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Former CIA Clandestine Operative
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Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
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How Technology Can Help Us Find Happiness

What’s the big idea?

There is no shortage of online tools to help us research restaurants, track up-to-the-minute news and even plan out our zombie escape routes, yet there are very few tools that can help us research, track and plan our own happiness. One of the few that does exist is Happstr, an online service that launched earlier this year, which lets users map out their happy places and discover where others have felt happy.

The service itself is pretty straightforward. Simply log onto Happstr’s website from your smartphone, let it track your current location and then select the “feeling happy” tab. From there, you’ll be prompted to enter in a reason why you’re feeling so good at that moment. Once you’ve done that, a pin decorated with a smiley face will appear on the map in your location, which can then be seen by other users when browsing through the map on the service.

In theory, you could either use a service like Happstr to geotag your best moments for reference later, or to unearth the happiest spots in any part of the world. Both uses have great potential for understanding and increasing your own happiness from day to day. The first use effectively lets you keep a real-time log of where and why you were happy so you can make more informed decisions later. You might think you’re happier in San Francisco than New York, but maybe you’ll notice you’ve had many more happy experiences in New York after all. The second use is particularly exciting if you believe that happiness is contagious. Certain areas may be more conducive to happy moments than others, or at the very least, these areas may be more attractive to happy people. Either way, you could use the map to pinpoint areas with happiness hot spots where you could feed off the good vibes.

Before you dive into the service, keep in mind that Happstr is still far from a finished product. In fact, as the story goes, Happstr was built in a rush by a group of entrepreneurs heading down to the South by Southwest tech conference in March. Just imagine what these and other developers could do for happiness if they committed more than a passing afternoon to it. 

What’s the significance?

While Happstr may have been a rush job initially, the goal of the developers behind it is one that deserves much more time and attention. Right after the service launched, Happstr’s co-creator told Mashable that people should be able to track their happiness in the same way that they can track their fitness. Think about the many websites and apps that exist to help you pick out the right gym, plan your workout routine and diet, track your progress and share updates with friends and family. This is the power technology has to help us fulfill goals, so why wouldn’t we apply it to the ultimate goal of achieving happiness?

Happstr isn’t the first application to work towards this goal. In 2009, one Harvard researcher released an iPhone app called Track Your Happiness that asks users to rate how happy they are, what they are doing and thinking about at that moment, among other questions. After repeating this survey enough times, the app provides users with their very own “happiness report” breaking down how happy they are and what factors contribute to it. The app effectively served as a glorified research project and indeed the man behind it did put out a report based on the surveys. His conclusion: people are happiest when they stop their mind from wandering.

The bottom line is that happiness isn’t just a feeling that you experience if you’re lucky, and it shouldn’t be left entirely to chance. There are specific factors that influence each person’s happiness, which can be easily tracked with the right tools. Apps like Happstr and Track Your Happiness represent a promising start, but the happiness market is still in its infancy. Hopefully other entrepreneurs will jump into this market soon. After all, what business could ever be more fulfilling than one that works towards improving our happiness?

From life-saving apps to cutting-edge military defense, Big Think and Bing's Humanizing Technology Expo explores and expands the boundaries of what it means to be human, today and far into the future. 

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