Essay

The Science of Happiness Experiment

By Duff McDuffee on August 3rd, 2009 1

Richard Wiseman, author of The Luck Factor and an upcoming (in the US) book called 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot has created a social experiment on happiness as part of his marketing for his upcoming book. (Wiseman’s book is already out in the UK.)

The experiment takes place from August 3rd-7th and involves taking a short survey, watching some short YouTube clips, and doing some brief exercises based on positive psychology research.

While I have some questions about positive psychology methods (especially the self-reporting bias) and some philosophical problems with happiness-focused hedonism, I’m willing to give this experiment a try. I’ll post my results here in the comments, and I invite you to do the same.

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9 responses to “The Science of Happiness Experiment”

  1. Different participants might be viewing different videos and thus have different exercises, so I won't report my exercise until the last day. I'll only report my mood and how it is affected by the exercise. Lately I've been a bit depressed anyhow, so this could be quite useful an experiment for me.

    DAY 1

    Pre-exercise: I feel at perhaps a 3/10 on happiness, a little despondent.
    Exercise length: less than a minute
    Post-exercise: I do feel happier. I felt waves of tingling sensations across my body. I took some deeper breaths. I'm perhaps a 5/10 now, and feel more connected to someone whom I recalled.

    • A few minutes later, I feel right back at around a 3/10 again.

    • Ok, so after trying the exercise a couple of times, I'm convinced that this less than one minute exercise of remembering something positive from the previous 24 hours is about as good for increasing happiness as a 30-second massage is for decreasing back pain, or a cup of chamomile tea for increasing health.

      It's nice, and even useful (and would be much more useful with distinctions from NLP), but only barely changes mood for a very brief period of time.

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  3. Shannon says:

    How's that happiness thing coming now? It's been a bit since you commented about it. I am curious because I know that our minds are powerful when t comes to emotions/over all feelings. Something can set me off, and thus, in a bad mood I will flow. But I can turn it around by looking out my window and seeing a hummingbird. Poof, the bad mood is gone, and I feel at peace again. I think that direction/redirection of certain emotions can change our over all feelings of happiness, anger, jealousy, etc…but to maintain happiness all the time just doesn't seem possible. Plus, would I want to be Happy all the time? Maybe our moods, our down time, allows us to appreciate the happy things in our lives that much more…
    So, please, I am curious as to how you feel now. 🙂

    • Thanks Shannon. I found this particular exercise (recalling something positive that happened in the last 24 hours) to be somewhat useful in the moment for feeling positively. Every time I have tried it, I have experienced positive emotions, but usually not for more than about 1-3 minutes, after which my mood went back to whatever it was before!

      I could see such a simple exercise as very valuable for someone experiencing depression that is stuck in persistent negative mood. For everyone else, it's about as useful as a 2 minute should rub is for back pain–it feels nice, but not deep enough to do much good, in my opinion.

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