community · culture · emotion · happiness

The World’s Happiest Places, Visualized | Fast Company

Trying to compare “happiness” metrics can be tricky, both because different countries and reports measure “happiness” in different ways, and because a spreadsheet of numbers isn’t all that inspiring (and I work with them, so speaking from personal experience).

I like the fact that they’re using multiple data points to quantify happiness (although it looks more like quality of life, but they definitely overlap).

Data viz wunderkind Moritz Stefaner has been on a happiness kick lately. Earlier this year, he analyzed the data of more than 3,000 images to try to determine the happiness of people New York, Bangkok, Moscow, São Paolo, and Berlin, according to their selfies. And now he’s back, visualizing the happiness of the entire world–using a more objective data source.

Founded in 1961, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is an international policy organization dedicated to stimulating economic progress and world trade. As part of their mission, the OECD has worked to quantify happiness and well-being through their Better Life Initiative, which ranks countries and cities according to metrics such as health, safety, education, jobs, environmental quality, civic engagement, and level of disposable income. Now Stefaner and Dominikus Baur have teamed up with the OECD to visualize this data using a slick, interactive online tool.

Happiness index of France and similar regions

The OECD Regional Well-Being Index tool is easy to use. It asks to access your location, and then visualizes the well-being index of your state or country as a rainbow-hued star, each Pantone-coded arm of which represents one factor of happiness and well-being. You can drill down for more detail, or compare your region’s well-being index to other locations with similar ratings.

Check out how your own neighborhood compares on the OECD Regional Well-Being Index here.

more via Fast Company: The World’s Happiest Places, Visualized

behavior · design · emotion · environment · happiness · health · mental health · psychology

Modular Glass Bedroom Helps Researchers Investigate Light’s Infinite Health Benefits – PSFK

Do you notice you have different moods depending on how bright or dark it is outside? Do you notice the warmth or cold feeling emitting from a light bulb? Whether you consciously notice them or not, they do have an effect on your brain and body. Since these days most of us don’t get to work outside and absorb natural light, scientists are working on the right kind of artificial light for us.

The light emitted from our lamps and fixtures at home doesn’t just spruce up a room; it has the power to significantly augment our mood and lift our spirits.To explore further the link between lighting and personal wellbeing, glass engineering company Cantifix and Oxford University have collaborated to create the Photon Project. This scientific study comes to life at this month’s London Design Festival in the form of the Photon Pod, an all-glass living space that will help the Photon Project gather data and insights on the links between light and health.Resembling a futuristic bedroom, the pod invites visitors to experience what life is like in a completely translucent living space, as well as take part in simulations that measure levels of alertness or relaxation under varied light conditions.

more via Modular Glass Bedroom Helps Researchers Investigate Light’s Infinite Health Benefits – PSFK.

behavior · emotion · psychology

The ‘Mood Graph’: How Our Emotions Are Taking Over the Web | Wired Opinion

Happy face high res
Do emoticons box you in or set you free?

 

More analysis and research looking into how we interact with and effect the digital space, and how that space in turn effects us, emotionally and mentally.

[Facebook, Bitly, Google+]… all these interfaces are now focusing on the emotional aspects of our information diets. To put this development in a broader context: the mood graph has arrived, taking its place alongside the social graph (most commonly associated with Facebook), citation-link graph and knowledge graph (associated with Google), work graph (LinkedIn and others), taste graph and interest graph (Pinterest and others).

Like all these other graphs, the mood graph will enable relevance, customization, targeting; search, discovery, structuring; advertising, purchasing behaviors, and more. It also signals an important shift in computer-mediated communication.

But placing a digital mood ring on users also has the power to change us — how we express ourselves. Especially when one considers that the data populating mood graphs comes from our encounters with behavior-altering interfaces packaged as fun little emojis and innocuous, “handy-dandy buttons”…

…drop-down expression makes us one-dimensional, living caricatures of G-mail’s canned responses — a style of speech better suited to emotionless computers than flesh-and-blood humans. As Marshall McLuhan observed, just as we shape our tools, they shape us too. It’s a two-way street.

more via The ‘Mood Graph’: How Our Emotions Are Taking Over the Web | Wired Opinion | Wired.com.

The author of the opinion, Evan Selinger, is a Fellow at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technology who focuses on the collisions between technology, ethics, and law.

He seems hell bent against putting a happy face next to his Facebook post, and I hear what he’s saying about the dangers of trying to sum up a concept with a parenthesis or semicolon. And I agree that companies are offering these emoticon options often just so they can collect more data on their users, rather than be focused on helping their customers express themselves more fully.

