Thursday, 25 November 2010

Happy Housing and the Power of Teenage Idealism

One half house
Photo By Andreas Solberg via Flickr

This might be old news for some, but I still find the story very inspirational and thus worth spreading.

Teenagers often have silly ideas. I can assure you I had quite a few when I was fourteen. For some reason it never crossed my mind to ask my parents to sell our house, move in to a house worth half the price of the old one and donate extra money to charity. But when Hannah Salwen was fourteen years old that is exactly what she came up with. And to everyone's surprise her parents sold the house and donated  eight hundred thousand dollars to villagers in Ghana through the hunger project.

After selling the house Hannah and her father Kevin wrote a book called "The Power of Half" of their experience. They've appeared on television and in several newspapers and magazines. They also travel around to talk about their project at schools, community centers and so on.

I have not yet had a change to read the book, but I still find the story as an amazing manifestation of how silly idealism can lead to real life-changing results both at individual and global level.

The Salwens changed their own life for better by realizing that aspiring for new possessions does not make the family any happier. They also realized that they spent more time together as a family when living in a smaller house. The whole process forced them to work together and talk a lot.

The project also changed the lives of people from 40 villages in Ghana. Most importantly though the book and the project have created a lot publicity and momentum for the idea of everyone having a half they can give a way. It might be half of the house, but it could just as well be half of the items in the wardrobe or half the money one would spent on beer on a Friday night.

By surrendering to silly teenage idealism the Salwens transformed their own lives and thousands of other lives for better. How amazing is that?

Thursday, 18 November 2010


Happiness research may seem easy to criticise. How can we get reliable data? Will participants answer honestly in a survey? If they are filling the survey at school or work how does that environment affect their feelings and answers? Is happiness something that people are able to evaluate over longer time spans? I have to admit, that if asked if I was happy this time last year I would have hard time answering. Or even last week. Also there might be a bias towards people saying they're happier than they actually are because they feel that's what they ought to say.

Some of these problems might just have been solved by combining smart-phones and surveys. LSE (London School of Economics and Political Science) has introduced an iPhone application called mappiness that prompts users to tell where they are, what they are doing, with whom and how happy, relaxed and awake they are while doing whatever they were doing. It even asks them to take a picture of what they have directly in front of them. All this data gets collected daily from thousands of users.

I think this is marvellous because it brings answering the survey questions in the middle of the everyday life. Happiness or the lack of it often manifests itself in the small details of everyday life.

The application beeps as many times a day as the user sets it to do so, only inside a time frame set by the user and it only asks for a picture if the user has given it permission to do so. So it should not bother anyone too much and still it creates an amazing set of data that couldn't be collected in any other feasible way.

I've been using the mappiness-application for couple of months now and in my opinion the application is also rewarding to use. When it beeps I automatically reflect on what I'm doing and how happy am I doing that. I find thinking about how happy I am couple of times during the day both pleasant and useful. It also gives me some charts about when I am happiest, with whom I am happiest and a list of things I am happiest or least happy doing. Some of these things were obvious to me before, but some were new information. The little geek in me really likes this scientific approach to figuring out what I should be doing to be happy.

The application also maps (hence the name) where people are happiest. This should eventually provide new knowledge about how green spaces or noise affect happiness. It collects the photos submitted by users into a nice map. Unfortunately at the moment they're only concentrating on collecting data in the UK. It would be great to have this kind of information in a map covering the whole world.

Even though I am very excited about this new approach to studying happiness there are naturally some drawbacks. Here are some that have crossed my mind:

  • Iphone users are not representative of the population over all.
  • Often I'm really happy in situations when I don't have my phone with me (like hiking, camping).
  • Also when a person is extremely unhappy, their first priority is quite unlikely to be attending a happiness survey.
  • People are voluntarily uploading the application and thus are already interested in happiness or like taking part in surveys. 
  • The app has a category for 'Intimacy/making love', but who would answer the questions while having sex? Or even directly after?
The first one can of course be partly solved by providing applications for other smart phones as well, but this will naturally still leave significant part of the population out. But even if the sample is not representative in my opinion this is a ground breaking way to study happiness and will hopefully give some new insights into what makes people happy.

