Monday, 5 August 2013

Don't worry, Be Happy

Happy Monday ladies, I hope you have all had a lovely weekend.

In a world of Twitter bashing (all the news stories last week), Facebook fraud etc.  There is now a sunnier network telling people don’t worry, be happy. This is my kind of network.

It is called Happier and is a world where frowning faces are banned and contributions must be positive. Cynics beware. Log in and tell the world “what makes your heart sing” by holding down a smiley face and uploading a photo with a caption. The site’s creator, Nataly Kogan, 37, says it is “a beautiful way to collect and share small happy moments and be inspired to do more of what makes you happier”. The site is littered with happy face emoticons. Friends can “smile” at your posts, which is the equivalent of a Facebook or Instagram “like”. According to Kogan, the “smile” is “a celebratory gesture”.

Kogan raised $2.4 million to set up Happier and more than 100,000 users have now shared over one million updates. There’s no mechanism to restrict less than cheery updates but Kogan says it isn’t needed. “We have so little abuse of any kind. Why would you come to this place and share something negative?” Current updates include “cycled and felt strong” and “I ate the frosting off a cake”.

It’s not the only positive site. Lift is based on the theory of “operant conditioning”, where positive reinforcement — think praise from others and a sense of satisfaction — can lead to achieving goals and creating habits. Then there’s Path, which limits each user to 150 friends, inspired by Dunbar’s number, the maximum and optimum number of friends a person can sustain a stable inter-personal relationship with at any point in time. So can this cheery sharing make you ’appy? “Research tells us if we are able to list things we’re grateful for, it can promote wellbeing,” says Dr Michael Sinclair of the City Psychology Group. “It has been scientifically proven that remembering positive memories can make us feel better.”

Kogan says it has helped her. She created Happier when she realised she was ignoring the present. “While chasing some unachievable state of BIG HAPPY I had ignored so many of the small happy moments that were part of my every day,” she says. “I remembered when I was 13 and living with my parents in a refugee settlement in Vienna trying to make our way to the US. It taught me you can find small positive moments on even the crappiest of days and that it’s worth looking for them.”

But the jury is out on whether you need to share them. Sinclair says being in it for the “likes” or “smiles” can get problematic. “Having content that can be ‘liked’ creates a problem where you then look for more likes, which is like an addiction,” he says. “It’s exhausting to present yourself as happy all the time. It’s normal to feel depressed but looking at a website about happiness you’ll feel down about feeling down. Social media is not a replacement for real human interaction either. We’re never really on this site unless we’ve got nothing better to do. If you’re using a site to look at other people’s lives, try not being passive and taking some of your own photos.”

So if you’ve had enough of smug people celebrating cooking a delicious meal or spending Sunday with their loved ones, how about a misery network?  “That wouldn’t help either,” says Sinclair. “Venting is a quick fix but doesn’t assuage anger in the long term. It’s a cycle. Because venting gives temporary relief you crave it again, so need to be angry again. If people sympathise with your anger it encourages more of it.”

Whether it can replace Facebook and Twitter remains to be seen but this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Happier. Kogan is looking at more than a social network, she wants a whole feelgood empire.  “Our big vision is to build a media company and a lifestyle brand that inspires millions of people to be happier,” she says. “That may include everything from Happier branded home decor to yoga mats inscribed with the tagline, ‘Yoga makes me happier’.” How jolly.

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