The culmination of my four-year obsession with happiness research is that I think people need to choose between an interesting life or happy life. (Note: This does not mean you are interesting or not interesting. I am talking about what values guide your decision making.) I think the things that make life happy have to do with complacency, and the things that make life interesting have to do with lack of complacency. If you want to read more about this, search on my sidebar “happiness” and “interesting” and you’ll get a bazillion posts because I’ve been obsessed with the topic.

I have discovered that I would rather be interesting than happy. The good news is that even though I'm punting on the quest for happiness, I do have a good sense of how to know if you should be seeking happiness yourself, or if your quest for interesting makes happiness a lost cause.

Here's the test:

1. Did you relocate away from family for a better job or another more interesting experience? Minus one

You would have to earn $150,000 more from a job if you were doing it far away from family, according to economist Nattavudh Powdthavee of University of York.

2. Did you relocate to be near family? Plus one

Happiness does not come from a job, or from being revered by your peers. It comes from personal relationships.

3. Are you nationally recognized as being great at doing something or do you have nationally-recognized expert knowledge in something? Or are you reorganizing your life in order to achieve this end? Minus one

Interesting people raise the bar on themselves. They are singularly focused because they recognize that in order to be great, you need to be focused. They will sacrifice other things in life for this obsession.

4. Were you a happy child? Plus one

Sixty percent of our ability to be happy is predetermined by our genes.

5. Do your friends pray? Plus one

People who pray are happier than people who do not pray, probably because having faith is fundamentally optimistic. (You can be any religion, and pray for anything.) Happiness is contagious, and we are more likely to be happy if our friends are happy.

6. Do you need your kids to go to a school that is recognized as excellent in national rankings? Minus one.

People who need the best of everything — maximizers — are not happy people.

7. Do you have fat friends? Plus one

Fat people are not generally maximizers. And if your friends are not maximizers than you probably aren't either.

8. Do you have an opinion on Picasso? Minus one

People who focus on interesting are quicker to form opinions on subjective topics.

9. Do you have three friends who are a Jew, a Muslim and a born-again Christian? Minus one

Diversity is interesting, but in small groups (like friends) it does not make for happiness, according to Frans Johansson, author of The Medici Effect.

10. Are you a Republican? Plus one

Republicans are happier than democrats. This dichotomy is based a lot on personality. Republicans tend to have personality traits that are uncomfortable with change, whereas people who lean democrat tend to have personality traits of change agents, according to personality research from Xyte.

11. Do you think Christmas is a national holiday? Plus one

Christmas is not a national holiday, because the US is not a Christian country. But regardless of what’s true, homogenous thinking breeds happiness. It's why countries like Sweden and Finland are so happy. They are homogenous.

12. Have you been to a therapist? Minus one

Peopel who are interesting but not happy have a point where they need to make sure they are okay. Also, they are interested in finding out about themselves even if they are fine. The ratio of therapists to citizens is lowest in populations that skew to maximizers (like New York City and San Francisco).

13. Do you know the difference between $70 eyebrows and $20 eyebrows? Minus one

It doesn’t matter if you spend that much for eyebrows. But if you know why people who must have good eyebrows cannot take chances, and why most people have terrible eyebrows, then you took the time to find out enough about eyebrows to know what is best and how yours could be better.

14. Can you tell the difference between real diamonds and fake diamonds. Plus one

Trick question. A maximizer will have tried to learn to figure it out and will have learned that even experts can't without a special tool.

15. Have you tried on a pair of $200 jeans? Minus one

If you are not interested in seeing what they look like on you, you probably just want to be happy with how you are. People who are interested in new experiences are less likely to be happy, according to Psychology Today.

16. Do you think this test is BS? Plus one

People with interesting lives do not get offended that they cannot be happy. Happy people are offended that they cannot have interesting lives.

Scoring:

-8 to -3 You have a desire for interestingness over happiness

3 to 8 You have a desire for happiness over interestingness.

-2 to 2 You are suspiciously well balanced. Or lacking a self-identity. I’m not sure which.

