How to Crowdsource Happiness

I was in Kansas last week for TEDxKC. The venue for the event was spectacular: The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The curator kept the museum open that evening for participants to enjoy after the talks. I relished the tranquility and found myself lost in thought in front of a quiet masterpiece by Francois Boucher. I had shared my story “Changing the World, One Map at a Time” on the TEDx stage earlier that evening and realized that live maps and museums weren’t that different. Both are curated and display moments in history, the good and bad.

The opening speaker of TEDxKC 2011 was Jenn Lim, the CEO and Chief Happiness Officer of Delivering Happiness, a company she co-founded to inspire happiness in work, community and everyday life. I found Jenn during the reception and asked: “How about crowdsourcing happiness and creating a happiness map?” The thought had come to me just minutes before my talk. I’ve been focusing on crisis mapping for a while but there’s obviously so much more to live maps.

Historian Geoffrey Blainey argues that “for every thousand pages on the causes of war, there is less than one page on the causes of peace.” And yet, peace is far more pervasive than war, we simply don’t write about it. The same is true of things that go well in general. So what if we made the good stuff more visible and showed just how much more frequent and pervasive peace and happiness are then we may at first realize?

Current world happiness maps are computed by academics using various structural indicators and macro-level statistics. These maps are limited to the nation-state level of analysis which suggests that everyone in a given country is equally happy throughout an entire year. Maps don’t get more old school than this. What is blatantly missing is something like Gross National Happiness (GNH) data but disaggregated, user-generated and mapped in real-time.

I had pitched the same idea to Coca-Cola two years ago as part of their Expedition 206 campaign. Three “Happiness Ambassadors” travelled to 206 countries in 2010 to find what happiness means to the world. I had heard about the project through a good friend who had auditioned to be one of the Happiness Ambassadors.

The idea of a happiness world tour appealed to me a  lot but why not let people speak for themselves and map what happiness means to them? The Expedition 206 Team was already using social media and a map as part of their campaign, so a crowdsourced happiness world map made perfect sense.

This is precisely what I pitched to Coca-Cola as the screenshot below shows. My colleague and friend Caleb Bell from Ushahidi did some awesome interface design work for the pitch.

While Coca-Cola was intrigued by the idea, they had already launched their Expedition 206 Social Media strategy. In any case, this project came to mind just minutes before I got on the TEDxKC stage last week and it’s something I’d like to take up again and would love some help on.

We could customize the Ushahidi platform and smart phone apps. People could then share what happiness means to them by “checking in” with a status update and/or a picture. The content could then be automatically mapped on a World Happiness Map.

Happiness badges could also be won when people check into certain places and/or with certain updates. Happiness messages or pictures could be embedded across the map (geo-fencing) so that anyone checking in at any given time place/time would receive a message/picture that would make them smile.

One could also “Subscribe to Happiness!” by allowing people to receive any happiness updates/pictures from people around them. For example, Mike could subscribe to happiness updates say within a 5 mile radius of the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum. When Kelly checks in on her way to the museum, Mike would  get an update with the happiness message (either anonymous or with Kelly’s name/picture).

I think this could be quite a powerful campaign, especially given the state of the world economy and ongoing crises. Incidentally, smiling has been scientifically shown to have positive health effects such as extending lifespans, as my colleague Ron Gutman points out in this TED talk.

A crowdsourcing happiness campaign would  help remind people about what they do have and what they can be grateful for. One idea, then, might be to launch this campaign as part of the upcoming Thanksgiving holidays. I’d love to partner with someone to make this happen. So please get in touch if you’d like to help. In the meantime, smile! : )

13 responses to “How to Crowdsource Happiness

  1. Phoebe Wynn-Pope

    Patrick, I love it! The need to focus on the good stuff is fundamental – you should check out Bhutan’s Gross Domestic Happiness measure as well!

  2. The good is too often overlooked in favor of the bad, but what about expanding to include a wider swath of emotions and even needs (Hunger, tired, horny (Think Vegas…). Just a thought, either way, i love it Patrick!

  3. But the problem is that happiness is relative. People are generally happier when they know they have something others don’t. So if a bunch of people are checking in around you claiming to be happy, your natural reaction is going to be ‘why does my life suck? everyone else is having such a great time’, which is going to make you less happy.

  4. Lovely! What a creative, inspiring, thoughtful, though-provoking idea. Would be incredibly interesting to see the variations on what happiness means.

  5. I’m always surprised at how popular this site seems to be: (SFW – just a map of “recent romps”)

    A more “general purpose” place to share whatever is making someone happy might be a welcome offering 🙂

    A bit wackier: I’d be interested if this could be a datapoint for understanding what happiness means to different people.

    This is part of the idea behind Yourtopia ( which was a winner of the World Bank Apps4Dev contest.

    From the Yourtopia site: “The growing consensus that measures of human development must take into account non-economic dimensions has lead to a proliferation of composite indices (such as the UNDP’s Human Development Index – HDI and the new Multidimensional Poverty Index – MPI) … Our approach is to build a composite index tracking progress on the MDGs together with the user. The user determines the indicators and their weightings in a playful quiz, generating individualised country-results”

    Look forward to seeing how this develops!

  6. Just fyi, the Nelson-Atkins is in Missouri 🙂 Congrats on a great evening.

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  9. Wonderful project! It’s been a while I was thinking about this problem actually, that we hear more about bad news than good ones. I had an idea that a mobile app could generate some nice happy messages from friends registered before and sent to the person randomly during the day to surprise her. But your project would do it better, fun and interactive. I would be delighted to work on a project like this, just don’t know if I could be of some help. Looking forward to seeing more smiles! Cheers

    • Thanks for your kind words! There’s been no movement on the project, unfortunately. Hoping someone will run with it at some point, I’d totally help out 🙂 Cheers!

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