Happiness, by design

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What if you could design your Happiness? Would you?

By Ellen Leanse (Technology Strategist, Advisor, Speaker)

On the other: the veritable tsunami of advice (and apps, and devices) promising to help us find sanity amidst the whirlwind of efficiency and productivity we expect from all of those “extra” hours in the day.

If you’re like most people you’re caught between those forces.

“Between forces” is not a place where happiness happens.

We live in a time of divides. “Connectivity” vs. “connection,” as our daily patterns and even our brains turn increasingly to tech as a touchstone of reality.

“Transaction” vs. “interaction” as speedy taps and finger swipes activate solutions to our basic needs (food, clothing, shelter) and even to things like the once-subtle dance of finding a date. Things that once took time now seem like annoyances, inconveniences.

Many of us feel less, rather than more, happy amidst all this efficiency.

Tech promises more time for the people and things we love, as I say this recent TEDxBerkeley talk. Yet as we transact with ever-rising efficiency, we lose something in the human connection that’s key to our happiness.

Take a look:

As we immerse ourselves in tech, and even build our livelihoods on it, things are changing. Our brains “upgrade” in response to new behaviors, pruning away the connections we use less. Our evolutionary biology (not the “character flaws” we tend to blame) optimizes our brain to do more of whatever it is it’s already doing.

As tech orients all of us toward efficiency, data, and streamlined, on-demand transactions, we shift to wanting more of that from other things we experience – including human interaction.

Many of us feel the tradeoffs, even if we can’t put a finger on why or how it’s happening.

But there’s hope. As my TEDx talk explains, going back to some simple fundamentals actually helps enhance our brain’s code, and maybe even hack some of the things that aren’t working.

The changes are small, yet they work well. They launch as fast as our favorite apps, activating our brains to build our sense of connection (so different from connectivity) and, with ongoing use, happiness.

The changes are simple, as my talk shares. They’re obvious when we slow down – but easy to forget in the pressure to get on to the next thing. Simple greetings, eye contacts, genuine interest in other people: turns out these little actions activate paths scientifically proven to build more happiness.

They’re like little lines of code that work similarly to some of our best technologies. If “appreciation” were a product, we’d have a game changer on our hands.

After all, it’s viral. When one person uses it, others naturally join in.

It upgrades automatically. As our brain experiences appreciation it recruits other brain parts to seek more appreciation in what scientists call a limitless way.

It runs effortlessly in background mode and works even better when actively turned on.

It’s portable. It actually recharges its own battery. And it’s free.

Yes, there are technologies that promise us more happiness, connection, and even pathways to appreciation. Many of them are excellent.

But we’ve been programmed for connection since the dawn of time. Simple interaction with people, especially when fueled by appreciation, validates this code in ways that help us increase happiness.

Let the apps help with our transactions. Look up from them when you’re interacting with people, and activate, in scientifically proven ways, the paths that lead to more happiness.

And…thank you.


About the guest blogger: Ellen Leanse (@chep2m) works at the crossroads of technology, positive psychology, and design thinking. An alum of early Apple, Google, and a several entrepreneurial ventures, she has worked with innovators around the world and always comes home to a simple, human truth: we are all part of something bigger. Her Stanford class on Innovation is among the school’s highest-rated Continuing Studies courses, and will soon be offered online. Follow Ellen on Twitter at @chep2m for updates.