Discovering Happiness

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For my birthday, I received a new book that I had been eyeing, Happiness by Richard Layard. I am about a quarter through it and while I am not so hip to his writing style, I am enchanted by the information presented. You see, Layard is actually an economist that worked with a variety of others – psychologists, philosophers, sociologists etc. Just as you get through the initial premise you begin to think, “yeah, but how about this other aspect, you cannot discount that?!” and then he answers you before the chapter is over. You feel smart until you realize that Layard has done his home work and you, well I, get giddy being the student.

On the way into New York City, on an early train, I started scribbling some thoughts on the back of an old business card. They apply to more than just happiness and obviously resonate with my current outlook.

It is not how good it is, it is how good people think it is.

This came out of a section where Layard presents how over time people have become wealthier while happiness has stayed constant. He presents a series of examples where people show that wealth relative to others is more important than absolute increase in wealth – it is all about where people perceive they are in relation to others. Given the opportunity to have more relative to others, people elect that over an increase in wealth and no upward mobility.

It is not how good it is, it is how good people think it is.

This seems to be all that matters and all that is important in so many circumstances – politics, relationships and commercials to name a few. Everything is impression management and very often, the altruistic among us (that includes me) feel like there should be some kernel of purity worth worshiping beyond the manufactured experience. Relating this to the field of user experience design, all that matters is what users think.

What people experience is not our reality it is theirs. We do not get to decide, which really refocuses the importance of other related elements. Very often technology gets a lot of focus when, for the most part, a user rarely interacts with it – even more so when on the web. What server, middleware or backend is employed, the user has no idea or cares. As technologists, we use technology as a way of expressing ourselves, but fail when all we see is a technical problem. In the end, all that matters is what people think, in which case, as technologists we need to be far more sensitive to how we create delightful experiences. Extend that to any relationship.

Every day, we have the opportunity to create life-long memories, even more so if we pay attention to how people experience us. Who doesn’t want to be that impactful?