Sunday, May 8, 2011

What makes us happy?

world_happinessThe Social Network (besides being a clever and well scripted film about many unhappy people) really captures many elements of entrepreneurship – I regularly tell my lawyers now that I want to avoid having an “Eduardo moment”, finding I’ve been diluted down to 0.03%.

‘especially after finding that a clause had been inserted into the Articles stipulating that Directors to lose all of their shares if they leave the Board for any reason other than death. I’m not kidding; I now word-search every document for (compulsory OR share OR transfer).  Any combined hits, and I am NOT happy.

Considering it’s origins among allegedly asocial programmers, it’s impressive how viral social networks have become in five years.  I’m consistently surprised at the ‘lost’ friends and colleagues that I can find on LinkedIn or Facebook.  (In fact, it’s becoming a source of concern when someone fails to turn up despite knowing their work history, home town, school…)

It’s also gratifying that most folks seem happy and their lives have largely turned out well.

Among those I’ve found, it’s been nice to see people’s talent mature.  Artists and computer geeks that I knew in high school are still posting works, graceful and insightful respectfully.

But people tend to be reticent about their spouses.  Not their kids or their work, hobbies or location.  Just their spouses.  Strange.

Chris Conley recently gave a TED Talk about how we find happiness in life.  Unfortunately, his marquee example is Gross National Happiness (pioneered in Bhutan of all places), whose components include Economic, Environmental, Physical, Mental, Workplace, Social, and Political Wellness.  This seems displaced from everyday life, and certainly not reflective of what makes my (online) friends happy.

How about “How satisfied are you with how you spent your time yesterday?” This comes from work in “Day Reconstruction Methodology”,  by Princeton psychologist Daniel Kahneman.   His method analyzes feelings associated with a reconstructed day’s diary; a summary of results is presented here and, more popularly, here

For example, in 2004, 909 employed women in Texas) revealed “most happy” to “least happy” episodes as shown below – the full paper shows how emotions vary throughout the day and with various activities.


This seems to me to get much closer to the root of what makes individuals happy in their lives.  I haven’t found the corresponding result for men yet, nor how it evolves over a lifetime.  But it does seem to correlate well with the sorts of satisfying activities and their daily and seasonal trends that I find on people’s Walls and Status Updates.

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