But, as Selinger also points out, spoken language itself can be nuanced and tricky, in the digital or non-digital world, and it can be nice to have more tools to express yourself in the digital space. People also post songs or pictures in order to share their mood or sentiment with others.

I feel that these are enhancements for people to share more ideas, not have them boxed in. Sometimes creativity is aided with a few rules. All language has restrictions, whether you’re coding or signing or chatting. Yes these restrictions should be recognized, but not

Do you feel that a smiley face or frowny face limits your ability to communicate and express yourself with others online? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

behavior · emotion · happiness

Get in the Habit of Being Happy

Brain chemistry is a powerful thing, and as much as environments can shape our happiness, more research is finding we can consciously influence happiness.

Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, theorizes that while 60 percent of happiness is determined by our genetics and environment, the remaining 40 percent is up to us.

In his 2004 Ted Talk, Seligman describes three different kinds of happy lives: The pleasant life, in which you fill your life with as many pleasures as you can, the life of engagement, where you find a life in your work, parenting, love and leisure and the meaningful life, which “consists of knowing what your highest strengths are, and using them to belong to and in the service of something larger than you are.”

After exploring what accounts for ultimate satisfaction, Seligman says he was surprised. The pursuit of pleasure, research determined, has hardly any contribution to a lasting fulfillment. Instead, pleasure is “the whipped cream and the cherry” that adds a certain sweetness to satisfactory lives founded by the simultaneous pursuit of meaning and engagement.

And while it might sound like a big feat to to tackle great concepts like meaning and engagement (pleasure sounded much more doable), happy people have habits you can introduce into your everyday life that may add to the bigger picture of bliss. Joyful folk have certain inclinations that add to their pursuit of meaning — and motivate them along the way.

Some of my favorites:

  • They unplug
  • They make exercise a priority.
  • They go outside.

Continue reading at  Huffington Post for the full list.

This is certainly something I strive for rather than achieve as much as I’d like, but the idea of cultivating your own happiness is an important one. Even giving the agency back to ourselves to be happy, rather than waiting for the right environment, job, or person to come along to make us happy, has been found to make us happier.

So go get happy. 🙂

anthropology · behavior · brain · community · emotion · happiness · mental health · Social

Social Media Isolates But Also Binds

Flickr friends
How many of your virtual friends would you actually invite over for lunch? (Photo credit: Meer)

Does social media make us feel more or less connected? How does connecting and communicating in a digital space impact us differently than connecting and communicating in a physical space?

There are mixed results from various studies, but recently more studies have come out finding that we actually feel less connected to each other the more we use social media like Facebook:

Kross found that the more people used Facebook, the less happy they felt—and the more their overall satisfaction declined from the beginning of the study until its end. The data, he argues, shows that Facebook was making them unhappy.Research into the alienating nature of the Internet—and Facebook in particular—supports Kross’s conclusion. In 1998, Robert Kraut, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, found that the more people used the Web, the lonelier and more depressed they felt. After people went online for the first time, their sense of happiness and social connectedness dropped, over one to two years, as a function of how often they used the Internet.Lonelier people weren’t inherently more likely to go online, either; a recent review of some seventy-five studies concluded that “users of Facebook do not differ in most personality traits from nonusers of Facebook.”

But, as with most findings on Facebook, the opposite argument is equally prominent. In 2009, Sebastián Valenzuela and his colleagues came to the opposite conclusion of Kross: that using Facebook makes us happier. They also found that it increases social trust and engagement—and even encourages political participation. Valenzuela’s findings fit neatly with what social psychologists have long known about sociality: as Matthew Lieberman argues in his book “Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect,” social networks are a way to share, and the experience of successful sharing comes with a psychological and physiological rush that is often self-reinforcing. The prevalence of social media has, as a result, fundamentally changed the way we read and watch: we think about how we’ll share something, and whom we’ll share it with, as we consume it. The mere thought of successful sharing activates our reward-processing centers, even before we’ve actually shared a single thing.

Virtual social connection can even provide a buffer against stress and pain: in a 2009 study, Lieberman and his colleagues demonstrated that a painful stimulus hurt less when a woman either held her boyfriend’s hand or looked at his picture; the pain-dulling effects of the picture were, in fact, twice as powerful as physical contact.

more via How Facebook Makes Us Unhappy : The New Yorker.

So what does this all mean? That we are complicated. And so is how we use social media.

