behavior · culture · design · emotion · happiness · technology

Daniele Quercia’s Happy maps and happier travelling

Can you map your happiness?

Mapping apps help us find the fastest route to where we’re going. But what if we’d rather wander? Researcher Daniele Quercia demos “happy maps” that take into account not only the route you want to take, but how you want to feel along the way.

watch via Daniele Quercia: Happy maps | Talk Video |

Coincidentally, another researcher is also working on this problem, and creating maps that find the most relaxing routes based on people’s brainwaves:

MIT Media Lab’s Arlene Ducao is hoping to shed some light on which biking routes promise a more relaxing ride with her Mindreader Map. The project is a continuation of Ducao’s 2012 experiments involving a mind-controlled bicycle helmet that flashes different colors depending on the stress levels of the rider.

Using this type of data city planners could conceivably better plan bike lanes and traffic signals with an understanding of where the most stressful, and potentially dangerous, areas for cyclists are.

Have you changed your commute to be less stressful, even if it means a little longer ride or drive to work? Talk about it in the comments below.

architecture · behavior · community · creativity · design

Route Planning For The Happiest Walk, Not The Quickest | Co.Exist | ideas + impact

I am often focused on efficiency walking from place to place. But cyclists, runners, and other athletes talk about taking the more scenic route on their commutes or exercise routes, and maybe we should all follow suite.

Route Planning For The Happiest Walk, Not The Quickest | Co.Exist | ideas + impact

We’ve all [probably] taken a detour because the path is pleasant and scenic, even if it takes longer. But Google Maps and the like aren’t set up for that. They’re solely about speed and efficiency.Recent research led by Yahoo Labs shows how a planner-for-happiness might work. Using crowdsourced impressions of streets, Flickr data, and survey responses, it looks for a balance between “people’s emotional perceptions of urban spaces” and getting them to a destination in a reasonable amount of time.

more via Route Planning For The Happiest Walk, Not The Quickest | Co.Exist | ideas + impact.

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 · creativity · culture · happiness · Social

10 Ways to Make Your Life More Playful

As we start summer, remember to spend some time playing! Here are 10 tips how.

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” ~George Bernard Shaw

I was 25 and traveling through Ireland by myself. I was in Cong, a rural small town outside of Galway. It was quiet. Very quiet. Even though I had met people on my trip, I was starting to feel lonely.

I was thousands of miles from home. I had nobody around who knew me well or cared for me, and in the days before cell phones or internet cafes, I couldn’t just get in touch with my friends or family at the drop of a hat.I went on a walk in a local park, along a wide stream that emptied into a small, pristine pond. The weather was grey and gloomy, the park was damp and romantic-looking, with its bending trees and dark water.

On a whim, I sat down by the edge of the pond and began to do something I hadn’t done in probably 15 years: I started to build a fairy village out of sticks, pebbles, and leaves.As a child I had practically lived in the backyard, building intricate tiny villages, exploring the spaces in between plants and trees, making tree roots into cottages and lumps of mud into hillsides.

It calmed me down and got me away from sometimes troubling thoughts. In Ireland, I found the same thing happened: My loneliness and anxiety vanished, and an hour or so later when I finished, I felt better: lighter, and less worried.

read all about the 10 Ways to Make Your Life More Playful.

architecture · children · creativity · design · health · play

These are the most fantastical playgrounds ever built

Having fun, exciting spaces to play is important for both kids and grown-ups, so it’s nice to see what’s out there for kids, and hopefully grown-ups will follow suit.

When you’re a kid, visiting an amazing playground is the greatest experience ever. And these fantasy-themed playgrounds around the world have us wishing that we were kids again so we could run around in them like small, crazy people.

more via These are the most fantastical playgrounds ever built.

All of these are in more urban settings, and it would be cool to see some more natural playscapes, but the ideas behind some of these parks are fantastic!

behavior · happiness · play

The Secret Lives Of Cows: Jumping For Joy : The Salt : NPR

People often interpret animal behaviors as one thing when in fact it’s something different. But in this case, frolicking is indeed frolicking.

It turns out “cows love a change of scenery. And a switch from the concrete floors of the indoors to a soft green pasture would surely help break a bovine’s winter blues.

