Little changes bring big results (so avoid Facebook stalking after three glasses of wine)
At 26 years old, I was living on a diet of dumplings, MSG, and leftover booze. We had a five year lease and a loan to pay off. I was stuck in this until 2017 unless someone bought the business or a rogue cigarette burned the building down. No one enquired about the business, and I don’t smoke.
I’ve always found that quantifying emotions helps me to remain grounded and make decisions rooted in actual reality, as opposed to the reality created by the constant chatter in my head. I figured that at the end of our lease, I needed to be able to look back on the experience and say, “Over half the time, it was worth it.” At that point, I felt like I had one good day out of every seven, which meant that I was only content with my life 14% of the time. Floating around at 14% Happiness simply wasn’t worth all of the tears, late nights, and arbitrary business regulations randomly made up by the New York City government. Something needed to change. I needed to hit 51%, that was all. Anything more was icing on the… boozy cupcake.
I began to make small changes that were likely to get me closer to that 51%, or 3.6 good days in a week. A good day, I decided, was one in which I felt generally content 51% of the time. Days in which I came home from work, drank a glass or two of wine and ate sushi while watching Mad Men occasionally bumped my Daily Happiness Average to 51%. Days in which I came home from work, drank a bottle of wine and ate a pizza while watching The Biggest Loser generally didn’t make it over that 51% hump, especially after that third glass, when Facebook stalking suddenly becomes a depressing journey through nostalgia and jealousy.
Sometimes I miss those Tuesdays
At first, I measured “generally content” broadly, by simply checking in with myself about how I felt at the end of the day and making a mental note between “better than yesterday,” or “worse than yesterday.” Eventually, my rating system became more detailed, and these days, I record my DHR (Daily Happiness Rating) at the top of every evening’s journal entry. For example, yesterdays rating clocked in at 83% because I was “generally pleased with life today, but it was brought down by mild irritation thanks to an hour at the Portuguese post office.”
I also applied the 51% to each individual decision, because as long as that singular decision fell at 51% or higher, it would help guarantee an overall 51% Lifetime Happiness Average. I didn’t — and still don’t—quantify through methods like pro and con lists, mostly because I find that pro and con lists primarily address logic while neglecting emotion and intuition. Though the 51% Theory in itself is logic and data driven, I base the actual decision on how it makes me feel. Whenever I’m faced with a situation during the day, I take a moment and simply ask myself, “Where does this decision fall on the scale? How do I feel when I think about it? Do I feel expanded or contracted? Joyful or apprehensive?” If the decision feels like it will bring 51% Happiness, I go with it, even in the absence of logic or practicality. If I don’t know the answer, I wait a day or two, gather more information, and ask again. Patience, I find, is the key to discerning the difference between 49% and 51%.
In the beginning, it was all about the little things. One of the first decisions I made using the 51% Theory was to get rid of all my college clothes that made me feel like an inexperienced child and replace them with clothes that made me feel powerful. That was an easy decision, probably around 80% on the scale. The 20% hesitation was tied to spending money I didn’t really have, but feeling better in my clothes every single day automatically increased my Daily Happiness Average without having to do any more additional work. In one decision, I increased my daily happiness for the foreseeable future.
I felt sluggish and out of shape (dumplings go straight to my hips), so I joined a CrossFit gym around the corner. Initially, I placed that decision at a 55/45 split. It seemed like a great idea, but I hated getting up in the morning to work out, hated the actual act of lifting weights, and hated that I paid $250/month to be miserable for an hour and sore for days. I told myself that I would stick it out for a few months, and if that 55% Happiness fell below 51%, I would drop the gym and try something else. Instead, I loved that 50lb bags of flour started to feel light. I shifted my mindset from what my body could do, and not what it looked like. I ate better and drank less. I found a new set of friends. The initial 55% turned into 95%, and I soon saw an increase in the the number of good days in a week. Instead of one overall good day out of seven, I occasionally had two good days. Maybe even two and a half. At 2.5 good days out of 7, my Weekly Happiness Average shot up to around 35%.
I was moving in the right direction, so I applied this theory to all aspects of my life. Will that cake make me feel 51% better about myself over time, or 51% worse? Will I be 51% content with my decision to go on that awkward second date, or would I be 51% happier spending the night at home? Will hiring a new employee make work 51% better, or will the hassle of training be 51% more of a pain in the ass? Basically, I turned my life into an epic game of Would You Rather, with the intent of knowing that every decision I made would somehow improve or worsen my Lifetime Happiness Average.
Some decisions gave the average a major boost, such as deciding to write the Prohibition Bakery book
or deciding to leave New York City to travel around the world. Other decisions brought the average down, like overstaying a bad relationship, or letting laziness and depression rule my decision-making process.