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What do you optimize for?

 
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This thought started with a blog post by Charles Hugh Smith, an economist with an interesting perspective on the world. His post is called What Metric Are We Optimizing For? and it’s mostly discussing how keeping track of the Gross Domestic Product  (GNP) numbers is keeping this country focused on the wrong goals, and it is well worth reading. What he says is true in other contexts too, including permaculture and homesteading, and that is what I want to consider here.

Charles Hugh Smith wrote: we shape our choices and goals to optimize what we choose to measure.

When we have a bad metric, even if we know it's a bad metric, we still tend to optimize for that metric, because that's what we have to measure progress, success, etc.

There are plenty of examples of questionable metrics: GDP (gross domestic product) as opposed to Gross Domestic Happiness, unemployment (rather than full-time jobs that can support families), and even test scores in education.



If we really think about what our goals in life are, and figure out how to log them, I think we’d have an easier time figuring out what is important to us to do each day. My stated goal for my property and house design is “Abundance for all; Comfortable and engaging for ALL inhabitants: human, animal, plant.” How do you measure that? If I were trying to quantify it, maybe I’d log how many songbird nests are in my trees, how many deer I see in the pasture, how many baby trees I plant thrive, how many jars of beans I canned up, how many species of flowers are in my pasture, how happy my animals look or how many cool projects I can make out of the things I grow.

I love the idea of a Gross Domestic Happiness metric, if someone’s goal was to raise happy, healthy, intelligent children, perhaps it would be interesting to log how much the kids argue every week, how few doctor visits are required, how many things the kids learned on their own. I love the visual of every Friday night after dinner everyone in the family filling out a scorecard of the week for the goals that they are working toward (individually and as a family,) and discuss what is high or low, and why, and what can be changed in the next week, month or year to affect it.

So the question to think on is what are your actual goals in life, including what makes you happy and fulfilled, not just how much money you bring in or how many trees you plant, but what the effects of those actions are intended to have on your life; and then, how can you measure that so you know if you are achieving it or not, so you know whether you need to change what you are doing to produce the end result you desire?

It’s easy to figure out things like “I want to plant 10 trees right there” and check it off a list when it’s done, but the more subtle goals of happiness and doing what matters to you is harder to quantify. I am working on figuring out how to define and quantify my deeper goals, it’s an interesting exercise! It’s so easy to get caught up in the short or long range tasks and forget the goals the tasks are working toward.
 
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One measure that I've had since my teens, would be a usefulness score for whatever it is I'm doing. It has ranged from very high to very low. Most of the really useless stuff I did for a living, was very early on, when I had no money and few options.

I had a couple really useless sales jobs and a few construction jobs where I was working for someone, of low character and we produced things of low-quality.

The bulk of my work-life has been self-employed and the majority of that doing useful things. Building or otherwise creating high-value things and recycling thousands of tons a building materials and other products.
.......
I suppose there could also be a score for who you are spending time with. I would have had a very low score during most of my early life, because the type of jobs I was doing meant that I was in the company of the wrong people. I consider many people in my parents circle at that time to have very low scores, and kids generally lack options. We had some babysitters and other acquaintances that I would never allow near my own child.

Now, I spend most of my time with people that I choose to be around, both at work and socially. I still deal with nimrods, because every family has some, but I have eliminated most really troublesome people from my life, and interaction with those I can't completely avoid, is minimized.
......
I recently got married, to the most consistently pleasant and happy person I know. It's been more than 20 years since the happiness quotient of someone else has really affected me much. And then it was almost always on the negative side. Her entire family is part of my current and future projects. There's poverty, low education and two with mental problems. A bit of a project, but something I'm tackling without getting too much on me. We have a rule, that we will help them, but they can't be in our faces or cause a whole lot of unpleasantness, if they want to continue to receive help.

My next big project, beyond the family, will be purchasing scrubland in the Philippines and turning it into a productive farm and back into some version of the rainforest that used to exist. It's a society, where I am likely to meet many people who are lower on the happiness scale and many other scales, due to poverty, ignorance and alcohol. So part of my job is to navigate that without getting too much on me. This means hiring some people and greatly increasing their happiness and economic quotient, but also avoiding the difficult ones and sometimes cutting people off completely, so that they don't suck my energy and resources. So long as things are moving forward and progress is being made, I will consider that success, economically and personally.

The way to measure that, would be to look at my land, money and other resources, along with the health and happiness of myself and family, to make sure it's always headed in the right direction. Constant vigilance and adjustment to the plan, will be necessary.
 
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I have been thinking this way all my life, but I have been criticized for it a lot! (Not on Permies per se, but in real life).

For instance I built a bridge one time going to my Tiny House and said that it cost me $16.50. Someone said that "they built plenty of things the cheaply according to 'how Travis figures things?'" I was thinking, 'how else would you figure it?' I had the trees, the sawmill, did not even put gas in the sawmill, and just had to buy $16.50 in spikes. That is how much it cost me!

But that is pretty straight forward. What about our land? My...

Land
Buildings
Livestock
Gravel
Timber

all have real-world, value measurable in dollar amounts in relation to their quantities. Yet when a property assessment is done they average a lot of the stuff, and compare the rest of the stuff to other properties.

I understand that, but it is like having a Ford Focus with 214,000 miles on it. What is its value? Someone might be right and say that it is the scrap value, so $1200 as is sitting in the driveway. Or is it worth $3500 because if I parted it out, and sold each part on Ebay it would be worth that much. That person would be right as well.

The question is not how much it is worth, that is underminable, the real question is...how much am I...the owner...am willing to put into it. If I am not mechanically inclined, then $1200, but if I am likely to part it out, then $3500.

