Ways to use tech to find happiness

The pursuit of happiness is as old as consciousness itself, but the true desire to be happy seems to burn brighter than ever before, especially for young professionals. For example, the Harvard Happiness Course is one of the most sought-after classes among MBA students. However, it is not only young entrepreneurs who seek happiness. High demand in all groups has spawned many apps and gadgets that promise to improve our mental well-being.

While much of this new technology is built with good intentions, there is growing concern about whether many of these applications are really useful.

The idea of ​​measuring and improving happiness did not start with technology. Psychologist Ed Diner invented the concept of “subjective well-being” in 1984 to determine where one’s corresponding happiness stands compared to others. The construction of subjective well-being also gives a point on the scale used in order to see if there is any particular intervention for happiness. To rank and scale happiness with technology, a person typically answers questions through an app or web page, and then that data is used to spit out a quantitative measure.

While the new range of “happiness technologies” is likely to benefit some, this category is not without its problems. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you are thinking of using technology to improve your happiness.

Do not lose joy in the pursuit of happiness

Technology can be a great way to support self-improvement and create healthy habits. However, a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that too much concern for happiness can be counterproductive. Researchers such as Dr. Iris Mouse (University of California, Berkeley) have studied people who are persistent in their pursuit of happiness. Researchers conclude that people who are overly concerned about their happiness often fall into depression.

Daily push notifications as well as metrics to compare your efforts with others make users focus on why they are not good enough rather than spending energy on finding joy in the moment. Neurologist Sam Harris came up with this trap of “spiritual materialism” and removed the bar counter in his popular app Waking Up: Guided Meditation.

Problem: The ideas we get from data can be counterproductive if they don’t match the behaviors we’re trying to improve. This happens when they give us too often or don’t do much to move us to our goal. Dr. Jordan Atkin of Duke University studied the folly of overestimation. As Etkin explains: “People think that data will be valuable to them, and if they have easier access to data, it will only improve the situation. That’s not always true, so it’s potentially a recipe for some really miserable times. ”

Solution: Make sure the program meets your needs, not the other way around. Turn off notifications and only deal with data that really leads to improvement. Since happiness is a multifaceted design, make sure the technology you are investing in fits well with the specific area you are trying to improve.

Be careful with bad science

Most of the technologies that promise to make us happier are designed as consumer goods. These products are usually created to seriously fulfill this promise, but product designers also understand that they are fighting for our attention with other programs on our phones. Therefore, many of these applications are designed with gamification engines. You can get a notification that says, “Hey, you did great this week. You have reached your goal of gratitude twice a day. Three next week! ” This architectural pressure usually deviates from the science on which the application was created, and can be detrimental. This creates an artificial dichotomy between the desire to enjoy the application and other activities that are likely to make you happier. In the example above, over-prescribing ordinary gratitude can have the opposite effect, leaving the user less happy than when he started.

Problem: For the technology of happiness to be effective, the science behind the hood must be sound. Many mental health applications start with a good foundation but are then reworked, and the product team loses sight of the original science – or both.

Solution: If the program makes scientific claims, use Google Scholar to view the original study. If the product does not meet the scientific requirements, look elsewhere.

Find the right tool to work with

While there are things to keep in mind when considering happiness technology, it doesn’t mean it can’t be useful. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to make sure what you choose is right:

  • Does the product or service match well with what you are trying to achieve?
  • Is it possible to adapt the user experience so that you can hide data you do not need, as well as disable notifications that you do not need?
  • Is it built on sound science?

Problem: The technology market, which supposedly promotes happiness, is growing, making it more difficult to determine which tool might be right for you.

Solution: Be sure to try before you buy. The paths to happiness are as unique as we are, and no program or device will work for everyone. Remember the return policy and trial periods so you can make an informed purchase decision.

Happiness is not a hill to climb, nor is it a game to be won. If you want to use technology to improve your well-being, remember that technology does not prevent you from enjoying the journey.


Mike Racker is a doctor of philosophy and organizational psychologist and behavioral scientist. He is the author of The Fun Habit.

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