“What makes it complicated is that Facebook is for lots of different things—and different people use it for different subsets of those things. Not only that, but they are also changing things, because of people themselves changing,” said Gosling. A 2010 study from Carnegie Mellon found that, when people engaged in direct interaction with others—that is, posting on walls, messaging, or “liking” something—their feelings of bonding and general social capital increased, while their sense of loneliness decreased. But when participants simply consumed a lot of content passively, Facebook had the opposite effect, lowering their feelings of connection and increasing their sense of loneliness.

I have seen forums used to create physical communities (I don’t want to say “real world” because virtual is real, it’s really happening) and create friendships that crossed continents, but I have also heard of and seen virtual bullying that in some very sad cases led to a person’s death. We can be cruel to others by hiding behind that veil of anonymity, or even just by creating a lack of physical presence which also creates a mental separation which makes it easier for us to feel isolated or intentionally isolate others. But we also want to share and connect with others, even if we can’t be physically near them, and share very intimate details with people we may not otherwise have given the time of day, which can be a good or bad thing depending on the context and situation.

How do you use social media? Does it make you feel more connected to your tribe, or do you feel left out or perhaps even more isolated? Do you bridge the gap between your virtual world and physical world, or does the slogan “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” also apply to your social media and physical lives? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

behavior · children · creativity · emotion · health · play · psychology

Tiny superheroes combat big challenges with capes made by Seattle mom | Local News | The Seattle Times

Robyn Rosenberger makes capes for only the fiercest of fighters.
Robyn Rosenberger makes capes for only the fiercest of fighters.

Have you ever had days where you felt you had super powers, or felt you needed them? One woman in Seattle is making that a reality for over 1,700 kids with illnesses and disabilities in 50 states and 14 countries, with a new workshop opening to help out more kids:

 

Gabby has epilepsy and is completely dependent: She cannot talk, walk or eat on her own. But she is a tiny superhero — her superpowers include perseverance, courage and strength — and she has the cape to prove it. A purple number, with a blue letter “G” hand-sewn on by Robyn Rosenberger.

Rosenberger is the powerhouse behind TinySuperheroes, which makes capes as a form of empowerment. “Our mission is to empower these kids to feel as extraordinary as we see they are,” Rosenberger explained.

 

via Tiny superheroes combat big challenges with capes made by Seattle mom | Local News | The Seattle Times.

 

On the surface this may seem a little fluffy, but it exemplifies the power of play, particularly imaginary play and pretending.  First, it gives the kids a chance to take a break from their illness and maybe laugh a little, which is good for everyone.  Second, the crazy thing is researchers are finding that by pretending to be big, strong, dominant, and super-hero-esque, it can train your body to actually be more strong, dominant, and super-hero-esque. Even healthy kids can feel pretty powerless, so by imagining what it feels like to be strong and healthy it can help their minds and bodies map out what that might look and feel like and maybe even help along the road the recovery.

 

So by giving these kids superhero capes, these volunteers are in fact giving these kids some pretty strong medicine.

 

Now I want a cape, or at least a magic wand.

If you are interested in helping out, visit the Tiny Superheroes site.

 

 

behavior · community · creativity · education · emotion · environment · mental health · play · psychology · Social

Outdoor Play Poster

From the nonprofit organization Voice of Play and their host organization, the IPEMA (International Play Equipment Manufacturing Assocation):

This poster is appropriate for any player, whether you are 2 or 92.

What other reasons can you think of to play outside? Leave them in the comments below.

 

children · creativity · education · emotion · environment · happiness · health · play · psychology · Social

Exploration of Playful Learning Spaces for Children

toys
toys (Photo credit: red5standingby)

From the blog Art Farm, a play/art therapist who offers some advice on creating spaces that encourage kids to explore, learn and play:

I really learned the importance of organizing and preparing spaces while working with youth in school settings in several public housing developments in Chicago.  So often these youth would come to me (for either individual or group art therapy sessions) filled with anxieties which either manifested as acting out or withdrawn behaviors. The arrangement and presentation of the private space we used was a powerful, non-verbal message to them stating that all things are respected here – including you; everything has a place here – including you; and everything you will need to have a successful experience is here – starting with you.