It is like that with my gravel pit, it is one thing to have it sitting there and have no desire to do anything with it. To me it is thus worth zero dollars, but I have a working gravel pit, so to me my gravel pit is worth $2 a cubic yard (going rate here for gravel). The difference is, there is a high likelihood I will mine it. I do not figure in the zinc that is here, because at this moment in time, I cannot imagine mining that. So I do not count it. There is nothing wrong with not mining minerals on a piece of land, I just would not count it as potential value. But that is me. If you want to count it, and never intend to mine it, who am I to challenge you on that? It is there, and it does have value!

Note: I call myself a Gert, but that is NOT based on the totality of everything, just what our farm is worth based on Real Estate prices. However I do keep track of what the value of our resources on this farm are, and it is significantly higher than that. So, just to be fair, no matter how a person figures what this farm is worth, Katie and I are Gert's. However, we are NOT 1%'ers because our income does not equate to $200,000 or more per year.

 
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Well, my long-term goal is to, essentially, outlive my immediate family; so I can make sure they are not alone in the "end," and they receive the care they need as they age. Due to my own health condition making this a challenge, my optimization focus is building & maintaining my own physical & mental health, which is where the shorter-term goals come in to play.
First, I feel it's important to optimize my mental health; as it's difficult to maintain one's physical condition if there is a deficiency in mental stability. Therefore, I try to focus on projects/tasks/hobbies that make me feel happy. Otherwise, if everything feels like a chore, I'll find myself "burned out" after a while, which isn't conducive to a healthy mental state.
Then I focus on my physical condition. After multiple surgeries and almost dying a few times over the last 7 years, I have been working on building my body back up to a peak physical condition, and maintaining it through my daily activities. Since things like raising livestock & building flower/garden beds are what I'm happy doing, I don't consider it a chore to shovel/haul manure, collect fallen sticks/logs, dig trenches, haul buckets of wood chips, etc. These tasks help maintain my physical condition, while also help me feel productive, which is important to my mental/emotional health.

Then it gets broken down into even smaller goals. Like I enjoy breeding show rabbits. While, on the surface, it's just an expensive hobby; it also helps to meet the bigger goals. Obviously, the care & maintenance of my herd helps build my physical condition by carrying feed, cleaning manure catch-trays, etc.; but the hobby also helps me build/maintain social skills when I go to shows and, by breeding to the breed standard of perfection, I am able to set clear goals and maintain focus on my progress (which is important for someone with severe ADHD). Then the byproducts of my hobby contribute to the other projects/goals I have via manure, fiber/pelts, meat, and more.

So, basically, I try to make sure as much as possible in my daily life is somehow conducive to overcoming my physical and mental challenges, which will help extend my lifetime enough to meet my ultimate, long-term goal. As long as I can come up with a reason my tasks/activities are optimizing my chances for meeting the long-term goal, then I feel justified in doing them.

Hope all this makes sense
 
Dale Hodgins
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That's an admirable goal Kc.

Just in the last couple years, I've been making plans concerning my long-term health and viability. I'm 55 and have never really had a serious health problem. But Time Marches On. So part of my reasoning, in choosing to give up Demolition and Salvage, in favour of running a plantation with mostly hired labour, is that I will no longer have to rely on my muscles and joints, to provide myself with money.

My wife is far younger than me, and she will almost certainly inherit most of whatever we own, when the time comes. She is constantly questioning me about my eating, and the amount of danger I'm exposed to at work and any other thing that could affect my well being. It's kind of funny because a year ago , she thought rice was a good thing to eat a lot of. Now that she's much better educated on what people need to eat, to stay healthy, she checks on a daily basis, to make sure that I've eaten those things.

I remember hearing about the book, Happy Wife, Happy Life. And I can certainly see how that works. I have been involved with women who are generally unhappy. Not unhappy about a particular thing that I am to blame for, just unhappy generally, about the state of their work and life and family. When people are in that state of mind, they will drag you down. And people like that don't have to be your significant other. I have also worked with people who consistently voice all the reasons why they are unhappy. Some people, might state some challenge they are going through and that they are unhappy with how things are going right now, but they have some hope for the future. The ones that really drag me down, are those who have no plan for change and don't necessarily recognize that something must change, for their condition to change. I avoid those ones whenever I can. When I get down to zero on that count, I'll know that one of my metrics has been met.

My children have good careers and are completely ready to face the world without me. My wife has only had one year of relative security, in her life, and I think it will be quite a while before she is at a point where everything would go well in my absence. So that's one of my goals. I'm not sure how that would be measured, but there will be a time when she understands why I make certain financial choices. She's already got a very good idea of why I avoid certain people. That ability is very important for females in her society, to learn at a very early age. Once she is able to manage our land, and business, and all of the people associated, I will be free to retire, should I choose to. I can't actually imagine retiring, unless I'm not physically or mentally capable of going on. You don't have to be super strong and agile to be a good foreman. One of the best ones I know is in his 80s, and he still gets good production from his crew.

The number one metric that will be pretty easy to see, will be weather my goal of turning scrubland to farmland and rainforest, is consistently moving forward. Height and survival rate of trees, along with profit or at least break even with the farming portion, will be indicative of success.

There's also a touristy angle to my plans, in that I want to attract foreigners to visit, and they will pay to stay and eat. That one's pretty easy to measure. If they show up, it is successful and if they don't, it looks like I built a bunch of housing for my wife's extended family. The space will be turned into something.
 
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The long haul. Financially, labor/maintenance, durability/longevity, quality, ethics. Not necessarily in that order, not always in the same order, though with disabilities in mind, labor/ maintenance are almost always #1 or #2.
 
