuwait. The project progressed at a fast pace and it was always busy. Work sucked up all my energy. My days were long and my personal life suffered because of it.
I left my apartment at 6:30, worked from 07:00 to at least 19:00, and was back in at around 20:00. No matter how much I liked my actual job, I eventually got exhausted from it. It was unpreventable, I think.
In the meantime, I lost access to all my hobbies when I was in Kuwait. I suddenly had no guitar to play on at night, no more friends or girlfriend to have fun with, no more video games to take my mind off the work, you get the idea. I lost access to the biggest sources of my happiness.
In fact, my relationship actually turned into a negative happiness factor as a result of this long distance thing.
Fighting Sleep Deprivation
I made another very big mistake during this time: I forgot to prioritise my sleep.
You see, after getting back to the apartment at around 20:00, I still felt like I wanted to do stuff I actually enjoyed. Stuff like watching a series, doing some exercise or just walking outside.
But I also wanted to Skype with my girlfriend, have dinner and take a shower.
Before I knew it, it was already past midnight. Sh*t…
This happened just about every single day. I worked over 12 hours every day, while sleeping way too little. It eventually caused me to burn out, even though I was only in Kuwait for a total of 5 weeks.
I now know that sleep deprivation can have a very bad influence on my happiness. I wish I knew that back in 2015…
Hitting Rock Bottom
On February the 9th, I experienced my worst day.
Day 23, happiness rating: 3,00
“I’m shattered. I have never felt as depressed as I do today. What a miserable feeling.
I can’t keep up with this. I’m completely unhappy, and consciously counting down every second of every day. I wanna go home. I’m going crazy here. It’s a miserable lifestyle.
I can’t believe how anyone would voluntarily want to live this kind of life. !@#$ this project. !@#$ my employer. I’d rather not work at all, then to have this job for the rest of my life. It’s unbearable.
I’ve got no passions. No enjoyment. No fulfillment. I honestly don’t think I laughed even once this week.
I’m going to watch a series now (The Walking Dead has started again). And then I’m going to sleep. These days are worthless.
Just Whatsapped with a friend I met in New Zealand, and it makes me think back of that wonderful country. I had such fun during that time.
I cannot think of ANYTHING more interesting to say… I just hate it here.
Message to future self: Don’t you EVER romanticise this period, you idiot! Don’t ever say that this wasn’t so bad after all. You DON’T want this, and you are absolutely MISERABLE!
Hence the 3.0, the worst happiness rating ever..”.
That shitty day happened almost 3,5 years ago, and I still remember it like it was yesterday. Maybe because I have direct access to my mind during that time via my happiness tracking journal?
Anyway, I still hear my younger self loud and clear: I’m never EVER going to romanticize this period. No way.
The Power of Tracking Happiness
You see, that’s part of the power of tracking happiness.
Everybody romanticizes periods of their lives every once in a while. I have done it myself as well. But this is dangerous. Having access to your personal happiness ratings allows you to relive every period of your life, whether it was a good or bad period.
I still know damn well how much that brief period in Kuwait sucked. And for that I am very thankful these days.
Why is this important?
Because I can use this knowledge to steer my life in the best direction possible!
Ever since those 5 miserable weeks, I have tried my best to not get myself into a similar situation again. And when I did eventually have to work on another project abroad, I made damn sure that I had a better plan.
The work itself in Kuwait was tough. But I made some pretty bad mistakes that were unrelated to my work that made this period even worse. I neglected my sleep, my long-distance relationship was way too bumpy and I had none of my hobbies with me.
By tracking happiness, I knew exactly what I needed to do in order to improve a new “challenge” like this.
And that’s what I did. During my next “challenge” abroad, I made sure that I got sufficient sleep, had a hobby that I could enjoy while not at work and that my relationship had no communication issues. These decisions allow me to be much happier with the work I do, since I simply cannot control everything.
I used the knowledge from my happiness tracking journal to improve my life.
And that’s the reason why I think tracking happiness is in itself an extremely powerful tool. Not only is it fun, it actually allows you to steer your life in the best direction possible!
Hugo is the creator of TrackingHappiness.com, a site about tracking the things that influence your happiness in order to steer your life in the best direction possible. He loves spending time with his girlfriend, running, playing music and looking at nerdy data.