I will follow the project and probably post some further thoughts on it when they have had time to analyse the data. If you want to follow the project more closely, you can do so via their blog.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

I Have a Dream

This talk pretty much sums up all the reasons why I'm so interested in happiness and researching it.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Becoming visible


What most people think as a homeless person is that guy in dirty clothes asking for money in the metro. He quite propably is homeless, but there are also many other ways of being homeless. Many homeless people have children, some have jobs, some live in motels or hotels and not all use drugs.

Mark Horvath aka @hardlynormal on Twitter is utilising social media to fight homelessness. He himself used to live on the street in Hollywood in the 90s. He's active on Twitter and has started a YouTube -channel called to tell the stories of homeless people. Since last November he has interviewed numerous people who don't have the luxury of having a place to call home and posted all these stories on YouTube. Most of us walk past homeless people daily without even notising. Mark Horvath is making these people visible by telling their stories and encouraging homeless people to tell their stories themselfs vai different online services.

In addition to filming and posting the different stories of homeless people he has made helpfull videos simply explaining how to join Twitter or how to set up a gmail account. These are part of a website called We Are Visible helping homeless themselves share their stories with the world and become visible.  This may sound simple, but it may be very empowering for someone who's lived on the streets for some time.

Why it makes me happy?

Of course the fact that people ar homeless does not make me happy at all, quite the contrary. But I think this is a wonderfull way to make the world just a tad better place to live in. Raising awareness is a key to finding a solution. I think the videos in the project are truly powerful and Mark's personal experience of what it really is to be homeless gives a lot credibility to the project. After seeing these videos it should be impossible to go on ignoring the homeless people on the streets. Mark is also handing the initiative to the homeless themselves and thus taking the project to another level. He's not just helping people, he's empowering people to help themselves.

I think this project is a wonderful example of using social media for non-commercial purposes. This is a relatively cheap way of raising awareness and at least in most western countries computers and internet are accessible even to homeless. Through Invisible People I discovered a whole world of homeless people blogging and tweeting and sharing their stories. This has helped me to understand the phenomena better and think about more usefull ways to help people who have lost their homes for one reason or another. Unfortunately most of these people live in the UK or US and there's little I can physically do to help, but at least I can share the links and spread awareness.

More info:

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Take Back the Blog

I started this blog in January and didn't manage to write anything else than the opening post. I started writing few other entries, but wasn't happy with them. Now I've decided to take things more lightly and simply start by posting entries about things that make me happy. If it eventually leads into more in-depth writing about happiness and the science behind it, fine. If it doesn't I've started yet an other silly lifestyle blog, and that's not too bad either. At least I have an excuse to write something in English and a virtual notebook for myself.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

New Year

Starting something new is everyone's traditon for the new year. I haven't usually bothered to do any resolutions or started new hobbies in the beginning of a new year. This year isn't actually any different. I'm not going to promise anything or change much, but I will continue a prosess that has started years ago.

When I was still young and naive people asked quite often what I want to do when I grow up. All I could think of as an answer was: 'To become happy.' Even I thought that this wasn't a good answer, and people kept asking what it means for real. But as I've learnt more about life in general and various other things in detail I still haven't discovered what I want to do when I'm all grown up. But what I have realised during the past six months is that maybe there isn't any point to thrive for anything else than happiness.

There are still some issues whit this though: happiness is quite a broad concept. Because I believe in logic and analyzis, I feel that I need to know what happiness is before I can achieve it. So this blog is part of my journey towards happier me. I'm going to write about what I think happiness is and also about what happiness is generally thought to be. In my opinion health and happiness are connected. To become happier I also need to be healthier. This I believe can mostly be achieved by eating more healthily. So I'm going to blog about eating and food aswell.

In todays society productivity seems to be the key to everything especially at the work place. I personally believe that happier and healthier people are always more productive than people on the verge of a nervous breakdown and heart attack. Personally I don't really care about being more productive at the moment, but I believe I can't help becoming more productive if I become happier.

I think happiness is something very personal. What makes me happy probably doesn't work for other people. I still think some things are quite universal and maybe my thought on happiness will help someone else to become even a little bit happier. Thus I will also blog about things that make me happy.

So welcome to follow my journey towards healthier, happier and more productive life!