Travis Johnson
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I was told quite awhile ago, that if you really want to see where your heart is, watch where your money goes. I have found that to be true: despite what people say, it is what they do with their wallet that says more.

This is true in my own life. In looking back at the finances, it has been clear that Katie and I have diverted a lot of money to our farm. Now that we have sold the sheep, and are waiting to see what we are going to do with this farm, we hope to spend some money on our home. We really have not spent much money in the last few years on it, building barns, putting up fences, clearing land, and that sort of thing. It will be nice to dedicate some money to our home and improve that.
 
pollinator
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Happiness and low stress for myself and my family.

 
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My goals in life were much different when I was 22, than where I stand now, at 52.  As a child,  I was trained by society, through my parents, who had the same training, to finish schooling, find a partner, buy a house and raise a family.  And then you live happily ever after.

In my forties, I began to come to the realization that though I achieved all that, getting to the next goal, and the next, I surely didn't have that happily ever after feeling like everyone said I would.  

I began to see that the problem was that most of my adult life was spent on doing things, in striving to achieve that goal to be happy, I was doing things as a means to an end, that end being happiness.  If I just do this, and don't do that, happiness will surely come my way.

I've learned that happiness won't come to you by looking for it "out there", it will always be just out of reach.  Examination of the self has taught me that I already have it.  I'm still not convinced that happiness is something that can be measured like a mile or a decibel or the change that jingles in your pocket.

Gross Domestic Happiness is a philosophy that I was unaware of until reading this thread, but I think it is an interesting concept that may be of great value to all societies in the future.  From what I've read so far, it guides the government in the kingdom of Bhutan. It is no coincidence that this country is primarily Buddhist and Hindu, but mostly Buddhist, who view the world around them as an organism.

This view has helped me greatly in understanding the world around me, as opposed to what I was taught as a child, that it is a construct.  Your mileage will vary.
 
Travis Johnson
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I had this epiphany when I was doing woodworking.

Up until that point I was always concerned about what the finished product was. I could not wait until the project was done, then I could enjoy it, and be happy. But then I learned, what I loved about woodworking was not the collection of projects that I finished, that was just a bonus, it was actually woodworking.

It is that way with homesteading I think. Many people think when I get the swales done, the fencing for the sheep put up, a much better barn, etc...THEN they will be happy. So it ends up everything is delayed gratification. But that also introduces frustration when set-backs occur, and feelings of failure. But emotion is a very fickle mistress and can make people feel, and assume things that maybe they should not.

Being 100% fed with food grown at home is a awesome goal, and kudo's to the people doing so, but at the same time, kudo's go to the people who were 100% grocery store dependent last year, but this year grew 10% of their own food. The real question is, are you really happy by doing it? Now the "it" can be any percentage that you want to plug in, or anything.

I think we as Permies can do a great service by not focusing in on what is being accomplished, but rather if the people seem happy engaged in permaculture.

 
Pearl Sutton
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I think I worded my title badly. I think the point to my OP was how do you make "being happy" a priority, and figure out how to chart it, just like you can chart "put in 25 feet of swales" since in the end, the swales are not what makes you happy, what makes you happy may benefit by the swales increasing your food production, but food production doesn't make you happy either. What DOES make you happy is something along the lines of  "I feel safe with my food supply" or "the birds like the plants I grow on the swales" or "my children are growing up smart" and how can we figure out CHART that, so we know when we are doing things that have that end result, so we can optimize them?
Maybe I need to retitle this thread "How do you chart things that are hard to quantify?" or start a new thread titled that...
 
Travis Johnson
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Pearl Sutton wrote:I think I worded my title badly. I think the point to my OP was how do you make "being happy" a priority, and figure out how to chart it, just like you can chart "put in 25 feet of swales" since in the end, the swales are not what makes you happy, what makes you happy may benefit by the swales increasing your food production, but food production doesn't make you happy either. What DOES make you happy is something along the lines of  "I feel safe with my food supply" or "the birds like the plants I grow on the swales" or "my children are growing up smart" and how can we figure out CHART that, so we know when we are doing things that have that end result, so we can optimize them?
Maybe I need to retitle this thread "How do you chart things that are hard to quantify?" or start a new thread titled that...



I think you are right Pearl, somethings are hard to chart. I have been doing that all my life, but I get told constantly, "well according to how Travis figures things..."

But I think so abstract, so often, that to me it is not abstract. What I am getting better at is articulating my thoughts via short examples to help others who do not think like I do.
 
Ed Belote
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Pearl Sutton wrote:I think I worded my title badly. I think the point to my OP was how do you make "being happy" a priority, and figure out how to chart it, just like you can chart "put in 25 feet of swales" since in the end, the swales are not what makes you happy, what makes you happy may benefit by the swales increasing your food production, but food production doesn't make you happy either. What DOES make you happy is something along the lines of  "I feel safe with my food supply" or "the birds like the plants I grow on the swales" or "my children are growing up smart" and how can we figure out CHART that, so we know when we are doing things that have that end result, so we can optimize them?
Maybe I need to retitle this thread "How do you chart things that are hard to quantify?" or start a new thread titled that...



I think that you worded the title perfectly.  I am genuinely curious as to why the desire to chart happiness.  My experience has told me that when I focus on quantifying something like happiness, I lose sight of it.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I think that what makes a person happy can change quite a bit throughout their lifetime. When I was 15, I knew that being a billionaire would make me happy. It still would, but I can be happy without being a billionaire. So, there's not a single path. There could be multiple paths for the same individual.

Once I became an adult, I had a burning desire to own property. I would not have been happy, if I was not able to achieve this. For me, success at my endeavours makes me happy and failure does not.

