Put on a Happy Face

Recently, Science Magazine (August 21, 2009) described the findings of a recent survey by Richard Wiseman, who who asks what is the most potent trigger for happiness? Science Mag writes:

“[Richard Wiseman] divided his 26,000 [online] respondents – mostly young adults – into five groups. One was a control group. During a 5-day exercise, each of the other groups engaged in one type of upbeat behavior: being kind to others, dwelling on a happy memory, feeling grateful, or smiling.”

And the results over 5 days?

  1. Control: Half got happier, half didn’t (just as you’d expect of a large random sample)
  2. Dwelling on a happy memory from yesterday (65% got happier)
  3. Feeling gratitude (58% got happier)
  4. Practicing smiling (58% got happier)
  5. Trying to perform an “act of kindness” (50% got happier, identical to the control group)

So how do these findings map to what we do at GlobalGiving? I assume people get happy when they give to something they care about, which is an “act of kindness.” But just how happy do people get?

My girlfriend pointed out that performing an “act of kindness” is much harder than the others, so maybe fewer people succeeded, and so fewer got happy.

What do you think?

How do you interpret this survey, as it relates to GlobalGiving? Post a comment. Thanks in advance!

Marc Maxmeister

Marc Maxmeister is a PhD neuroscientist who helps coordinate the GlobalGiving Storytelling project, an experiment to provide all organizations with a richer, more complex view of the communities they serve. His title reflects our focus on learning from experiments. He was formerly a Peace Corps Volunteer in The Gambia (1999-2001) and did a Fulbright research project around the impact of computers and the Internet on rural education in West Africa. He loves to teach, and has taught graduate-level Neuroscience at Kenyatta University in Kenya and Python to middle school students in London, UK. He blogs at chewychunks.wordpress.com and is the author of several books, including Ebola: Local voices, hard facts (2014).

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