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How Do You Design for Happiness?

The ticket to happiness isn't a million-dollar check-it's something a little less predictable.


A first step in tackling this question is to understand what happiness means. But herein lies the problem. Our understanding of what happiness is (and how to get it) is often misaligned with what really drives it. Indeed, research by Dan Gilbert and his colleagues show that we tend to go looking for happiness in a lot of the wrong places. If you disagree, you can check out the lead story on Entertainment Tonight on any given day.


Indeed, being a multimillionaire with all the picket fences, fur sinks, and electric dog polishers that money can buy will not bring us the contentment we seek. What will? Meaning. Research shows we’ll feel more fulfilled if we donate a couple of hours each week to a cause we care about than if we donate a large chunk of our wages to a charity we know little about. Further, donating time instead of money is associated with greater feelings of connection to the organization you’re helping. This, in turn, boosts otherwise elusive feelings of balance and purpose that so many of us seek.

Consider the simple question: Where are you spending your time? Answering this question might lead to more clarity about what is personally meaningful, and with that insight, you may be better able to design for happiness.

These insights are playing out in organizations (Zappos), websites and blogs (We Feel Fine), and how marketing campaigns are designed (Coke). In The Dragonfly Effect, we discuss which companies have done a particularly good job of harnessing principles of happiness and applying them to their businesses. We observe how people use social technology to make changes in the world—but what we’re really talking about is something more fundamental and human. The Dragonfly Effect is about creating a single focused goal, based on meaning and happiness, and designing a campaign that allows the goal to spread. And with the social web, it’s often not about donating those dollars: It can also be about donating yourself—your time, your connections, your commitment, and your talent—to spread passion and awareness and affect the outcomes of the things you believe in. Just as so many seemingly pointless YouTube videos go viral, so too can a campaign for change.

To get a better idea of how that can work, here is a excerpt from The Dragonfly Effect: Quick, Effective, Powerful Ways to use Social Media to Drive Social Change:

Focus on the person you are trying to help. Don’t rush in with a solution to a problem, test alternatives and be prepared to return to square one several times. Also, focus on the person you need help from. What are their goals and dreams? How can you help them achieve them? Who are you to them? Where are your leverage points in terms of causing them to act? Match your appeal to the medium (e.g. short bursts for Twitter, logical discourse for blogs, emotional envelopment on YouTube).

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Interested in more insight on how to design organizations, websites, and even movements based on principles of happiness and emotional contagion, peruse dragonflyeffect.com, the research stream associated with The Dragonfly Effect, or the research on time, money, and happiness by Sanford DeVoe, Jeff Pfeffer, Cassie Mogilner, and Wendy Liu.

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