At some point, the well-being and education and everything else concerning my children, was one of the more important things. Now they are both adults with good jobs, so I don't actually have to provide anything anymore. Knowing that my kids are both self sustaining, is satisfying and a relief at the same time. Some people keep shoveling money to the kids until they're in their thirties. My youngest graduated with her teacher's degree at 21 1/2 and this ended my need to supply her or her mother with money.

So, for a few years , it was just me and therefore all attention was paid to my business and land. I was happy to keep plugging away at that, but knew I wanted more. I went in search of a wife, and found her.

After getting married, I became responsible for the happiness of two people. They say that you can't really make someone else happy, but I disagree. We each make the other very happy. But every rose has its thorns. Some of her family are a thorn in the side. I knew going into it, that I was taking on a whole family. It's like I'm raising teenagers, although only the youngest sister is actually a teenager. I have four young adults, who are all quite behind academically, due to lifelong poverty, and one mother-in-law, with a mental disorder. Not western world, wrong side of the tracks poverty. Your family owns two spoons and a scrap metal cook pot poverty. And you could possibly starve to death, be raped, murdered etc... So now, the happiness and well-being of this family, is one of my chief projects. Success will be measured in how quickly all of them are able to get back on track academically, and make their own way in the world, well above the poverty line.

It seems pretty simple. Get everybody back in school and then help them get some sort of business or job that pays well. But everyone has a poverty mindset. All, except for my wife and her oldest sister, concentrate on very short term goals. They are mostly concerned with achieving financial returns, a bit higher than was happening before my arrival. The youngest sister is living with my wife, but instead of taking me up on the offer of full-time education, she is leaving behind a job that paid $100 a month and included housing , so that she can work at the mall, making $150 a month. Without food and housing expenses, this leaves her with a huge amount of disposable income for someone her age in the Philippines. Perhaps this looks like success and happiness to someone who just turned 18. I have tried to impress it upon her, that with the right education, she could seek overseas employment and earn that monthly income, every day. All of the siblings have heard this, but only my wife truly understands the vast income gap that exists between those scraping away in the villages, and those who take overseas employment. If all goes really well, they will all be self-sustaining within 4 years. I'd be happy with that.

Within the next 15 years, I may want to semi-retire. I'm 55. At that point, happiness will mean being financially secure enough to do that, while living mostly on my spice plantation and young rainforest. I won't need to make much money at all, once all of this is in place. But I'd like to have money, because to me, it's society's number one way of measuring success. I don't know if I'll ever be old enough to not have this desire for money, and for money to be a big marker for how happy I am. I'm not interested in personal growth, in this regard. That's how I am and I've accepted it.
 
Pearl Sutton
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Ed Belote wrote:

I think that you worded the title perfectly.  I am genuinely curious as to why the desire to chart happiness.  My experience has told me that when I focus on quantifying something like happiness, I lose sight of it.


I feel that when I let "what's on fire today" be my guide for what happens, the things that seriously MATTER to me get lost in the shuffle. I work until bedtime, and never have any time for anything that isn't work. And my sanity suffers from it. I was trying to think how long it has been since I did anything "just for fun." Years, I expect. It's all stuff that I need to do to accomplish my goals, even if it's entertaining, like hanging out here, it's not "just because it's fun."

So I'm trying to figure out how to make my life more balanced. If yours is, I envy you, but I spend a lot of time stressed with no break. Maybe if I figure out what I can do and make sure it gets done, it will help.

Stephen R Covey, in his book "The 7 Habits of Highly effective People" has a chart

and looking at it, almost all of my day is spent in quadrant 1. The things that are important to me that are not on fire right NOW get bumped "until later" and that never comes.

And don't get me wrong, I enjoy doing things like fixing things, and digging dirt, but it's all goal driven, and not pleasure driven. I cook very creatively these days, because it's the only creative outlet I have. I haven't done any artwork in years, I don't have time to do stuff that has no reason to exist. I only sit still and listen to the birds while I'm leaning on my mattock, taking a breather before I work again.  This doesn't work. I'm trying to figure out how to change it, hopefully before I break down from it all.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Do you do this out of financial necessity, or is it just that you are highly driven?

I think sometimes it's important to look at what we're doing and ask, what would happen if I just stopped? Or what would happen if I quit this, and did something else? My guess, is that the sky wouldn't fall and that you'll be just fine. But I don't know the details of it.

Sometimes, other people's expectations get in the way. My ex-wife and one brother were very insistent that the sky would fall and my life would be destroyed, if I pursued the woman I married. I'm still here, and if you look over head , you'll see that the sky is intact.
 
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Maybe it's good to realize that you're not necessarily have to be always happy, even if you achieve (most of) your goals. For example, I just returned from the most wonderful Christmas with family, really better than many other previous times, and I returned home incredibly sad for no reason (or if there was a reason, it was rather stupid). Objectively, my garden is now amazing, I never knew so much about it, I'm finally allowed to manage all of it, and most of my crazy experiments are successful.
Work is very hard and demanding, but also meaningful and gives me a real good purpose, and I'm so grateful for that. But I'm far from being always happy; often because I'm tired (physically or because of overthinking something), or there is so much to do, or someone/something else makes me worry about it. It's all natural... nature made us to be not always happy, so we can change and rebalance.
Think of baby animals, or human babies - they experience more of these moments of pure joy, but they would also die very soon if there wasn't an adult worrying about them somewhere ;)
 
Carla Burke
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I'll add, then, that for the happiness factor, I am a FAR happier camper, when I'm not in 'putting out fires' mode. This firmly falls into the 'long haul' view. It's like driving - watch the horizon, so you can avoid potential hazards before they become real hazards. Or playing chess - the ability to 'see' several moves ahead is what can make or break your game. Having a gameplan is great, but I must be both looking far ahead, and flexible, or the stresses of putting out fires will kill me.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I don't think most people are built to be giddy with happiness most of the time. If they were, I doubt that many would get much done.

