In how we think about our lives, we should always be careful to distinguish between the climate and the weather.
It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in what happens from day to day and our passing emotional states. As a result I thought it’d be helpful to look at both the short term (how you feel today) and the long term (how your life is going) and give examples of how these things can actually be measured.
Techniques such as these can be useful personal techniques for balancing yourself out when you’re feeling particularly bad. For example, to consider the big picture when you are in the moment feeling bad. And conversely, to consider what you are feeling right now, when you’re pessimistic about the future.
The Weather: Affect
The weather changes from day to day; one day may be sunny and the next violent thunderstorms. This maps to our day-to-day experience, with all of the little lucky breaks and misfortunes that involves.
In psychology, this is often referred to as affect, and is measured by the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS). The PANAS has you tick boxes according to whether or not you feel various emotions. You will notice that a number of items in the list are positive, and others negative. By scoring this with “Very Slightly” receiving 1 point and “Extremely” receiving 5 points, one can measure a balance of negative & positive emotion about your recent feelings.
The Climate: Life Satisfaction
Zooming out, we can look at the climate of overall how life is going, and whether conditions are good or bad. The Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS) has been used heavily as a measure of the life satisfaction component of subjective well-being. Scores on the SWLS have been shown to correlate with measures of mental health, and be predictive of future behaviors such as suicide attempts. In the area of health psychology, the SWLS has been used to measure the subjective quality of life of people experiencing serious health concerns.
It’s important to keep in mind that self-administering psychological tests is not a good basis for tracking clean data or doing anything like real research. That does not mean that it is without uses; in particular, taking certain types of scores on yourself might show you your own fluctuations over time in the form of a journal. The individual data points are far less useful than how they change over time in response to life events.
Indeed a way to approach this type of thing is that the data itself (when taken about yourself) is worthless; but that the act of running through the items and considering them focuses your attention, and can help prevent the mind from spinning, and possibly re-center you on a wider view.