My Happiness Index Is Dead

The more I think about the happiness index, the more I think it’s broken. We should change it into an improvement index.

Today I was very happy. Except for the intimidating line of 15 people at the hotel’s check-out desk, the rest of my visit to Copenhagen, including my presentation at Nordea bank, went as well as I could hope for. I would give today a 5 out 5 on the happiness index.

Yesterday I was also very happy. Except for the stupid design of the power socket near my hotel bed, I enjoyed my stay in Helsinki. And the participants of my course (which had sold out) all seemed to be quite satisfied. I’d give yesterday also a 5.

It wouldn't surprise me if tomorrow, when I’m giving a presentation at a seminar in Bonn, is also going to result in a 5.

It almost seems boring, doesn’t it? I rate every day with a 5. Sure, I complain a lot (I’m Dutch after all), but overall I’m quite happy with my life and the work I created for myself.

It appears I’m suffering from a flatliner. It’s a 5 almost every day.

This is not good. Nothing much is happening.

My happiness index is almost dead.

Relative Metrics

In his last book Jim Highsmith wrote that relative metrics are better than absolute metrics. And the beyond budgeting principles suggest the same thing. You should prefer relative performance over absolute targets. Aiming to “do your best” is an absolute target. Aiming to do “better than yesterday” is a relative target.

I don’t like scoring a 5 every day, because I cannot improve beyond 5. Once I’ve reached 5, things can only get worse. It’s quite depressing, actually. That’s why I think we should change the absolute scale of 1 .. 5 to a relative scale of –2 .. +2.

We could change the happiness index into an improvement index.

Improvement Index

0 means… nothing has changed. Today was very similar to yesterday. No improvements. No setbacks. Nothing special. Life goes on. I’m still here.

+1 means today was better than yesterday. Something small improved my work. And +2 means something big had a major impact on my daily life.

-1 means today was worse than yesterday. Something small worsened my work. And -2 means something big had a negative impact on my daily life.


On the improvement index, it appears I have scored 0 for several days. Aha! Now there’s room for improvement! In fact, with this index there’s always room for improvement.

Despite the hotel wi-fi, which costs me 22 euros per day here in Germany (which is how they support the EU), I’m still happy. Just like yesterday. But now I have an incentive to make a small improvement, no matter what it is. Just to see if I can make my day a +1.

Maybe I should find an alternative to expensive hotel wi-fi…

My Happiness Index is dead. Long live the Improvement Index.


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