In fact, cows are suckers for novelty, adds de Passille’s colleague, . They get an extra spring or leap in their step “whenever something new or unexpected happens,” he says – say, changing their bedding or letting them out or back in. “We think it’s a sign that things are well with them.”

more via The Secret Lives Of Cows: Jumping For Joy : The Salt : NPR.

behavior · creativity · design · health · mental health

Don’t stop knitting! It keeps you healthy. : TreeHugger

Taking time to destress and be creative has great benefits, both physically and mentally. Take knitting, for example:

It turns out that knitting has incredible health benefits. It makes people feel good in just about every way. A bit of research has revealed a wide range of ways in which knitting helps humans cope, physically and mentally.

1. Knitting is used for therapy. It’s a powerful distractant, helping people manage long-term physical pain. For those who are depressed, knitting can motivate them to connect with the world. It is a conversation starter, allowing people to interact politely without making eye contact. It builds confidence and self-esteem.

2. Knitting is supremely relaxing, which is extremely important for reducing stress and anxiety. Dr. Herbert Benson, founder of Harvard’s Mind/Body Medical Institute, wrote The Relaxation Response, in which he recommends the repetition of a word, sound, phrase, prayer, or muscular activity to elicit “the relaxation response” – decreased heart rate, muscle tension, and blood pressure. Knitting is likened to meditation, sometimes described by knitters as “spiritual” and “Zen-like.”

read more reasons, like social connection and confidence boosting, via Don’t stop knitting! It keeps you healthy. : TreeHugger.

I have always felt like I SHOULD learn how to knit, but I actually find the idea of having to keep count and keep track of where I’m at stressful, but maybe I should just give it a try. Thoughts? Leave them in the comments below.

behavior · brain · cognition · happiness · health · Mental · mental health · Nature · psychology

Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime – Scientific American

I’m working on an article for work, and came across this article as part of my research for the article. It pretty much sums up everything I wanted to say (darn it!).

Americans and their brains are preoccupied with work much of the time. Throughout history people have intuited that such puritanical devotion to perpetual busyness does not in fact translate to greater productivity and is not particularly healthy. What if the brain requires substantial downtime to remain industrious and generate its most innovative ideas? “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets,” essayist Tim Kreider wrote in The New York Times. “The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration—it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

In contrast to the European Union, which mandates 20 days of paid vacation, the U.S. has no federal laws guaranteeing paid time off, sick leave or even breaks for national holidays. In the Netherlands 26 days of vacation in a given year is typical. In America, Canada, Japan and Hong Kong workers average 10 days off each year. Yet a survey by Harris Interactive found that, at the end of 2012, Americans had an average of nine unused vacation days. And in several surveys Americans have admited that they obsessively check and respond to e-mails from their colleagues or feel obliged to get some work done in between kayaking around the coast of Kauai and learning to pronounce humuhumunukunukuapua’a.

more via Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime – Scientific American.

The article focuses on mental downtime options like naps and meditation, which are awesome, but I would argue that being awake and aware, but also not actively engaged, like going for a walk or just sitting down and observing a garden, are good options too, especially since getting outside has also shown to be mentally reinvigorating.

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. 🙂

behavior · brain · creativity · disease · happiness · mental health · Nature · play · psychology

10 Simple Things You Can Do Today That Will Make You Happier, Backed By Science – The Buffer Blog

I think I’ve talked about ALL of these tips individually on the blog before, so I’m thrilled that somebody combined them into a “Top 10 With Science!” post:


Happiness is so interesting, because we all have different ideas about what it is and how to get it. It’s also no surprise that it’s the Nr.1 value for Buffer’s culture, if you see our slidedeck about it. So naturally we are obsessed with it.

I would love to be happier, as I’m sure most people would, so I thought it would be interesting to find some ways to become a happier person that are actually backed up by science. Here are ten of the best ones I found.

1. Exercise More (7 minutes might be enough)

2. Sleep More

read all 10 Simple Things You Can Do Today That Will Make You Happier, Backed By Science – The Buffer Blog.

I particularly like suggestion #5.