Constant craving and working towards goals, is what drives progress. My dog Peggy was a Labrador Retriever and she was seemingly, happy all the time. She didn't achieve anything in her 14 years, as is expected for dogs. If a human behaved like that, we might call him lazy.

Perhaps it's better to ask ourselves, am I happy, or pleased or satisfied with how things are going in my life? I could be pleased with how the job is progressing, although portions of it may not be pleasant. Being satisfied or somewhat satisfied or just a little bit satisfied might be easier to quantify than being happy.

Happiness can be very fleeting. Children in particular will be over the top happy, if you tell them you're going somewhere where there's a ferris wheel, roller coasters and candy floss. Those same kids might be overtired on the way home, start bickering and before you know it, one of them's crying and he's forgotten all about being happy at his good fortune, of being taken on this excursion.

Some will find out that you're going on this trip and that they each get $20, and they may try to negotiate that up to 25 or $30. When this doesn't happen, they may pout, all the way to the amusement park. So for them, happiness was very fleeting. It's probably best if we ask, whether the child's needs are being met and they are getting along with others most of the time. You can't necessarily make them happy.
 
Ed Belote
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Pearl Sutton wrote:

Ed Belote wrote:

I think that you worded the title perfectly.  I am genuinely curious as to why the desire to chart happiness.  My experience has told me that when I focus on quantifying something like happiness, I lose sight of it.


I feel that when I let "what's on fire today" be my guide for what happens, the things that seriously MATTER to me get lost in the shuffle. I work until bedtime, and never have any time for anything that isn't work. And my sanity suffers from it. I was trying to think how long it has been since I did anything "just for fun." Years, I expect. It's all stuff that I need to do to accomplish my goals, even if it's entertaining, like hanging out here, it's not "just because it's fun."

So I'm trying to figure out how to make my life more balanced. If yours is, I envy you, but I spend a lot of time stressed with no break. Maybe if I figure out what I can do and make sure it gets done, it will help.

Stephen R Covey, in his book "The 7 Habits of Highly effective People" has a chart

and looking at it, almost all of my day is spent in quadrant 1. The things that are important to me that are not on fire right NOW get bumped "until later" and that never comes.

And don't get me wrong, I enjoy doing things like fixing things, and digging dirt, but it's all goal driven, and not pleasure driven. I cook very creatively these days, because it's the only creative outlet I have. I haven't done any artwork in years, I don't have time to do stuff that has no reason to exist. I only sit still and listen to the birds while I'm leaning on my mattock, taking a breather before I work again.  This doesn't work. I'm trying to figure out how to change it, hopefully before I break down from it all.



Thank you for your reply, and I totally understand your feelings on this.  Like you, like me, I believe there are many who feel the same way.

Let me tell you a little more about how I became interested in the subject of happiness.  A routine checkup turned into a diagnosis, and not a good one, or so I first thought.  I looked at it as a death sentence.  I walked around with a heavy heart and doom on my mind for quite some time.

One day, someone said to me, "you know, we all die one day, but what about all those other days that we live?"  That stuck with me, and I began to see the truth in it.  It wasn't an Emeril moment (Bam!) but something that came from much self reflection.  And time.

I began to see my diagnosis as a blessing.  Yes, I am happy to be given such a wonderful lesson!  

A personal crisis can take on many forms, from job loss to a divorce to not enough time in the day to someone left my cake out in the rain. It is what we do with the experience that is important.  More and more, I tend to look at these moments in life as a teacher.  I ask myself, what can I learn from this?  

This is different from the power of positive thinking, I believe no one can truly do that, but more of an organic power that which I've learned to accept what is and go with the ebbs and flows of everything this experience has to offer.

You enjoy fixing things, digging in the dirt, and cooking. You are the common denominator in all of that.  Perhaps instead of looking at these activities as goal driven, you could view it through a different lens and see it as nothing more than pure pleasure.

I am not a Zen Buddhist, but there is a saying from one of its masters that goes:  The person who really accepts transience begins to feel weightless. When Suzuki was asked what it was like to have experienced satori (enlightenment), he said it’s just like everyday ordinary experience but about two inches off the ground.
 
pollinator
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very old questions these:

-what is happiness?
-what are the sources of happiness?

-what is suffering?
-what are the sources of suffering?

my metrics are:
when the absolute worst happens to me, how solid, content, and how much general love do I feel inside?
when I feel negative emotions, how long do I hold on to them?  how long do they take to exit my being?

for me, all other metrics seem to be too situational, too temporal, and too quickly meaningless.
 
Carla Burke
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I'm looking at it more as a general level of over-riding contentment, rather than getting hung up on measurements, charts, & scales. There will always be moments of joy, of sorrow, of anger, of anxiety, of laughter, etc. I fully believe keeping count benefits no one, and can even diminish that deeper contentment.
 
Travis Johnson
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I have had the issue of Logic versus Emotion over the years, and this is the way I have dealt with it. I call it a Matrix.

Now in 2008 I took over the family farm, but what to raise for a crop? It is a HUGE deal because if a person gets it right, they have a profitable farm, but get it wrong and they are fighting themselves, doing a ton of work that ends up being a waste of time, and is nonprofitable.  So what I did was make a matrix that helps make important decisions more tangible...

What I did is write out a series of questions, like in the case of farming, I asked myself if I had the buildings, the equipment, the topography, the soil conditions, etc even to grow these things. Then I listed all kinds of things I could grow. Naturally that list was huge. All that I rated on a percentage basis, basically 10% being a no answer, or a poor answer, and 100% being a yes, or positive answer. The range in between allows me to adjust my answers to each question.

