By Ingrid Sapona
Have you ever kept a food journal? I have. No, it wasn’t
anything like: dear diary, today I had THE best cheeseburger with blue cheese
oozing out when I pressed down on the bun. It was far more boring. It involved writing
down exactly what, and how much, I ate and the general time of day I ate it. The
reason I kept the journal was because a nutritionist I was working with wanted
I hated tracking what I ate. But, I knew it was important in
two ways. First, it provided the nutritionist with information so she could track
whether what I was eating was allowing for healthy weight loss. Second, and
frankly the most important thing, was it kept me honest with myself about what
I was eating and how much. (Or, to put it another way for those of you who are
more new agey, keeping the journal made me more mindful
of what I was eating.)
Keeping a food journal and regularly getting on the nutritionist’s
scale were necessary evils that yielded useful information, but not data I’d
ever dream of sharing with anyone other than the nutritionist. Indeed, I feel self-conscious
writing about it here, but since it relates to the big picture that’s the topic
for today’s column, I decided to include it.
Last week I was watching a Saturday morning kids show about
innovations. One of the segments was about a device that you clip to your shirt
and it buzzes if you slouch. I’ve been trying to pay attention to my posture
lately because I’m pretty sure that most of the time (ok, all of the time that
I’m not specifically thinking about it) my posture is bad. So, the idea of a
little device that reminds me to sit up straight seems brilliant. (The fact
that I can choose to unclip it also appeals!) Mind you, though I’ve added it to
my Amazon wish list, I’ve not yet committed to trying it.
I’ve also used a pedometer to count the number of steps I’ve
gone in a day or, say, on a hike. One of the things I always found interesting when
I wore one is that often the number of steps registered didn’t seem to match my
perception of how much I had walked. Sometimes I walked less than I thought I
had, and sometimes more than I realized. I never really used the pedometer to
motivate me to do more, which is certainly a reason many people use them
Of course, there are lots more sophisticated devices on the
market these days that people are turning to to track their level of activity
and fitness. Today you can get wearable devices that track your steps, your
speed, your heart rate, your blood pressure, and even the oxygen in your blood.
And, since the info is collected digitally, apparently you can share the “data”
these devices collect with friends and family over the internet.
I’m happy to report that none of my friends have shared any
data like that with me. Most of the time I’m only moderately interested in
paying attention to such information about myself and, at the risk of sounding
rude, I’m really not interested in following others’ stats. If friends want to
tell me about goals they’re working toward, I’ll cheer them on, but not
minute-by-minute or erg-by-erg.
Apparently, according to a documentary I saw on TV about this,
using devices to gather biofeedback and tracking it has become a movement
called QS, which stands for Quantified Self. The movement’s motto is “self
knowledge through numbers”. QS’ers believe that by tracking different things
they’ll come up with personal data patterns that will enable them to transform
their lives. They’ll do this – so I understand – by comparing the patterns with
their moods to figure out what works best to make them feel good. As one of the
folks interviewed put it, they’re looking for a personal formula for happiness.
While there’s lots about the concept of identifying one's
formula for happiness that I have trouble with, my first stumbling block would
be grading my moods. What categories would I put different levels of happiness
into? Maybe one would be: ‘something that puts a smile on my face’; or maybe ‘something
that tickles me’; or ‘something that moves me to tears’. But hold on, would
something that moves me to tears be on the happy or sad end of the spectrum? See
what I mean??
Maybe folks in the QS movement are on to something, I don’t
know. But I can’t help wonder what they’re missing as they focus on crunching
the data. If their heart rate quickens because a loved one surprises them with
something, are they more interested in noting the increased beat than enjoying
the moment? I hope not…
As for me, I already have a good idea of lots of things that
never fail to increase my happiness… Mint chip ice cream, champagne, a fresh
coat of snow glistening in the sun – these are just a few things that are sure
bets when it comes to making me happy.
What about you? Have you got a good idea of the elements of
your formula for happiness, or do you feel you need to track more data?