What’s New?: Happiness in an iPhone app

iphone_app-523x102412-201x188Can an app really measure happiness, let alone tell you ways in which you could be more happy tailored to your own unique lifestyle? A new program in development by the H(app)athon Project is plotting to do just that, and the group has partnered with Somerville to test it out this fall.

In 2011, the city followed in the footsteps of Bhutan, the first country to measure its citizens’ well being based on a measurement it calls “Gross National Happiness.” Mayor Joe Curtatone’s SomerStat office issued a “happiness survey,” created with help from Harvard psych professor Daniel Gilbert, to analyze how citizens’ happiness was affected by the city’s policies. The survey was recognized by national news outlets including the New York Times.

The project’s founder, John C. Havens, chose to work with Somerville after learning about the 2011 survey. “They’re the first city in the U.S. to implement happiness metrics for policy creation, and our goal is to demonstrate how mobile sensors can better help identify and improve the wellbeing of their citizens,” he says in a press release. Just as it did following its initial survey, SomerStat plans to use information gathered in the app’s fall pilot program to assess and guide policy formation.

In addition to helping shape new policies, the app’s main purpose will be to offer new actions and services that its user can take advantage of to boost his or her own personal happiness. “I know that the data will help us run the city as much as it will help residents find resources that they might not know about otherwise,” says Curtatone.

The app will collect “active data” inputted by users throughout a two-week survey period, in addition to what it calls “passive data” that sensors in a smartphone detect from its user. It is, however, unclear how exactly this information will be collected. Both sets of data will allow the app to measure its user’s Personal Happiness Indicator score, not only to aid in policy formation but to suggest actions the user can take to can improve his or her PHI as well.

When it is fully launched in March of next year (on International Happiness Day, no less), the app intends to reach users on an international scale and offer a “global mood ring” that will display worldwide happiness in real-time. As smartphones become available in more countries across the globe, this hope isn’t far fetched – although the extensive two-week survey may keep it from becoming as ubiquitous as the instant gratification of Facebook or Instagram.

 -Jake Reed