That gives me a score.

But that is only part of it. The score for that stuff is logical stuff, but what about passion. In other words, yes I wanted to grow Broccoli on a big scale, so the passion was there, but I lacked storage facilities and equipment. So it would have cost to much to do what I wanted. But at the same time, who wants to work their guts out doing something they are not interested in, like growing corn or something?

So I score the practical, the logical stuff. And then I rate my passion on every crop I could have grown. But I put the logical score at a lower value...a lower weight...then my passion score. I typically use 40% for logic and 60% for passion. I mean passion can overcome a lot...but not anything. So by adjusting the weight of logic versus passion, I can combine the two to get a real way of comparing things. Back in 2008, I came to the conclusion hat raising sheep was a great balance between what my farm had for resources, and what my passion was in farming. It was a perfect choice based on sound reasoning, and is why I was able to take it from 4 sheep, to full-time farming in 8 years.

Who would have ever thought that a Excel Spreadsheet could be used to make great decisions...the perfect mix of logic and emotion?
 
Travis Johnson
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Since then I have used my decision making spreadsheet, what I call a Matrix, to make many more hard decisions.

In 2015 I was tasked with evaluating a Children's Camp. They had 80 buildings and people were only haphazardly maintaining them. So I went in and did the same thing. I asked a series of questions, then listed each building. These questions included if it was for human occupancy, did it meet the camps mission, how critical the building was, about 20 questions for every building.

This generated a building priority. Now the camp is no longer fixing this and that. It knows if there is a problem with a building, the exact priority for allocating money or time to fixing it.

They have gone through a few directors since then, and maintenance staff, but my system worked so good that years later they still use it as an important guide.

 
Travis Johnson
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Today I made another matrix to make a road map for my career path moving forward. I have cancer (3rd time) so I had to drastically change my life plans in terms of working. I am working with the USDA in a program that converts farmers to jobs if they are disabled (in my case by the cancer).

So I have a whole world opened up to me.

The first thing I had to determine was if changing from sheep farming to another type of crop would be better, or should I just go out and get a private sector job, or should I get a college degree in something? It seems that when everything is listed out, sticking with some sort of farming makes the most sense.

But what about jobs. I have several I am considering. So I listed those out and compared the logic of them all, along with my passion for doing them, and now know what is the best job to take should they wish to hire me.

I did this too with educational opportunities, and it showed me the best choice I should make in getting a secondary education.

What does all this mean?

It means we should find a way for my farm to be profitable, and use mostly tractors so that I can physically do the work. But if I do have to take a job, I know which one I should pursuit the hardest. But if I do get a secondary education, I know which one would be best.

But the great thing is: nothing is chiseled in stone. I can reassess my scoring of everything and get a new assessment. It is all about being honest with myself in answering each question. Or I can add more weight to how I look at passion versus logic, or I can add more questions, or delete some. So the spreadsheet becomes very changeable. A person does not have to go by it by any means, but it really takes the totality of the situation, and compares logic to emotion and lists out what should be prioritized.
 
Travis Johnson
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As a lot of people know, I do a lot of geological searching. At each sample spot I use a Matrix for Minerals that helps me prioritize where I should dig first.

For instance, I have a spot that has a lot of potential, tests out very high for ore, but it is 2 miles out in the woods. Just to put a road in would be insanely expensive. So while that site is really hot for mineralization and could be mined, my gravel pit actually rates higher because it is right beside the main road, has water, electricity, a road, etc.

But every sample site I go to, I score using my Mineral Matrix. Again, it automatically prioritizes where each sample spot is. To put this in perspective, this does not just tell me where x marks the spot on the map, it tells me too just how hard I should be digging in that x marked spot. That is a huge difference in information.

My matrix system is a really nice way to mix logic and emotion to get the best decision that can be made. It optimizes...
 
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Pearl, I love this thread, just saw it today.

I'm trying to optimize for different metrics these days myself. And it's hard.

I'm detail oriented - which makes me a really great bookkeeper and accountant, plus I'm really good at organizing and caretaking. Though frankly, those qualities make it hard to keep an eye on the horizon or the big picture because my focus is regularly narrowed to the minutiae.

Then my mother died in mid-November followed by my daughter having a baby - my first ever grandchild! - in early December. For all of that, I spent a month away from wheaton labs, caretaking for my family. And...my heart felt like it was put through a taffy pulling machine.

When I returned to wheaton labs, the place had seriously degraded in my absence. My sinuses swelled and began burning when in the house. It took me three hours just to make one room - our bedroom - less claustrophic and livable (to me) again. Plus another 5 hours that weekend cleaning the dust and mold in just the master bedroom and bathroom.

Let's just say that my pain and anger gave me a huge "aha!" moment. It was excruciatingly clear why I couldn't get everything done on a daily basis that I wanted to get done and why I kept getting so sick here. And I had actually been wondering what was wrong with me in not being able to get to "all the things." I was mostly angry with myself (though it's more complicated than that, of course).

I did some simple math and discovered that when I am feeling well, it's been close to 30 hours per week that I have spent on community support tasks. Mostly thankless tasks. And, there have been far too many phases when I have not felt well, due to overwhelming fatigue, migraines, chronic sinus infections, mold exposure, etc. At those low times, I figure I probably still spent 15-20 hours per week on thankless minutiae tasks which, in hindsight, I think was far too expensive for my overall well being.

So my anger has been an amazing catalyst for me. I am now optimizing for myself (my health, my business, my stress levels) in ways that I haven't in years.