[Mariah] Bruehl offers some questions to ask when designing a space for your own child:

  • Can your child access the materials in the play space independently? Are they organized in baskets or bins that are clearly labeled so your child knows how and where to put things away when finished with them?
  • Are the materials presented in an attractive manner that invites your child to use them?
  • Do the materials, toys, and games represent a balance between your child’s and your own preferences? Do they represent what you value and thus encourage your child to engage in activities that you feel good about?
  • What is your child currently interested in? If your child no longer plays with dinosaurs, but has been talking a lot about birds, make sure that the play space reflects this current passion. Rotating toys is a great way to keep your child interested in play space activities and ultimately prolongs the life of your child’s playthings. It never ceases to amaze me how excited my girls get about a toy that comes back into rotation. The nostalgia they feel toward a toy they have not seen in a while is almost more than their delight over a brand-new toy.
  • Is the play space a calming environment that allows one to focus on the task at hand without distracting colors, decorations, or objects?
  • Are you seeing things from you child’s perspective? Put yourself in your child’s shoes to determine the right height for displaying and storing materials and hanging art.
  • Is this a space that makes you want to make art, explore science, write stories, and more? If so, would you have everything you need to do what you want to do? What else would you add to enrich and deepen your child’s learning experience in the play space?

What other playful space researchers are out there? Any recommendations? I know about the organization Art With Heart, which focuses on creating therapeutic resources for sick kids. But I’d love to hear more about what’s out there. Let me know in the comments below.

behavior · brain · community · culture · emotion · environment · happiness · health · Social · technology

Crowdsourcing Quiet Spaces in the City

For the past month I have been staying in a surprisingly noisy apartment. The neighborhood itself is very quiet, but just my luck to be staying over a night club and all-night grocery store. After this month the importance of being able to find quiet, peaceful places in a city rings all the more true and important to me (and it’s not just the ringing in my ears). From Inhabitat:

Cities have always been bustling environments, and with more and more of us living in them it can be difficult to find a quite place to relax or contemplate. Sound Artist Jason Sweeney‘s winning proposal for the TED Imagining the City 2.0 Prize is a crowdsourcing project that seeks to locate and map the places that provide silence in the urban din. The Stereopublic Project will be a public guide for those who crave a retreat from the crowds.

Based in Melbourn’s city center, Sweeney found himself attracted to tucked-in corners, where the city’s sound fades into the background and where the built environment is experienced as a sound environment. Inspired by his own experiences, he’s looking to create a platform where others can geo-tag and share their favorite quiet space. Sweeney is interested in helping those who are sensitive to noises, with disabilities, or just seeking respite from the constant din of the streets.

The TED City 2.0 prize will help his team develop a digital tool for crowdsourcing those places, adding a new layer of awareness to the cityscape for its occupants.

Cities are large, complex environments and the project is a unique way to understand the acoustic dynamic of city life. Stereopublic is based on active users sharing their findings, but ironically, the project’s success will likely make those quiet spaces busier, further pushing inhabitants to explore new places. The idea may become a failed experiment if it becomes too successful, but it also very well might help create new venues that improve the “sonic health” of a city — adding a vital resource to urban life.

Know of a quiet place in your city? Add it to the list, or leave it in the comments below and I’ll add it for you and if it’s in the Pacific Northwest may just try it out first. You know, for research).
anthropology · culture · emotion · happiness · health · Social

The UN Embraces the Economics of Happiness — YES! Magazine

Should happiness and well being be considered a metric to measure overall success of a country? The UN just voted yes:

Imagine you open the paper tomorrow, and the headlines are not about the “sluggish economy,” but our nation’s quality of life. You turn to the business section, and find not just information about a certain company’s profitability, but also about its impact on community health and employee well-being.

Imagine, in short, a world where the metric that guides our decisions is not money, but happiness.

That is the future that 650 political, academic, and civic leaders from around the world came together to promote on April 2, 2012. Encouraged by the government of Bhutan, the United Nations held a High Level Meeting for Wellbeing and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm. The meeting marks the launch of a global movement to shift our focus away from measuring and promoting economic growth as a goal in its own right, and toward the goal of measuring—and increasing—human happiness and quality of life.

Not just for dreamers

Some may say these 650 world leaders are dreamers, but they are the sort that can make dreams come true. The meeting began with an address by Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley of Bhutan, where the government tracks the nation’s “Gross National Happiness.”…

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cited Aristotle and Buddha in calling for the replacement of our current economic system with one based on happiness, well-being, and compassion. “Social, economic, and environmental well-being are indivisible” he said.

Read more at: The UN Embraces the Economics of Happiness by Laura Musikanski — YES! Magazine.

Pretty exciting stuff. Bhutan has been using happiness as a metric for several years. so it’s nice to see the idea get picked up on. I believe emotional well-being and happiness is a very valuable metric. What about you? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.