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252 replies
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  1. Kari
    Kari says:

    Complacency (according to the American Heritage dictionary: 1. A feeling of contentment or self-satisfaction, especially when coupled with an unawareness of danger, trouble, or controversy.
    2. An instance of contented self-satisfaction.

    I agree with P’s statement, and it doesn’t seem like she’s trying to say the two mutually exclusive. It seems to me like she’s saying, if you’re satisfied with what you have, you tend to be happier than those people who tend to change it up more…. I scored a 6 BTW…

  2. Gina
    Gina says:

    Yeah, um, what the hell does being fat have to do with an inability to “maximize”? Where did you come up with this theory other than the girl’s bathroom in junior high while you were checking for zits? This is the downside of the internet…no quality control.

  3. Jennyusagi
    Jennyusagi says:

    As a -1, in response to “You are suspiciously well balanced. Or lacking a self-identity. I’m not sure which.”

    I’m only accidentally (and hopefully temporarily) “well balanced” – I’m an optimizer by nature, but have chosen to overcome nature with nurture and been training myself to focus on happiness instead. That negative one tells me I still have a ways to go, but that I’ve also made a decent amount of progress too.

  4. Jeffrey D.
    Jeffrey D. says:

    This reminds me of the opening of Anna Karenina:

    “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own [interesting] way.”

  5. David
    David says:

    I’ve had very similar ideas on the competition between interesting and happy. I’ve really liked many of the posts you’ve done on this topic. I do have a little trouble with #3 and #16. I think of pursuing professional (recognized) excellence as more of a conservative than an open/liberal mindset. And I think the option of either liking this test or being a conservative is a bit of a false choice. The idea you state – happy people are offended by this line of thinking – is probably accurate, but there are many reasons why someone might find this test BS.

    Strangely (or not, maybe), just last night I posted a top 10 list that included a previous article of yours on this subject.

    I hope you’re not ending your posts on this line of thinking.

    All the best,
    David

  6. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    “Fat people are not generally maximizers. And if your friends are not maximizers than you probably aren't either.”

    Paging Kevin Smith! Why not link to the research backing up your statement about fatties? You linked to lots of other research so why not for this one?

  7. Richard Harbridge
    Richard Harbridge says:

    What an interesting conversation of comments and responses from this post.

    Throwing an opinion out there and a couple simple questions leads to lots of deep (and shallow) thoughts.

    Really appreciated stumbling onto this between dealing with a great many (self proclaimed) urgent matters. Always nice to feel a bit of refreshment from seeing how other individuals perspectives differ, or resonate with one’s own.

    Thank you,
    Richard Harbridge

  8. Grace
    Grace says:

    There is happiness and there is peace. Happiness is fleeting but peace can be lasting. “Interesting” is usually paired with emotional torment.

    In the movie (and I’m assuming, the play) “Wit”, the main character is oozing with intersting. However, at the painful end of her life, “interesting” loses value when compared to “happiness” (kindness).

    I think in the end, we will all say, forget the world. I just want to be at peace.

  9. viki
    viki says:

    Typos make me unhappy, but this applies to me: “Peopel who are interesting but not happy have a point where they need to make sure they are okay.”

  10. winnie
    winnie says:

    I am definitely intersting and working on the happy. It always amazes me how people like you write such beautiful and heartful post thanks.

  11. Joe
    Joe says:

    A friend and I have had many conversations about happy vs. interesting, and she made the point that for a lot of people, ‘interesting’ seems to be other-directed. They just want other people to think they’re interesting, as if they have something to prove. Just sayin’.

  12. Terry Baker
    Terry Baker says:

    Lou Holtz says that happiness is nothing more than havin’ a poor memory. I think that sums it up very well.

  13. mysticaltyger
    mysticaltyger says:

    -1 for me.

    I found the exercise interesting. I agree with the assessment. I would call myself “conflicted”. On the happiness scale, I’m probably right in the middle. I see that I’ve spent a lot of time in my life torn between choosing happiness over choosing being interesting. I usually end up choosing happiness and being frustrated about it because I live in an area of maximizers (SF Bay Area). But when I visit other places, (Salt Lake City and Jacksonville & Tampa Bay areas of FL), I think the places are dull and full of uninteresting people.