With my business, the type of accounting I do, January is my busiest month.  So, I am giving myself all kinds of latitude to focus on that and whatever I need to de-stress and continue to heal from the heart in the taffy puller and the physical stuff I've been going through.

Suffice it to say that one person's stress can be another person's joy. Like an extrovert loving the hubbub of a throng of people and an introvert cringing at the thought.

In writing this, I see that I have narrowed my focus to myself, and my well being. I'd love to have a view toward optimizing a broader picture, like the inspirational goals of abundance and wildlife, etc. that Pearl described in the OP, but I'm not there yet. Gotta get through January and supporting the awesome businesses I work with first.

This might sound odd, but I'm really hoping my anger continues so that I carry some real change past January in to the rest of the year and onward. It's not always fun being an angry person, because I certainly prefer being pleasant. Though for clarity - wow! Cleave through to the truth, baby! I'm there!


 
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Pearl
I found this thread very interesting.  I think few individuals spend time on introspection:  What are the important things in one’s life?  What makes them happy?  Do they judge themselves thru the looking glass of how others equate success or failure?  How to prioritize your time between the tasks that must be done and those you do for enjoyment? How do you make important decisions in life? And how do you measure all the above?
I believe it’s all a balancing act. {If you look for it}, good things always offset the bad.   For myself I have always been pretty contented.  I count my blessing every day.  I have tried to live my life, so I’ll have no regrets. Completing a hard task can bring a feeling of fulfillment and even joy.

I’ll never forget the feeling of accomplishment and joy I felt the first time I set the dinner table with everything on it “home grown”.  I was about 23 then, our first big garden, and what seemed like months of toil.

Since my husband of 53 years passed away, many things on the farm have been stressful due mostly to my ignorance of the things he took care of.  But I look out the window, I’m surrounded by the beauty of nature. I count my blessing; I could be living in LA or New York in some little flat or even homeless.

I appreciated the things my husband did, he overindulged me more then I realized. However, I also cherished and spoiled him.  No regrets.

My 93-year-old father-in-law lives with me. I love him like my Dad.  Yes, he is a little more work. I count him as a blessing.  Because of him, I have purpose.  I have maintained a semblance of daily routines I’m not sure I would have been able to do without him.  Grief and depression could have been incapacitating.

As for finding the time to do the things you want to do; MAKE TIME. You may not get to do what you want every day, but sometime during the week you can find some time.   I have actually done this.  At one point in my life I had a family, a job, was going to college 3 days a week, and putting up vegetables from the garden. I admit I did not do this all alone. The drive to work and University was about an hour each way.  I would leave at dawn and get home sometimes at dark.  My son also had a long ride on the school bus- first on last off.  So, we all got up early, ate breakfast, got dressed and left the house.  My husband would have the vegetables picked and in the house that night. We would get them ready for processing together (most often in the freezer).  On the nights I got home late, my husband would start dinner. Notice I said start. Ha Ha, His idea of dinner and a balanced meal was to cook one thing. One time he made squash gravy.  It was so bad the dog would not eat it.  A for effort, but even he had to laugh at that attempt. Getting back to the subject of time, between a 1st grader, the housekeeping, studying and the garden my spare time was limited. I found one of those little daily schedule books that have the hours of the one day on each page. I colored in the time for driving, job, school, studying and sleep.  Allotted a certain amount of time for the house, meals and garden. There was always and hour or two in there somewhere during the week that I had time to mess around with my crafts or just read a book.  However, I know times have changed.  We didn’t watch much TV, there was only 3 channels.  We had no computers.  Try this for one week. Color in the “must do’s” I bet that somewhere in there you will find some time for your own thing.  When you find it, use it.  Don’t go to the “should do’s” list.

Why or how to measure the Gross Domestic Happiness ?   Either you like your self and what you do for a living or you don’t.  Yes, set goals to change what you don’t like and strive to make it happen. But will meeting your goal actually make you a happy person. I see goals and decision making as intertwined.  The decision you make might affect the goal you wish to meet. But life happens, maybe your decision was wrong, maybe you never reach you goal. Is this going to make you an unhappy person for the rest of your life?  I’m not one to “go with the flow” But goals sometimes become unrealistic and must be altered and new decisions made. I don’t think happiness can be measured.  One can be happy 3 times a day and frustrated 3 times a day.  So, was this a happy day?  My thoughts are to squeeze every moment of joy possible into each day and count your blessings every day.
 
Travis Johnson
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Pearl Sutton wrote:So the question to think on is what are your actual goals in life, including what makes you happy and fulfilled, not just how much money you bring in or how many trees you plant, but what the effects of those actions are intended to have on your life; and then, how can you measure that so you know if you are achieving it or not, so you know whether you need to change what you are doing to produce the end result you desire?

It’s easy to figure out things like “I want to plant 10 trees right there” and check it off a list when it’s done, but the more subtle goals of happiness and doing what matters to you is harder to quantify. I am working on figuring out how to define and quantify my deeper goals, it’s an interesting exercise! It’s so easy to get caught up in the short or long range tasks and forget the goals the tasks are working toward.



Pearl...I think this is actually pretty easy. I just spent about ten minutes making an Excel Spreadsheet that does all this. Basically it is a daily log that you would fill out. On it, you chart how many minutes or hours you spent doing something towards what you feel makes you happy. In the chart I created for you, I put down Human/Wildlife/Plants.

So lets say on January 1st you had a two hour conversation with your Mom. You spent 2 hours building a birdhouse. And you spent an hour looking at a seed catalog. Those are pretty broad metric questions, but you could make it as broad or definitive as you want. Anyway the spreadsheet I created, you would just type in 2, 2 and 1 in the appropriate columns, and the spreadsheet tallied up the daily, monthly, quarterly, and yearly totals on those (3) metric questions.

