Hacking happiness

Don't look now, but happiness has become a theme around which design, science and business are increasingly interested, and for good reason.

What if happiness can be hacked?

Game designer Jane McGonigal has said that while looking for design direction in 2007 she connected game design and contentment in a very powerful way:

I think a lot about human suffering, and how we don't suffer when we're immersed in games. There's clearly a lot of benevolent power there waiting to be tapped in everyday life and society.

In other words, if happiness is connected to what it means to be at our best, understanding those moments and making them more likely would seem to be important to personal fulfillment and success.

It's a thought that medicine seems to have missed. In a Harvard Magazine article, Science of Happiness, professor of psychiatry George Vaillant doesn't mince words:

...[T]he Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, the clinical 'bible' of psychiatry and clinical psychology, 'has 500,000 lines of text. There are thousands of lines on anxiety and depression, and hundreds of lines on terror, shame, guilt, anger, and fear. But there are only five lines on hope, one line on joy, and not a single line on compassion, forgiveness, or love. Everything I’ve been taught encouraged me to focus on the painful emotions.... My discipline taught me that positive thinking was simply denial, and that Pangloss and Pollyanna should be taken out and shot. But working with people’s strengths instead of their weaknesses made a difference. Psychoanalysis doesn’t get anybody sober. AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] gets people sober.'

Similarly, how might business be changed if possibility rather than constraints were the focus of business management and research? I think a recent issue of the magazine from the Rotman School of Management totally gets that idea.