  14. JenG
    JenG says:

    I’m sorry I haven’t gone back to read all your posts on happiness to see if you’ve already addressed this, but as someone who is keenly interested in the subject, I think a definition of happiness (and perhaps interesting) is necessary to fully make sense of what you’re trying to say. I discuss Jennifer Michael Hecht’s definition of happiness in my response to your post (http://everydaybright.com/2010/02/16/changing-happy-to-glad-or-in-this-case-interesting-2/).

    Regardless of whether this quiz makes sense or not, I’m grateful for the opportunity to think about it.

  15. Sandy
    Sandy says:

    I love the satisficer/maximiser thing. But I notice you used the word ‘optimiser’. Is that another word for maximiser or a third category althogether? Can someone explain?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      It’s an error. I somehow got the word optimizer in my head and I can’t get it out. I make the error all the time. I am going to change that right now. It should be maximizer. Thanks for noticing.

      Penelope

  16. Irv Podolsky
    Irv Podolsky says:

    Again, and interesting post prompting lots of emotion. I wish I could have replied sooner, but my days are filled with “interesting” stuff that has to come first, and if I don’t get it all done, I WON’T BE HAPPY.

    I didn’t take the test. I don’t take tests like yours because I see happiness coming from a different place. And as others mentioned before me, I also believe that being or having an interesting life is not necessarily a seesaw equation of feeling happy. Or BEING happy.

    But what IS happiness? Certainly it’s a different mental condition for all of us, generated by thoughts that make feel more in control. At least that’s what I think. And so happiness for me is the absence of fear. It’s a feeling of freedom that bubbles to the surface on those rare occasions when I don’t buy into my own negative projections – when I’m not afraid of the future – when I tap into an inner confidence that intuitively knows that everything is going to be all right – when I am connected to that part of me that is connected to All-That-Is – when I feel empowered because I’m not facing someone who is telling me “no.” And hence, when I am feeling free to be ME, without shame or regrets, I lapse into LOVE, and AM in love with those who share my space.

    I wish I were happy more often. But I’m not convinced that pursuing happiness as a full time job would bring it into my life. But what if it did? I could be a better husband. A better friend. A better citizen. A better son. Still, I try the old fashioned way, by doing and making things I am proud of, by trying to do the “right thing,” by helping others. And yet, I know there are people who don’t dwell on any of this philosophy and are perfectly contented individuals. Maybe they have found the secret of happiness and don’t have to work for it. Or maybe they were just born that way – happy. It doesn’t really matter. They are my beacon of hope. And I’m so glad I am married to one.

  17. Richard Ring
    Richard Ring says:

    -5 Definitely agree am much more interested in being interesting than I am with purely being happy. If I wanted to be happy I would have been it by now; much more challenging to be interesting than happy.

  18. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    Fun test, P. I’m a -3.

    It seems to me that your classification between interesting and happy is similar (and has similar definition misunderstandings) to the MBTI labels (I’m an ESFJ).

    Just because you are an introvert doesn’t mean you can’t be outgoing – it just means that you gain energy from being alone. Just because you are a thinker doesn’t mean that you are heartless – it just means that logic drives your decision making.

    Similarly, just because you are interesting, doesn’t mean that you are miserable – it just means that you base your life decisions on opportunities to increase your interestingness ;-).

  19. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    Tongue-in-cheek: The idea of a whole bunch of fat, religious, diversity averse, Christian, republican homebodies with bushy eyebrows setting the upper limit for people who strive to be happy is a little scary ;-).

  20. Leanne Chase - LeanneCLC
    Leanne Chase - LeanneCLC says:

    Test worked for me – it says I’m balanced – which I work on, opine about, research and get on a soap box about often. However, coming from an A-type personality who was all about career for so many years – it is causing an identity crisis…seriously!

