Happiness, and the Point of Friction

QOTD today:

The products we design are going to be ridden in, sat upon, looked at, talked into, activated, operated, or in some way used by people individually or en masse.

If the point of contact between the product and the people becomes a point of friction, then the industrial designer has failed.

If, on the other hand, people are made safer, more comfortable, more eager to purchase, more efficient—or just plain happier—the industrial designer has succeeded.” – Henry Dreyfuss, American Industrial Designer

Emphasis are mine. Something about the idea of friction is sticking with me. Also, I like this as an effect of a design: “or just plain happier”.

No, we don’t always have to merely be more productive or efficient. Happiness is a legitimate goal on its own.

This I Believe

I’ve been interviewing, and I’ve been asked open-ended and broad questions such as, “Tell me about yourself”, and “What do you want to do?”. When I was fresh out of college, I remember gushing, “I want to work with smart people!”; or identifying myself with my degrees, “I am a Business Major”, “I am an Informatics Major.”

Looking back, I smile at my younger self.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s fantastic to work with smart people at a great company. And I still tell people what I studied in college to set background and context. More than that though, now, if given the chance, I tell people my motivation to work. Since becoming a yoga teacher and seeing first hand what it is like to directly make a difference in someone’s day, or life, I’m enormously motivated to help people uncover their potential. And I’m pretty sure you feel the same too.

Now, I’m aware of how cheesy that may sound. Yeah, yeah, let’s hear the jokes. Anthony Robbins better move over, Nikki Chau is rolling in.

I’m aware that these things almost always sound incredibly cheesy and sound-bitey through certain mediums, like, uh, the Internet. Oh well. I’m certain I’m not the first or the last to let their guard down ’round here, so I’ll put this out there anyway.

Tonight I was searching for a research study I read about a range of salary where it makes virtually no difference to the quality of life and the level of happiness of the wage earner. I didn’t find it, but instead I found this nice slide show that I’m digging a lot: Goodness And Happiness – Why Generosity Is The Future Of Marketing Strategy

One of the slides had the Hughtrain manifesto, which was quite inspiring for me to read.

We are here to find meaning. We are here to help other people do the same. Everything else is secondary.

We humans want to believe in our own species. And we want people, companies and products in our lives that make it easier to do so. That is human nature.

Product benefit doesn’t excite us. Belief in humanity and human potential excites us.

Think less about what your product does, and think more about human potential.

People are not just getting more demanding as consumers, they are getting more demanding as spiritual entities. Branding is a spiritual exercise. These are The New Realities, this is the Spiritual Republic we now live in.

The soul cannot be outsourced. Either get with the program or hire a consultant in Extinction Management. No vision, no business. Your life from now on pivots squarely on your vision of human potential.

Um, yeah. A few big and fuzzy feely touchy words there, eh? Like, Spiritual? I mean, come on, talk about overused and abused word, right? An easy word people use to sell you crap, right? Yup, let’s take a moment to roll our eyes and shake our heads here.

Okay, let’s all turn off our snarky skeptical selves for another moment, just a short moment, and consider things like the spirit and the soul in the least commercialized meaning and on the deepest most personal level. Think about the time when you went camping far away from the city and you looked up and saw the whole entire constellation twinkling above, and you just got really quiet and stared up at the sky with a certain sense of wonder, and you didn’t even feel the need to tweet or update your facebook status about it.

Or, think of the time when you were just so moved and inspired by someone, when you hear about the story of a human who’s overcome something so awful and achieved something great, like the last time you watched “Rudy”, or read about an Olympics athlete who have failed and failed and failed so hard so many times before earning their medal.

For me, the last three times I felt this way were:

  • Watching Hannah Kearney win Gold in Vancouver after her stumble in Turin
  • Watching Roger Ebert’s interview on Oprah.
  • The story of actress Carey Mulligan, recently nominated for an Oscar’s, who was rejected by not one, but three drama schools and was working as a barmaid before she became an actress.

And so, you know, corn and cheese and snark aside, I *do* believe that we want to do good, fun, meaningful, purposeful work. Not preachy, holier-than-thou, d0-gooders-are-better kind of work. No, we don’t all have to drop everything and run off and join the Peace Corps. At the core, I believe that we all yearn to do work that lets us express ourselves and means something to someone’s soul and spirit.

Okay, thanks for playing. We can put our hard-knock-life jade shell back on now.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Throughout this past week and a couple before that, I have been randomly running into the concept of “happiness” everywhere I looked. My guess is, because it’s the end of the year and also the end of what TIME Magazine called The Decade from Hell (geez, sensational much?), a whole lot of us are reflecting more than usual, and movies like Up in the Air have got us asking, “What am I doing with my life?”, and “What is it all for?”

On Friday, I read the article This is the Greatest Good by Richard Layard, author of Happiness: Lessons from a New Science, who suggests:

“So it is time to reassert the noble philosophy of the Enlightenment. In this view, every human being wants to be happy, and everybody counts equally. It follows that progress is measured by the overall scale of human happiness and misery. And the right action is the one that produces the greatest happiness in the world and (especially) the least misery. I can think of no nobler ideal.”

Now, I won’t go into what exactly constitute happiness, because that in itself is a giant black hole, and it’s the crux of the argument that what Richard Layard proposes is not practical, nor desired, as this dude said in the counter-essay: The pursuit of happiness is a fool’s errand.

“For one thing, pain too will be part of any rich human life as, say, when people fall in love. For another, pleasure comes in all sorts of different guises that can no more be compared than can the joy of reading a book with the buzz of dancing until dawn.

Today’s utilitarians believe they have overcome this difficulty, since we can now observe people in scanners: pleasure centres light up in the brain, producing an apparently objective measure.

Only it isn’t. The problem is that there is no way to read a brain directly: no grey fold or ganglion is pre-labelled ‘happiness'”. – Mark Vernon

I very much see where these two guys are coming from. Today my friend Andy briefly talked about why we haven’t been out and about partying as much like we used to, and I mentioned what my senior yoga teacher Judith Lasater said in an interview:

“There’s a difference between fun and enjoyment. Fun is something I might want to do to get away from my life and enjoyment is something I can bring into my life. With fun, I’m thinking of trying to escape for the moment. Enjoyment is something that brings me into my life. It is the attitude I have within my life.”

It’s not a stretch to say that we are all pursuing something called happiness. We all want to have fun, to enjoy life, to be happy. Why then, does happiness seem so elusive? I have a couple theories, but I want to hear from you. What do you think? What’s your definition of happiness? And according to that, are you happy?

You don't want to see my unhappy face, trust me.

You don’t want to see my unhappy face, trust me.