By John C. Havens
I’m a geek, and have been writing about tech and culture for a number of years. I love the gadgets and am a huge Apple fan although I’m not much interested in their Watch as I already have an iPhone so don’t need to strap one to my wrist. While I am fond of the idea of sending self-drawn emojis, it’s the inclusion of Apple Pay in the watch that’s truly genius. Apple already trained us to purchase music and movies via one-click payments attached to our credit cards – now they’re doing the same with one-authentication arm gestures at Point of Sale.
But the new Health App in the iPhone 6 is set to truly transform culture. By allowing multiple quantified self and tracking apps to aggregate data in one place, the app will help a person understand their physical wellbeing like never before. I say “wellbeing” versus health, because the focus of my work is on quantifying happiness as it manifests in the form of active and passive data and I believe this type of Health App can help people understand and increase their sense of self worth like never before.
In my book, Hacking H(app)iness – Why Your Personal Data Counts and How Tracking it Can Change the World, my hypothesis is simple – if you want your life to count, you have to take a count of your life. By formally taking a measure of your life, you gain insights about the actions and behaviors that bring you a sense of purpose and increase your wellbeing.
The physical measures like the ones featured in Apple’s App are fairly easy to track. In my case, I’ve been actively measuring my exercise, sleep, and weight data with a Withings Pulse Monitor and Scale. The monitor tracks my steps, sleep, and heartrate via a small wearable and their Health Mate app. The Scale measures my weight and body mass, and synchs with their app. Here’s a sample of some of my recent data:
When I speak on the subject of quantified happiness, a variant of the quantified self where my focus is on analyzing multiple elements that factor into a person’s wellbeing, many people feel that measuring or scrutinizing these types of things might sap the joy out of these experiences. I have a three-part answer in response:
You’re Worth Measuring. My Dad was a Psychiatrist for over 40 years, and it was his death that inspired my work on wellbeing. He allowed people to take a measure of their lives, and feel that they counted. Observing areas of your life that include emotion and physical reactions to emotional stimuli may feel squirrely at first, but they’ll reap insights designed to help you make positive change.
It’s Only For a Finite Amount of Time. Like any project, you won’t need to track yourself in granular detail for the rest of your life. And passive sensor data (from apps that track without you having to do anything) mitigate the time commitment of tracking by a huge deal. More importantly, studies like the PEW Research Internet Project’s Tracking For Health Study indicate that tracking for a relatively short time period can improve your overall approach to health for the rest of your life.
Taking Actions Leads to Insights. A lot of us think we know what makes us happy yet we remain miserable. Using apps or technology to provide an outside perspective means we bring fresh data that can bring actionable insights to our lives. For instance, you might get a Biowatch from Neumitra to measure your autonomic nervous system, so you can timestamp and GPS locate what brings you the most stress throughout your day. These are all taken passively, so all you need to do is decide what to avoid in the future to alleviate your stress.
While there are dozens of mood apps you can try in conjunction with your health tracking, (I’ve been using In Flow) it wasn’t until I recently tracked my Values that I was able to fully understand what areas of my life were out of balance that negatively affected my wellbeing. I’m the Founder of a non-profit foundation called The H(app)athon Project, and I created a Values Tracking Survey with one of our Board Members, Peggy Kern. Our premise was based on the work of Konstantin Augemberg who wanted to see if he was living his life in accordance with his values. There’s a great deal of research showing your wellbeing decreases if you’re not living in accordance with your values, but it’s amazing how few of us can even name all our values, let alone live to them on a daily basis.
We based our work on the World Values Survey and asked people to track the following twelve areas of their lives by responding to a daily email prompt over the course of two weeks:
- Time Balance
- Arts & Culture
- Material Wellbeing
- Good Times
- Helping Others
As it turns out, these attributes are relatively standard across the globe. We had people rate on a sliding scale how each of these values affected their lives at the start of our survey. Then at the end of each day they documented if they felt they had lived to their values that day. Here’s a sample of the intake survey ratings tool:
For our beta version of the Survey, we had a small number of people participate, but our results were very encouraging. As this chart shows, people who took the survey overwhelmingly said their wellbeing increased due to tracking their Values (the metrics below refer to questions also posed at the beginning of the survey):
For my part, I realized that while I rated “health” as an important value in my life, I wasn’t doing anything to improve it. So to walk my quantified talk, I began using the Withings Monitor and have been running five miles a day for almost a month. I’ve lost a good deal of weight and inches, and feel amazing. But as many times as I’ve tried to lose weight in the past, this experience has been different. I’ve known for years that I need to lose my gut, but it wasn’t until I saw data in a chart like the ones above reflecting my lack of action that I was incentivized to make a change. Not losing weight has been a drag. But not living to my values was undercutting my sense of purpose and wellbeing.
I hope this idea of tracking your values is helpful. Increasing your wellbeing is not a formula, and it’s my belief happiness comes from taking actions based on your values and purpose versus simply trying to increase your mood. Apple’s new Health app and a slew of other emerging tech can help you track and improve your own sense of wellbeing, and I encourage you to give it a try. You’re worth the effort.
John C. Havens is the Founder of The H(app)athon Project, a non-profit Foundation, ‘Connecting Happiness to Action’ via the use of values-based, interactive technology and keynote at Miami’s upcoming Social Good Summit. He is the author of Hacking H(app)iness - Why Your Personal Data Counts and How Tracking it Can Change the World (Tarcher/Penguin), Principal of Transitional Media Consulting. John has been quoted about issues relating to technology and culture in USA Today, C-Span, NPR, US News & World Report, Forbes, Fast Company, The Guardian, Mashable, the BBC, The Huffington Post, and Advertising Age.