  21. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    It seems to me that your distinction is similar to those (also misunderstood) in the MBTI (I’m an ESFJ).

    In the MBTI, just because you are an introvert doesn’t mean that you are antisocial – it just means that you most often gain your energy from being alone. Or just because you are a thinker doesn’t mean that you are heartless – it just means that you prefer to use logic to drive your decisions.

    So… Just because you are interesting doesn’t mean you are miserable. It just means that you prefer to use happiness as a driver for your life decisions.

    Just a question, though. You said in your last happiness post that marriage pretty much trumps everything else. Does that mean you’ve decided to give up the marriage chase?

  22. Eric
    Eric says:

    I scored as interesting.

    I am happy.

    I am happy because I’m interesting.

    But seriously, this post has been in my head the whole day. I always try to be happy but I find myself to care more about the interesting.

  23. -5
    -5 says:

    I hate the word interesting.

    But when there’s genuine evidence that people find me interesting, it makes me happy.

    I think I am at least a bit interesting, even if I do, at first glance, fall into an easily identifiable stereotype, or two.

    Penelope, you’ve said before that everyone has *something* interesting about them, it might just take a while to find it.

    When given the choice I suppose I choose a more interesting/risky over a more happy/safe. I’m not happy, but I have not yet despaired of being both quite interesting and at least reasonably happy.

    INTP

  24. Becca
    Becca says:

    I don’t now about the quiz, I didn’t take it. But I’m so glad you included the link to your Christmas post which you wrote just before I started reading you.

    From now on, no matter what you say that infuriates me or makes me write a long comment in my head disagreeing with every single thing you’ve said that particular day, I will always, always love you for giving eloquent voice to everything I’ve ever thought about Christmas in America. All the negative comments confirm that you were right.

    BTW, I’m writing this comment as a reminder to myself for the next time. I’ll be bookmarking it right after I hit submit.

    • Caitlin @ Roaming Tales
      Caitlin @ Roaming Tales says:

      Each to their own. Penelope’s annual rants about Christmas irritate me because my personal experience is that it’s a far more culturally and religiously diverse holiday than she gives it credit for. I know plenty of Jews and practising Buddhists and atheists who observe Christmas as a cultural festival. And the roots of most Christmas celebrations predate Christianity.

      But then, I have the privilege of not belonging to a minority group (I’m not really Christian but my grandparents were), so I also appreciate the chance to listen to another point of view.

  25. Shruthi
    Shruthi says:

    My first visit to this blog. I must say that the quiz AND this post only makes me want to analyse this. I’ll stop by later to find out what type I am…

    sh

  26. Linda
    Linda says:

    A compelling topic, for sure. Also check out Stumbling Into Happiness by Dr. Gilbert who explores the nature of happiness and explains the numerous psychological illusions that tend to distort our perception of joy.

    You would do future readers a favor by clearly restating the scoring instructions. If the answer isn’t +1 or – 1, is it then 0?

    I relocated far from family, earning far more than your benchmark to work as the first foreign female executive for a South Korean company. While no one would deny that my life has been interesting, in the long run this role had its ups and downs, and the only thing that has kept me happy are the friends, both Korean and Western whose relationships I cherish. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and this quiz. Don’t we all love to take them?

  27. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    X’D!!
    I scored -2…
    …suspiciously well balanced but dangerously inclined to have a desire for interestingness over happiness :P

    I think it’s kind of correct.
    But it feels nice to have an outside (and kind of neutral) feedback on it :PpP.

