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Nudge your way to happiness

05 May 2016 | Jon Cousins

Founder of Moodnudges, Jon Cousins, shares how he learned to 'nudge' his way towards greater happiness and how you can too

Nudge Your Way To Happiness 1

I'm a bit ashamed to admit I'd been depressed on and off for almost 30 years before I eventually decided to ask for help.

Although I never really got the support I'd hoped for from the health system, I ended up OK. Let me tell you how.

In a nutshell, I found a way to manage my own well-being, and the core concept boils down to two easy steps.

1. When your mood improves, it nearly always does so gradually. No single overnight thing is likely to get you better. Fortunately, however, it's easy to make steady progress if you take small, simple actions every day.

2. If you understand your mood better, you can choose actions that fit you well - neither too ambitious, nor too unchallenging.

Now this might sound ridiculously simple, and in fact once you know how to put it into practice, it really isn't complicated.

But it's taken me around 10 years to figure this out properly, so if you'd like to get there a bit more quickly, please read on.

Different on the inside

I've spent most of my career working for myself. Alongside co-founders I've started several businesses. Some have done well.

However, while probably looking successful, happy and well-adjusted from the outside, all too often I was struggling with depression on the inside.

For way too long I believed I could somehow manage without help, and ironically it turned out that even when I did ask for it, I ended up having to self-manage.

However one crucial plank in my recovery did come about through seeing a psychiatrist, after being referred by my doctor.

She listened sympathetically enough, then asked me to return in three months, to report back on how I'd been.

I don't know about you, but to me this seems a strange way to handle someone who has clearly made a cry for help.

However, having been given what I regarded as a mission, I set out to find a way to record my ups and downs that felt as objective as possible, and I turned a tried-and-tested mood test into an easy-to-use tool that would give me daily scores.

This turned out to be unexpectedly insightful.

Imagine dieting without weighing yourself

Imagine that instead of wanting to become less depressed, I'd been trying to lose weight. Wouldn't it have made sense to weigh myself regularly, so I'd see my progress?

Otherwise, how would I have known how I was doing?

Stepping on the bathroom scales would also have given me instant feedback, showing me that getting some vigourous exercise had been good for my weight - for example - while eating an enormous cream cake definitely hadn't.

Tracking my mood gave me this kind of immediate feedback for my emotional well-being, enabling me to discover actions that were good for me, and others which weren't.

What did I discover?

In my case I learned, for example, that having unexpected conversations about business finances were unhelpful mood-wise.

But being around other people gave me a lift, which came as something as a surprise.

I'd always seen myself as self-contained, even a bit introverted.

The trouble was, on my bleaker days, it was hard to contemplate even leaving the house, let alone getting together with friends, but this is when something really significant struck me.

Next stop, the Tearoom

Since my mood tracking was giving me a sense of how I was doing, I could tailor my actions to fit this, so I decided to use the Buttercross Tearoom in my local park as the basis of an ongoing lunchtime experiment.

On the occasional day when I felt great, I would arrange to meet a friend there.

On so-so days I'd go on my own, but exchange a word or two with some of the other regulars.

And on particularly grim days, I'd still go, but would sit quietly at a table on my own, still benefiting from being around others, even if I didn't interact with them.

This worked, and my mood tracking proved it. So I steadily introduced other kinds of daily actions, each time customising them for my current mood.

Nudge Your Way To Happiness 2

Some of these were based on the Action for Happiness Ten Keys to Happier Living, and I'm happy to say that I've got to know this fantastic organisation and its Director, Mark Williamson, very well over the years.

That's partly because I've already made some parts of my system available to others.

At Moodscope.com, my co-founders and I gave many thousands of people a way to track their mood.

Then, after moving on from Moodscope to start a new life in California, I've blogged four times a week at Moodnudges.com, passing on ideas for mood-lifting actions.

Combining the ingredients

Now, though, for the first time I've pulled together all the pieces in the shape of a book that does the full monty.

Over a period of 30 days it enables you to measure and track your overall well-being (emotional, physical and social) then each day it directs you to one of three tailored actions, a bit like my lunchtime tearoom experiments.

While writing the book I asked a small group to put my system to the test, giving them simple actions designed to lift their mood each day for a week, and also helping them understand their moods by scoring them every day, enabling their actions to be "made-to-measure".

This pilot test worked surprisingly well, and in fact two-thirds of the trialists got better scores on a clinical depression test after just seven days.

On your marks, get set, nudge

The full book, which takes the form of a 30 day self-administered course is called "Nudge Your Way to Happiness" and it's available now on Amazon in the UK and internationally.

It took me 10 years to devise this system. I hope you'll make rather faster progress.

And thank you, Action for Happiness, for being a huge force for good in my own life and those of thousands upon thousands of others.


Nudge Your Way To Happiness Jon Cousins Outside

Jon Cousins is the founder of Moodscope and Moodnudges and has been an Action for Happiness supporter since the movement first launched in 2011.


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