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Good Measure

Can data make you happier?

by Kate Pavao
, August 2014

Perhaps you’ve heard about how the Internet of Things can make grocery shopping more efficient. The well-worn use case: your refrigerator sends an alert to your smartphone, letting you know you need to buy peanut butter just as you pass down the aisle—maybe even attaching a coupon to the text.


John C. Havens, author of Hacking Happiness: Why Your Personal Data Counts and How Tracking It Can Change the World (Tarcher, 2014) and founder of the H(app)athon Project, says pantry management is merely a convenient example of how sensors and connected devices can make our lives easier. He’s more interested in how the data collected by the Internet of Things will make our communities more efficient—and even move us to a post-GDP economy.

“I want people to understand how they can increase their personal well-being through action,” Havens tells Profit. “And I want them to realize that there are a lot of pragmatic steps being taken around the world to have these metrics of well-being get put into policy.”

On hacking happiness: A lot of technology building is done just because we can do it, or because someone is going to make money off of it. I’m not a Luddite, but I’m both a technophile and the person who says we’re allowed to slow down and think about our humanity. How can we pause, reflect on our lives, and then use data to increase our well-being?

I’m not a Luddite, but I’m both a technophile and the person who says we’re allowed to slow down and think about our humanity.

On sensors: Passive sensor data is going to reveal amazing information that can really help people. For example, sometimes our voices express something we don’t even realize we are feeling, like stress or anger. Moodies Emotional Analytics is a great free app that helps you increase emotional intelligence. You speak for about 20 seconds, then you see the sine wave patterns for your vocal data. It’s not always accurate, but it can tell you what emotions—both primary and secondary—you’re feeling.

On the Internet of Things: There’s a lot of illumination that could happen, including a ton of possibilities in the house: a dishwasher could sense certain types of bacteria and let you know if someone in your family is reacting poorly to a new detergent. Or if your kids are wearing stress watches while watching a PG-13 movie and register high levels of stress, is there something you need to talk to them about?

What I’m excited about is the intersection of individual-level data with city-level data. For instance, say there was just an accident on the highway that you normally take to work. You might get a text saying, “Take the subway and get $2 off at Dunkin’ Donuts.” Meanwhile, the city is solving environmental concerns and traffic problems, and reducing stress among its commuters. 

Percentage of survey respondents who said the use of wearables in the enterprise enhanced productivity (Source: Tech Pro Research April 2014 survey)

On the H(app)athon Project: We know when you track something, the accountability of the tracking oftentimes helps improve whatever you’re working on. Also, there’s been a ton of research that says if you don’t live to your values, your happiness decreases. On our website——you can take a survey where you track how closely you lived your values for two weeks. Around 94 percent of the people who have taken our survey have self-reported that their well-being has increased, and now we’re hoping to turn our survey into an app.

—Kate Pavao

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