Can tracking happiness make us happier?

November 21, 2019   ·  

Having built Harkn with companies in mind, we’d always imagined the impact of what we do coming from the actions of those companies (our clients), but what we’re learning suggests impact beyond our initial expectations.      

We’ve always said that it’s best to think of Harkn as we do FitBit. 

Wearing a FitBit device doesn’t make you fitter (at least that was true of the one I had), what it does is make us aware of how much we move (how many steps we take) and in doing so, it provokes action. 

It’s the resulting action that makes us fitter. 

We’ve always described Harkn in a similar way. Tracking happiness raises awareness of how people feel at work, and when made available as data and associated insights becomes in many respects the emotional equivalent of understanding how much we move about. 

In the case of our fitness, if we do nothing more than count our steps, it’s reasonable to expect that nothing would change. To be fitter, we’d need to take some action, specifically be more active. 

But is the same true of our happiness? 

What we’re learning suggests that tracking our happiness regularly, could be considered an action in its own right, and have a positive effect on how we feel as a result. 

Anecdotally, this would seem to be true… 

About 9 months after launching Harkn, I’d just finished giving a talk about happiness to the employees at one of our clients when a hand went up at the back of the room…      

“I used to think that Harkn was cr*p… another management gimmick… I only used it to be a good corporate citizen”.

Now, clearly, because he’d started with “I used to think…” you can probably tell it gets better but honestly, I was expecting a question, and as I stood there in front of this group, I was more than a little nervous about what might follow. 

“After a month or so, I was looking back at my tracker and I realised that most of it was negative… low ratings each day and pretty negative comments alongside… that wasn’t an accurate reflection of my life nor who I want to be…”

“Now, I really look forward to my daily nudge from Harkn as it gives me a moment to stop and think about my day… and encourages me to notice the positives around me and there are many!”

That was the first time that I’d heard this kind of story. I loved hearing it then and I still love it. 

Thankfully, it wasn’t the only time, and since that first one we’ve had many people share similar stories with us and each time it reminds us that we’re making a small difference. 

Paying more attention to how we feel would seem to be a reasonably effective way to exercise some control over how those feelings affect us. 

People telling us that our tool helps them is great, it really is, but we wanted to know whether there was anything in our data set to support what we were hearing… 

Are these stories reflected in the data? 

Earlier this year, we passed a milestone of sorts, with our very first client reaching the end of their second year on the platform… giving us the perfect opportunity to explore our happiness metric over two years. 

It makes sense at this stage to offer a simple explanation of our approach to tracking happiness (see below) just to offer a little context for what follows.

The first thing we did was look at the two years alongside each other…

As you can see from the image (above), things in this organisation had clearly improved. 

The things you’d like to see improve (in this context) did, i.e. more people rating their happiness towards the higher end of the scale. And the things you’d want to see reduce did too… fewer people rating at the very low end of the scale (representing “very unhappy”). 

Both in absolute terms, and relative terms, things were looking up… but this doesn’t offer an answer to our question about whether the process of rating happiness might actually help improve it…         

Did regularity of use show any relationship with happiness levels? 

When we explored the relationship between how people rated their happiness and the frequency with which they did it, it was pretty clear that those using the tool with greater frequency were consistently reporting higher levels of happiness than their less active colleagues.

This seemed to us to be another really positive indicator but there are still many possible explanations for this — e.g. they’re just happier people.         

Use of our tool was certainly associated with people reporting higher levels of happiness — but was it increasing or improving?   

Using only our ‘more regular’ population, we explored how their ratings had changed over time… and again, the results were really interesting. With two years of data, we were able to isolate our high frequency participants, and compare their ratings in each month over the duration.     

What it showed was that they were indeed reporting higher levels of happiness in 2018 when compared to 2017. 

The result certainly supports the case for “tuning-in” to our emotions regularly, and suggests that there is a relationship between tracking happiness and perceptions of happiness on a day-to-day basis. 

For the record, whilst we believe that we’re playing a part in helping people establish a more positive outlook, we’re not claiming to be the cause of it. 

We believe that the daily process of “checking-in” with ourselves, or “tuning-in”, establishes a foundation of understanding about what’s happening in our lives, how we are responding to our environment (in emotional terms) and for those who take that seriously and manage to make it part of their routine, it seems to be helping them to view the world and their part of it more positively… 

It’s certainly not a bad outcome as I’m sure you’ll agree.     

David Bellamy
David Bellamy

Founder and CEO, Connect with David on LinkedIn

Happiness at workWellbeing

Further reading