Small changes and little shifts are being used across the world by governments and organisations to change societies. Insight into human behaviour has seen public policy implement ‘nudge theory’ – soft incentives and simple actions to lead to longer term and more significant results.
So what about on an individual scale? Can the same techniques be employed? Author of Nudge Your Way to Happiness Jon Cousins believes so. He devised the mood tracking app and website MoodScope, after his personal battle with depression. Frustration and disillusionment with the ‘broken system’ of mental health services offered, and a determination to improve his wellbeing, led him to start tracking his mood and the activities or events that seemed to shift it. Just like poor physical health is addressed through action, it’s essential that mental health is too – no one is a ‘complete hostage to fortune.’
He turned this mood testing into a game, carrying around cards in his pockets and rating himself every morning. Whilst doing so, he has built up a range of actions to take when he needs a lift, some when it’s just to maintain, and others when things are pretty much ok.
Nudge Your Way to Happiness is a 30 day workbook that combines a tracking system that enables you to rate and record your wellbeing every day with ‘nudges’. After rating your mood for the day, you’re directed to a nudge that’s been tailor-made for your current level of wellbeing. Warm and funny, easy instructions, fun doodles, quick questions and only a page a day to read, it’s an accessible form of self-help.
There’s not only one cause of unhappiness, and so there’s not one solution. The person, the day, and the response all differ. As Jon acknowledge from his personal experience, that when he is depressed, he really doesn’t feel like socialising. His own plan was to have three options to ensure that he at least got out of the house – going to a café and sitting alone, going to his favourite café and talking briefly to the owners, or having lunch with a friend. With three possible nudges for each of 30 days, he has calculated that there are over 205 trillion combinations possible.
Musical time travel, choosing colours that make you feel bright, avoiding toxic relationships, learning a three minute skill, getting outside are just some of the themes covered. After the 30 days are up patterns should be clear and an understanding of what personal adjustments to someone’s lifestyle are most useful for them, and when they are best employed.
Combining scientific evidence, lived experience and practical advice, this is not the template or formula for achieving perfect happiness, but a self-help toolkit of exploration.