Use Your iPhone to Track Your Happiness

Just when you thought you'd learned about all the things your iPhone can do for you, along comes a new one: It can help you track your happiness. Taking part also helps someone write a PhD, so it's a double plus.

Track Your HappinessThe new app is actually some psychology research being performed by Matt Killingsworth at Harvard, and it's designed to tackle one of nature's most ephemeral and yet fascinating questions: What is it that makes people happy? The site's blurb sets out the mission of the project, it's a "new scientific research project that aims to use modern technology to help answer this age-old question. Using this site in conjunction with your iPhone, you can systematically track your happiness and find out what factors--for you personally--are associated with greater happiness."

Essentially you sign up for the program, and then give the software a slew of personal information to give the researches some meaty data to think about later--it's stuff like how satisfied with your life you are, how much money you make, whether you're married, how liberal your political leanings are. Then, at repeated periods throughout the day you'll be pinged by your iPhone either by email or by SMS, and prompted to answer a short one-minute survey. This one asks how happy you are, what you're doing (yes, "making love" is an option, though hopefully it's an activity you'd prioritize over doing some science) whether you exercised recently, whether you're alone, who you're talking to and what you're thinking about.

After 50 successful survey answers you'll get a Happiness Report from the system, which will apparently help you work out the factors that contribute most to your levels of happiness. Or, I suppose, there's the flipside conclusion: You can learn what things make you most unhappy.

Hmm...that's where this idea gets interesting. I suspect most people who'd be generous enough to take part in the study are pretty self-aware, and already know, to a certain extent, what makes them happy. I just completed the first survey, and was told I was 60% happy--which doesn't actually tally as I'm very happy indeed. And surely having the iPhone as the chief input device will bias the survey? I understand it's a Web-connected gizmo you tend to have nearby at all times, making it ideal for the time-related part of the study...but Apple users tend to report high levels of satisfaction with their products, and using the iPhone is a constant reminder of how cool it is. That's going to skew things a bit.

[TrackYourHappiness via NoahBrier]

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9 Comments

  • Marco van Hout

    Interesting piece of experience sampling. It is also closely related to the kind of 'emotional diary' and 'what do you feel in (e.g.) a hotel?' application we are working on: http://www.design-emotion.com/.... I will follow this app with interest :-)

  • David Markowitz

    If you're interested in a new approach to boost your happiness based on the latest positive psychology research, check out our iPhone app: Live Happy (there’s also a Free Trial version); it's based on the work of Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of "The How of Happiness" and provides a unique method to create a personalized program to increase your happiness.

    You can also learn more about the iPhone app on our Facebook page.

  • Freddy Nager

    The researchers should integrate the iPhone's GPS capabilities to qualify happiness readings. For example, places where people are likely to be unhappy: traffic jam, DMV, jury duty, Clippers game, prison, Monday morning corporate status meeting. Happy places: ice cream shop, private beaches, Burning Man, mistress' apartment in Buenos Aires.

  • Luke James

    that sounds fancy...wonder if it really works...but talking about apps...there is another new iPhone service my cousin stumbled upon...its something like u can have two lines on one cell phone...im yet to try it though

  • January Kohli

    hmmm - unclear if the iphone text notifications work for Canadians. I am excited to find out though.

  • Kit Eaton

    @Chris. I know--fabulous, isn't it?! I'm awaiting the results with interest. Just 15 days to go.