  28. Deborah
    Deborah says:

    Dear Penelope – that was fun – especially like your comments about why we go to a therapist, having only this week returned after a 10 yr hiatus (and as you say – just to check my status – in my case to make sure I am dealing with this end of the 22 yr relationship thing OK – I am! The spontaneous weeping is all part of the natural mourning process and I can get chemical help for that.)$200 jeans? I think it’s time I gave them a try! Oh and I counted you as one of my Jewish friends. Keep up the great writing! xx Deborah

  29. Emily
    Emily says:

    Penelope,
    Your post on “happiness” is disturbing. I am a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, where I study the science of well-being, conduct and publish empirical research on the subject, teach this science at the university level, etc. With all due respect, the majority of the claims you stated in this post are inaccurate; some of which, are harmful. The average (and even above-average) person does not read the research published in journals. Henceforth, the information that some people are reading are your claims. And, your claims are clearly (as I, or any other scientist in this field knows) quite limited due to the inaccurate research you present. The reason I choose to respond to this post is because of the harm to others that could ensue if people believe the claims you make, in addition to your enormous leaps in logic. Claiming something to be a fact without thoroughly researching the subject–especially in the field of psychology is morally wrong. The human brain, emotions, cognitions, and subsequent behaviors of human beings are fragile. I strongly urge you to be more cautious. For example, invalid and unsound quotes derived from sources such as Psychology Today is simply absurd, and frankly, stupid. (Come on–you seem to be an intelligent woman, and you’re quoting PT as a reference?!) The problem is, your voice may be listened to, taken as “fact” by those who are less educated than yourself, and this has the potential to be misinterpreted–just like self-help books–which can be harmful. (Read the abundance of research on this fact). There is a science to the topic of well-being (which you wrongly call “happiness”–which, is a concept, rather than a construct that has an operational definition that can be measured) that you are writing about. As somebody who cares about the well-being of others, and the dissemination of evidence that is statistically significant and has been empirically replicated–I urge you to reconsider writing about your “obsession.” Obsessions are actually disorders. Please, while your writing is provocative–and yes, you may tally up more readers for your blog by talking about a popular topic of interest to most human beings–the accurate findings on this subject are more provocative–because they are supported by evidence. If you truly want to help & give to other human beings–do your research. Find evidence that comes from reputable sources, has been replicated–or ask somebody who knows how to analyze a complex 4-way ANOVA using a multiple regression analysis to educate you. Human beings are complex and fragile psychological creatures. Please, please…be more careful.
    Thank you, in advance, for your consideration.
    Ev

    • Brad
      Brad says:

      If PT (around here that’s Penelope Trunk, not Psychology Today) was more careful, this would be just another unknown blog. We loyal readers are here only for her considerable entertainment value. We are well aware that her scientific research consists of Google searches for links that superficially support her outrageous assertions. (Sometimes they don’t even do that, and she links them anyway, assuming that nobody really checks.)

      In short, anyone who takes her seriously already has problems.

  30. Natalie
    Natalie says:

    Comlete BS.

    I used to have a boring life and I was VERY unhappy. In fact it was so bad that I thought happiness was absolutely unattainable.

    Now it’s far more exciting and I’ve come to realize that happiness is possible. I get through a busy day, stop and think, “Wow. I’m happy now.”

    Some people need the excitement and sense of accomplishment that comes from having an interesting life.

    For me interesting = happiness.

    • Caitlin @ Roaming Tales
      Caitlin @ Roaming Tales says:

      I agree. I think Penelope thinks that happiness equals contentment, which I don’t think is necessarily the case at all. To me, contentment is a general attitude about your life, while happiness is an emotion and throughout the course of the day I might be happy, angry, jealous, sad etc. I would describe myself as a happy person because those bouts of happiness or joy are frequent and my experience of negative emotions is infrequent. That has nothing to do with whether I am generally contented – there are many areas of my life where I am a maximiser or striving for improvement. I am also a big traveller, which I think is all about maximising. However, Penelope is absolutely right about marriage – I experience these bouts of happiness largely because of my wonderful partner.

  31. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    I think this is a shallow and biased view on happiness. It is clear you did research, but did you consider the potential harm you can cause by doling out inaccuracies as fact?

    People who are unhappy and reading your post could interpret this as a list of to-do items. Spending more time with your family and not obsessing about your eyebrows are fine; but quitting one’s job, giving up on ambition, abandoning your opinions and appreciation of art, severing ties with friends of differing faith, joining a faith, joining a different political group – these are drastic and potentially dangerous that could push a depressed person deeper into their hole.