But then you have to set a goal. Meaning, how many hours per month should I be spending on these three things to make me feel like I am comfortably doing enough to achieve my farm's mission? Lets say it is 50 hours for each one of those things, per month. The spreadsheet is designed to chart out how a person is doing. I set my spread sheet up to go by month, then quarter, and then yearly. I do that because right now it is winter, so a person will be spending a lot of time inside. They could really do a lot to help foster friendship, so go visit a friend while the ground is too cold to plant. But in the spring, when so much time is dedicated to the garden, well goals can change depending on the season. But over all it charts how well you are spending your time.

It kind of works because it is based on the simple premise: if you know you like doing certain things that make you happy, then seeing how often, or how little you spend doing those things, might influence you in how you spend your time.

No chart could ever change a persons behavior, but by having the information in front of you, a person can be MOTIVATED to change. So if you feel your time is not being spent on enough human activities, and you are spending all your time in the garden, then it will chart that.
 
Travis Johnson
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My metrics would be much different.

What I should be charting is how much time I spend with my four daughters, and my wife Katie. But I also enjoy farming, geology, and writing books. It is often hard for me to spend my time proportionally on any of that. Now obviously I SHOULD spend more time engaged with Katie then looking for rocks out in the woods, but with the spreadsheet I created, I can set my goal to be in alignment with that. If I never look for interesting geology, I am going to feel slighted, but good gracious, if I do not spent time with Katie, she will feel slighted. Without my marriage, we have no family, and without family, what sense is there to having a farm? So there has to be balance. I can improve then by charting it.

And we all have this in common: we all have 24 hours in a day.

I have had a successful farm because I have focused on making it a success and not watching youtube videos on silly cat behavior. The more we can shift our focus on lofty pursuits, the better our overall lives will be.

I wish I did not have brain cancer so I could remember better, but there was a man who made it his life's goal to spend 10 minutes each day with everyone of his five kids. That man was never famous, but EVERYONE of his five kids were, and they went on to be great's in their respected fields. Their father spent time with them, nurturing them and just listening to them. Katie does that nightly with our daughter's, but I do not do that so much.

But that kind of shows the impact that focusing our time on lofty pursuits can have.

It is a simple philosophy, if you can see something, you can change it, whether it is where you spend your time, or where you spend your money.

 
Pearl Sutton
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Travis: I too have used Excel to chart massive amounts of data, haven't lately. I have health logs that I kept track of every factor I could come up with for years on end.
The question I am working with, I think, is "How do you chart things that are hard to quantify?"  

I don't spend 2 hours doing anything that isn't serious work. I don't have 2 extra hours in the day, or 2 hours I can cut down anywhere. (I need an extra 10 hours a day to get even just my basics done! I often wish I was an octopus or one of the goddesses with many arms.) I can't really use time as a metric here, as anything positive would be things I change in the tasks I am already doing in that time slot. My time function stacks.

Maybe I could chart by "how much % what I did today was fun to me?" "what % of the things I did felt creative?" "What % of what I did felt like it made someone else happy?" "what % of the people I dealt with today were people I enjoy dealing with?" What % of the day did I feel joyful?"
Or conversely "What % of what I did got done but frustrated me?" "What % didn't get done at all, and added to my stress levels?" "How many times today did I want to scream in frustration?" or, me being me, with my issues "What % of the people I dealt with terrified me to the point of nausea before the interaction?"

Or better yet, have both of these, with the positive things logging in green, the negatives in red, so I try to increase my green % AND lower my red...

Hmm.. interesting thoughts.
 
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This is such a timely topic.
Pearl, I struggle with the same thing. I run my own business, help run another, have this little farm (and it's high summer right now), mentor people in my field, am on call for extended family at all time, cook like a maniac, do volunteer work, and am trying to whip my physical health into shape. I don't have time to journal or do vision board or to be introspective about what I want to do.
And yet, I am a data fan. i love quantifying as much as I possibly can, and it helps me meet my metrics. I was able to look at last year and assess in an instant whether I reached my goal (work less, earn more). I track cash flow and quantify the work I do by volume, so i can just pull the numbers. The problem is collecting the data.

What I've learned is that once it is a habit, tracking data takes no time, but it has to be as easy as possible- ideally, clicking a box. I combine digital and physical means, some extremely low-tech. This year my goal is to exercise three times a week. I have a paper calendar on my office wall, right next to my monitor where I see it all the time, and I need to have three marks on that calendar every week. Nothing fancy, could even be a sticker (if I feel like returning to preschool....). It is easy for me to check and to determine whether I need to get my butt moving or not.

I used to work with adult learners making individual educational plans, and we always encouraged the use of SMART goals (specific, measurable, realistic/relevant, time-limited). I think the measurable thing is the most important part, because if you have to think twice about whether you actually did it or not, you're basically making it hard for yourself to succeed.
With that in mind it might be useful to look at it as a yes/no question that is easy to assess. Maybe start with the bar low.

Did I smile at one stranger today?
Did I respond kindly one time today when I was frustrated and would have rather told the person to go execute an anatomical impossibility?
Did I do something creative with my hands today?
(and make an allowance for a not-applicable, because for example I only go out of the office and encounter strangers a few times a week, so I'm not failing at my goal if I didn't smile at someone today).

I started doing this some years ago when I was starting to get my nutrition into gear, and I used a plastic sheet on the fridge with a wipe-off whiteboard marker to check off servings of greens, flaxseed meal, protein servings, etc. After about a week it wasn't necessary anymore, but it was sure nice to watch as I was building the habit.

I guess my point is to think about small, specific goals that are the essential ones, and to be fair to yourself in thinking about how you can track your path towards reaching them.
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