The Happiness Ratio

I recently found myself chatting with a woman I hadn't met before. She was working a whole lot of hours. She had several kids. She didn't sleep much. At all.

I was overwhelmed just listening to her, and asked if it was all worth it, if she was happy. She turned the question around and asked me - in all seriousness - how she'd know.

And so I told her about my 70/30 when we're involved in something we need to enjoy it at least 70% of the time. Since nothing is perfect, I reasoned, there will always be moments of our work, personal commitments, or relationships that won't be...quite as much fun. Thus the 30%.

Here's a simple 70/30 ratio guide for all of you visual thinkers:


Where did this 70/30 ratio come from, you ask? My own smart head. I based it on my own experiences, as well as the experiences of those I've met along the way.

75/25 felt like a nice goal but - let's face it - perhaps somewhat ambitious. 65/30 felt unacceptable.

And so I believe in this ratio, and so do others, and this is my blog. So there you have it.

Still a bit befuddled, the woman asked how she would know if a particular component of her life made her happy 70% of the time.

It's a fair question. And, although we've discussed some of this in other ways before, it's time to offer a few specific criteria points to help with this particular assessment.

A warning before we begin: you may not be able to answer these questions right now. No biggie. You can track how things are feeling for a few days moving forward.

So let's have a go, shall we?

Happiness Criteria Part I: Your Work

  • How you feel when you wake up and look ahead to your day
  • How you feel on the way to work (ever feel like a small accident might not be the worst thing ever?)
  • How you feel when the work day is (finally?) over
  • How you feel when you give all of your energy to your work day (tired/satisfied or tired/completely fatigued?)
  • How you feel the day before you start your work week
  • What kinds of imaginary and impending conversations you have in your head with your work place colleagues when you're somewhere else (in bed, in the shower, or while pretending to pay attention to your partner are some instances where these might occur)
  • How you feel right before you leave for vacation (there's a difference between going to something and getting away from something)

Happiness Criteria Part II: Your Personal Stuff

  • How you feel when an event, project or task is approaching
  • How you feel when the event, project or task is over
  • How obligated/resigned you feel about the event, project or task
  • How much you avoid committing to the event, project or task
  • How much you seek out the event, project or task

Happiness Criteria Part III: The People Around You

  • How you feel when you know you're going to see them that day
  • How you feel when you see them approaching you in person
  • How you feel when their name pops up in your inbox or on your cell phone
  • How you feel when your time with them is over
  • How you talk about them to others
  • How they play into those imaginary conversations from Part I

The answers to these criteria may vary day-to-day. The point is realizing how you feel most of the time. If you can honestly answer positively 70% of the time or more, chances are that piece of your life makes you happy.

Less than that? You probably want to look at making a change.

And, chances are, you can make change. We sometimes tell ourselves we can't because change is uncertain and change is scary and the devil we know is better than the devil we don't...blah blah blah.

Nonsense. Life is too short to be unhappy. It's certainly too short to be unhappy more than 30% of the time.

Your task then, if I may, is to consider these criteria over the next few days or weeks, to pay attention to how you really feel.

Then, take one component of each part of your life that isn't adding up and start working on that ratio...even a little. Do things you like better...more often. Ease up on the other stuff (and people) you don't. Welcome ideas for new things that can replace what's no longer working.

In the end, your happiness is up to you.

Keep working on this and, eventually, you might just find your ratio blows mine right out of the water.

Helloooo 80/20!


PS: thanks to Josh Janssen for the happy clown face, and to Melissa Wiese for the great sad clown pic.