    I take particular issue with your comments on therapy. How can you generalize a form of medicine as superficial ego boosters? Seeing a therapist does not make you unhappy. If a person sees a therapist, they are not doomed to a life of despair. Please do not discredit a profession biased on helping people.

    The internet is made for people to express their opinion, but you have stated your opinion in the form of fact. This is unprofessional and given the subject matter, unethical. Stick with tips on writing a better resume and leave psychology to people who know what they are talking about.

    Life does not fit neatly into a box and happiness is not defined by multiple choice questions.

  32. Jon
    Jon says:

    Seems to me what kind of ruins this whole exercise is the fact that, while happiness may have some objectivity to it, interestingness is a pretty subjective thing.

  33. Heidi
    Heidi says:

    Do you think this applies to country living? I find a lot of your concepts hard to follow, mostly because I don’t live in an area where people value some of the things you mention. I don’t know a single person who has ever spent $70 on eye brows.. or even a hair cut for that matter. I’ve never even lived on a paved road. I’m happy..but I do realize my life is not overly interesting.

    I think for me it’s hard to believe (though I know it to be true) that city people put so much value on material things and appearance. I like to look nice..but $70 can almost pay my light bill ;) I’ll pluck, thanks :)

    Love your blog. Totally different than anything else I’ve read!

  34. Sara
    Sara says:

    I see you’re still trying to justify your unhappiness by rationalizing that you’re “interesting” instead. I can’t say I’ve ever met a miserable person that was interesting. Usually they’re self absorbed – People who GIVE are the ones who are most happy in life.

  35. Anna
    Anna says:

    Happiness for me is the capability of making every day enjoyable, no matter what else happens. A sunny day, some time spent in enjoyable company, a nice book, a good day at work, some good jokes – it doesn’t have to be in the big things like big career, being every day madly in love etc. Even when it is those, it’s usually easy to see in smaller things. Some nice time spent with the loved ones, a happy customer at work.. those are my ways of making the life happy.
    Those things are usually really small, even when everything is otherwise fine.
    And I guess the happiness as I see it helps balance the score I otherwise had (pretty neutral). I’d think I’d be tempted to see some of the plus points as being shallow, superficial or lazy rather as profoundly happy…

    Finland on the list of the happiest countries? The country that traditionally tops the list of countries with the highest rates of suicides? The country with still very homogenous and homogeneously thinking population, long, sun-deprived winters, and summers with all-night-sun and no blinds for windows, and a saying they have over there more or less as ‘whoever is happy, hide your happiness’? After having lived in that country, no, the country or the people in there don’t strike to me as particularly happy ones.

  36. kim
    kim says:

    I read it….but didn’t bother to keep score…hmmm…guess I’m more happy than interestng :)and I’m perfectly ok with that…lol

  37. kim
    kim says:

    I like you Penenlope…I don’t always agree with your rational of things but you’re “take” is refreshing and outside the box…widening…I always read your blurbs…and take something interesting from them…and I think that inside of that ~ you’re interesting…and you seem happy….you’re honesty and questioning shows that..

  38. Anthony
    Anthony says:

    This does seem a lot like rationalizing choices that have made you unhappy. The notion that being unhappy makes you more interesting is complete and utter BS — and no, that doesn’t make me uninteresting to say that.

    Also, I’ve never met an interesting person who proclaims themself to be interesting — I feel like you’ve written this piece to be incendiary, not insightful.

  39. Master of None
    Master of None says:

    …Penelope Trunk: ‘People with interesting lives…

    I’ve often written the following statement, which I acknowledge is grammatically incorrect:

    “I like interesting people, and I hope one day to become one.”

    Any suggestions on a correct yet equally-succinct way of saying that?

    • sabrina
      sabrina says:

      “I like interesting people, and I hope one day to be one of them”?

      You’re right; becoming a people is perhaps too ambitious even for readers of this blog. :-)

  40. Jenny
    Jenny says:

    I didn’t realize you had a quest for happiness. (I’ve been a follower for only a few months). You should check out the book The How of Happiness if you haven’t already. It is really interesting!

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