Pageviews and Happiness

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This month marks exactly five years since my first blog post. If you’ve been keeping up with my blog for some time, I want you to know that I truly appreciate it. Every time someone tells me they read my latest blog post, I get a little happy inside, even if I try to act all cool about it. For those who are here for the first time, this is a blog where I mostly talk about nonsense and try to spread theories on things like why girls post double selfies or why diamonds are dumb. Occasionally I’ll share something useful like how to get a southwest companion pass or how to negotiate a raise.

Today I want to share my thoughts on happiness, and I’m going to try to do it in a weird way.

So let’s be honest here. I might try to act nonchalant all the time, but I really care about my web traffic. Chances are if you’re reading this on the day I posted it, I’m probably looking at my stats right this second. Whether it was my first blog post of fiftieth, the process is more or less the same. First, I share my post with the internet and second, I aggressively check my analytics. And when I say “aggressively checking”, I want you to understand that I’m not doing any sort of real analysis in any way; I’m basically just looking at how many people are currently on my site and getting a kick out of it.

So how many page views do I need to get to be happy?

That’s actually a pretty hard question.

Here’s another one. How much money do you need to make in order to be happy?

Whatever that number is, my guess is that it probably won’t keep you happy for very long.

If I were to define happiness, I would say it was the difference between expectation and reality. For the most part, the more your expectations exceed your reality, the less happy you will be, and vice versa.  The hard part of staying happy is that expectations seem to rise very easily.

Over the past three months, I rode an expectation roller coaster and I’d like to share that emotional experience with you. I’ll talk about it in terms of page views, but I think it can apply to almost anything: money, friends, sex, drugs, relationships, experiences, whatever.

I built this website, txtwar, over a year ago. You probably didn’t hear about it back then because I naively thought that if I built something, people would just randomly come to it and I didn’t need to market it. I quickly learned that was really stupid of me.

As a favor, Beatrice got porn star Evelyn Lin to tweet it out.

I remember sitting on my bed and watching that real-time number (number of people who are currently on the site) hover around 30. It stayed there for hours. I was so excited that 30 real people were actually on my website at the same time. Back then, I was only used to my iamhellacheap scrub traffic so I was beyond thrilled. I literally just watched a number on my monitor move up and down every couple seconds or so and it was so goddamn fun. I went to bed really happy that night.

Nothing really exciting happened to txtwar after that. I basically got bored and lazy and stopped working on it, or at least that’s what I tell people. I think what really happened though was that I wasn’t able to reproduce the amount of traffic Evelyn Lin brought and I got really discouraged.

Fast forward to about three months ago.

One day I was bored so I posted the site on reddit. And boom, it blew the fuck up. I was kind of hoping reddit would bring in about 300-500 visitors that day. It ended up bringing in over 100,000 (~1 million page views). After about four hours, it hovered over 1,000 active visitors which eventually crashed my site. If I successfully painted a picture of how happy I was when I had 30 active visitors, try imagining me at 1,000. I basically got no work done that day. That entire day was spent checking my stats, instant messaging my friends and telling them my stats, checking how slow the site was moving, calling my host and bitching at them, and reading mean comments.

This experience completely fucked my expectations. Just one day before, if you told me I got 200 visitors in a day, I would’ve been super happy. And one day later, if you told me I had 200 people on my site at any second of the day, I would have been wondering why it wasn’t at 300. It’s almost unbelievable how fast I can get used to something.

Over the next couple of weeks, traffic naturally started to die down. Current average active users dropped to 600 to 400 to 100 to 50 to 30 and eventually even to 0 at some points. I used to get excited that even one other person, other than me, was on my site. “A real human being actually thought something that I built was interesting enough to spend their time on!” I thought. And even when the usage far, far, far exceeded my initial expectations, I wasn’t even remotely appreciative about it.

Someone eventually wrote a pretty thorough article about it, and about 50 other websites wrote a series of less thorough articles. I would find these articles, get really excited about it, and almost within the hour my excitement would turn into wonderment of why they weren’t bringing in “that much” traffic.  At this point I was so obsessed with checking my traffic that I had to install a website blocker on my browser because I didn’t have the willpower to stop.

For the next two months, traffic was pretty volatile depending on where it was posted and I felt a lot of stress. I had to upgrade servers, and later I got hacked and lost access to my website for two days. I learned “heteronormative” was a word and got some angry e-mails from lesbians. Also, I read a lot of mean comments. Even so, it’s weird how I had negative feelings instead of positive ones at this point, considering txtwar was getting more attention than I had ever hoped for.

It’s because my expectations were too far off from my reality.

Even the last txtwar blog post I wrote in November caused me a ton of bitterness even though it was by far the most read thing I’ve ever written in my entire life. I had again posted it on reddit and it quickly made its way to the front of r/dataisbeautiful. As I religiously checked my analytics, I was so happy that it was doing so well. This happiness quickly turned into stress when I realized the site performance was incredibly slow. Later, the stress turned into bitterness when my post was removed for having “too sensational of a headline.” I wasted a lot of time that day calling my host and messaging reddit mods. At the end of the day, my post was read by roughly 29,000 people, which is probably about 29 times the amount of what I had originally anticipated. Even so, I still felt bitter and cheated. Weird right?

So what’s my point here? Well besides wanting to not so subtly promote txtwar a bit, I also wanted to make the point that happiness is all relative and outside influences can only make you happy for a limited amount of time.

I experienced something that caused me joy and it immediately raised my expectations. Subsequently, the raise in my expectation made it harder for me to be happy. In addition to this, when I was thinking about what I wanted, I only thought about the good things about being in that circumstance and none of the bad things. Meanwhile, when I finally got to that position, I only focused on the bad things and not the good. I think this is the formula to never staying happy.

So I know I shared my experience with page views, which is relatively insignificant, but I could have just as easily used something important, like money for example. Do you ever wish you made more money? Like if you got a fat ass raise right now, you would be so happy and grateful and all of your problems would be solved?

Ok. Let’s say tomorrow you get a raise and your company starts paying you a million dollars a year. Congratulations! But how soon do think it will take before you start bitching about the tax? Or about every day shit like weather, traffic, co-workers, not having enough time? My guess is that it’s probably sooner than you’d expect. Eventually, you’d probably even start complaining about not making enough money. Like, why does your co-worker work less than you, but gets paid 1.3 million? After you get past the initial excitement of the 1 million dollar raise, I don’t think you would be significantly happier than you are now. You’ll quickly adjust to the new lifestyle and this will become your new normal. Standards and expectations will increase and your life will still have plenty of problems.

So I think I can confidently say that we know the secret to never staying happy. So maybe we should try the opposite and see what happens. An easy way to keep your expectations in check is to be thankful for what you have right now. Spend just as much time as you spend on wishing for more, on acknowledging what you already have. Take the time to recognize the things you have that would devastate you if you didn’t have them.  Like having two working arms and hands, loving family and friends, a place to sleep, free time to watch TV.

Also, when you’re wishing for more, acknowledge all the bad stuff that would come with it. Do you think superstar actors or professional athletes are really happier than you? I don’t think so. When we think about them, we only think about the glory, fame and wealth, but we never think about all of the problems they have that we don’t have to deal with. Their expectations are probably much higher, and nobody knows how far off they are from their reality.

So in conclusion, happiness is all relative and it’s kind of up to you to decide if you want to be happy or not.

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