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John Havens Crowdsourcing Happiness To Save the World

John C. Havens is founder of the H(app)athon Project, a contributing writer for Mashable and

John C. HavensJohn C. Havens is founder of the H(app)athon Project, a contributing writer for Mashable and
author of the upcoming book, Hacking H(app)iness: How Big Data and Technology Can Bring Fulfillment in Our Connected World. At Sustainable Brands ’13 (June 3-6), he’ll speak on the main stage about “Unleashing the Personal Data Economy” and participate in two panels. I asked him a few questions about the topics he’s presenting.

The stated vision of the H(app)athon Project is: Connecting identity to action to increase happiness and save the world. How do you do that?

Our vision is that mobile sensors and other technologies should be utilized to identify what brings people meaning in their lives. We’ve created a survey that’s complemented by tools that track action and behavior in a private data environment. By analyzing a person’s answers and data, we create their Personal Happiness Indicator Score (PHI), a representation of their core strengths versus a numbered metric.

A person can then be matched to organizations that reflect their PHI Score in a form of data-driven micro-volunteerism. There’s a great deal of science documenting that action and altruism increase happiness. So we’re simply identifying where people already find meaning and help them find ways to get happier while helping others. At scale, we feel this is the way we save the world.

At the moment, we’re just beginning our work. Our survey can be taken online and on iPhones, but we’re seeking funding to build out the sensor portion of our data collection. We’ve partnered with the City of Somerville, MA to pilot our proof-of-concept model over the next ten months. Somerville is the only American city to implement Happiness Indicator metrics with a sitting government. Our hope is that by adding sensor data into the mix we can gain critical insights to help with transparent city planning that improves citizens' well-being.

You suggest we are on the verge of a major cultural shift that combines re-evaluated happiness and the “quantified self.” Can you explain what you mean by the quantified self?

Quantified Self (QS) is a term created by Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly of WIRED. It’s a website and organization that does frequent meetups around the world celebrating the art and science of empowered self-examination. Using cutting-edge technology or old-fashioned measurement techniques, QS simply means setting a goal around a behavior and trying to optimize it to improve your life.

Is this cultural shift just wishful thinking, or can you point to evidence that it’s underway?

The Happiness Economy, as I call it, is based on a movement called Beyond GDP that formed after a conference in 2007 with members from groups like the European Commission, European Parliament and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Robert Kennedy was the first to speak of the lack of holistic measurement for the GDP in 1968, and the term Gross National Happiness was coined by Bhutan in 1972. However, I think it wasn’t until 2012 when the United Nations held their first Happiness Summit that mainstream media and the world began to see measuring value beyond wealth is becoming a real possibility. The World Happiness Report that stemmed from that meeting was created by many of the world’s leading economists and statisticians and provides a powerful body of data that shows the Happiness Economy is firmly rooted and set to drive major global change.

What will such a cultural shift mean for business-consumer relations?

My hope is if Happiness Metrics become pervasive people will realize their worth is not based solely on wealth and we can move behind outdated marketing language and practices. For instance, the word “consumer” — why are we still defining ourselves by a word that refers to stockpiling goods or ingesting food? Why can’t we be “creators” of content, or value? Language has power and we need to shift this terminology to drive cultural change.

You’ve given a lot of thought to how personal data is going to be displayed in the next generation of mobile — e.g. wearable devices such as Google Glass. What’s the big picture for brand engagement on this emerging platform?

In June 2011, I wrote a Mashable piece about something I called Virtual Advertising Rights (VAR). In the same way billboards pay for “air rights” in the present advertising landscape, I think brands will have to pay people for the right to be visible within their Augmented Reality (AR) environments. This may sound extreme, but it’s important to remember that with AR it’s theoretically possible to block out any images you don’t wish to see. Brand logos might be recognized as eye-spam and converted into mundane images a viewer will ignore.

But a brand could create a video game accessible by Glass where their products appeared as a natural part of the landscape. Ingress, Google’s AR adventure, sets a precedent of digital data overlaid physical space in the form of a game. I also think focus groups (pun intended) will evolve in the augmented world, where a group of friends naturally talking about a brand or other cultural meme could start recording and tagging their conversations for future use. What’s critical in this model is that anyone being filmed provides consent (or their faces could be blurred) and that if consumer video is used by a brand, everyone who took part in the conversation is paid.

Is it fair to say that building consumer — or creator — trust will be the critical element to unleashing the personal data economy? And if so, how will it be achieved?

Absolutely. The model I suggested above only works if people own their data. There are a number of companies like that allow people to store their online identity in “data vaults.” These act as conduits for a person’s data that in theory can’t be accessed by brokers selling their information without their knowledge. Any advertising model based on occluded behavioral tracking is set for disruption as the real winners in the personal data economy are the brands who involve consumers in consensual transactions to build trust and mutually beneficial avenues of exchange.


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