Happiness is a very slippery concept, not least of all because of its highly subjective nature. We all seem to be constantly searching for happiness. Yet moments of happiness, once attained, however intense they may be, are always transient. Philosophy has long since struggled with defining the essence of happiness. Two enduring philosophical traditions of interpreting happiness include hedonism, which equates it with pleasure seeking, and eudaimonia, which places emphasis on the life well lived.
Recently, psychology and neuroscience have joined forces in investigating brain states associated with happiness, thus seeking to unravel this elusive emotion. The scientific endeavours at deciphering happiness are motivated by the hope of generating knowledge which in the long run will enable us to effectively manage and thus maximise happiness. However, the basic premise enabling such research in the first place is that happiness and its correlates are measurable and quantifiable.
For the duration of one hundred days, from 31th August until 8th December 2013, I closely monitored and measured various elements of my health regime, my daily work habits, degree of fullfilment of meaningful tasks, as well as my subjective sense of well-being. The results of my data collecting were coded into colours and numbers, according to a system which allowed me to differentiate between "objectively" measurable parametres (such as healthy food intake, accomplishment of daily goals, etc) and more "subjective" ones (e.g. my subjective sense of well-being).
The installation comprises two colour grids, each of which reflects the hundred days of my self-monitoring through different colour values, and two black-and white grids, each of which translates my levels of "happiness" into images of my brain and numbers respectively.
The first grid represents a fusion of several data sets, translated into different colour values by using the RGB colour model. The red, green and blue components are related to the monitoring of my efficiency at fulfilling the envisioned tasks throughout the day, my ability to stick to the appropriate dietary choices, as well as to my fitness and cosmetic regimes. The second grid translates the subjective evaluation of my daily subjective feeling of well-being for the same period of the self-monitoring into a continuous colour scale ranging from yellow to red.
Whereas the first two grids reflect values related to self-control and eudaimonia, the third grid focuses on monitoring a subjective pattern of pleasure seeking. It refers to the same hundred days as the colour grids, only that it discloses moment at which I had a particular thought which caused a sense of intense pleasure. The moment I became aware of having this thought I wrote down the exact time of the day or night. I continued this practice for the whole period of hundred days.
The fourth black-and-white grid comprises one hundred structural sagittal slices of my brain generated as a resukt of my voluntary participation in a neuroscientific experiment. As opposed to the other three grids, which refer to a timeframe of one hundred days, the structural brain images were produced within minutes, while I was lying in a large MRI scanner. The focus of the experiment was to measure the extent of positive emotional reactions to a rewarding event, in this case, winning a game of chance.
Over the period of almost two hours I was playing a roulet game specifically designed for the experiment, while the scientist were indirectly measuring my brain activity. Following the application of highly complex multi-level data analysis, a visualization of my brain acivation when winning was generated. This image, which simultaneously shows highly abstracted features of my face and a view of my "open" brain, is the only individual image present in my installation.
Different media that I have implemented in order to code the results of the measuring processes - which range from colour charts, numbers and sagittal brain sections - reference different scientific approaches and models of investigating and gauging happiness. Yet, the final grids remain illegible, although they accurately represent the information gathered through measurement. By withholding the details of pertaining coding systems that were used in generating each grid, I invite the viewer to develop their own, highly subjective interpretations of my coded emotional states.
Emotional reactions ranging from euphoria to despair, at times difficult personal choices or exhilarating experiences, and more or less successful attempts at self-control are coded into highly abstract and aesthetically pleasing colour patterns, black-andwhite brain images or numbers respectively. Their full meaning, however, remains opaque, pointing to the high level of simplification and approximation inherent to any process of measuring our emotional states and translating them into manageable scientific data.
--- I am thankful to Dr Torsten Wuestenberg of the Charite, Berlin for allowing me to use visaul data stemming from his experiment for my work.