Tuesday, November 08, 2011

More happiness research

Warning, this is a little random - I am having trouble focusing today.

As you know, I am an avid reader of the happiness literature.  Not the psychobabble type, but legitimate research using rigorous and valid methods.  Not that there is anything wrong with that . . . .

Anyway, here are a few recent findings I thought I would share, and then brainstorm a few Human Factors implications. 

One study found that:
  • Happiness is composed of 50% genetic predisposition, 10% circumstances, and 40% mental and behavioral strategies to cope.
  • Varying the coping strategies is better than using the same one repetitively.

So what is the HF implication?  First, it means that individual differences are the most important thing when it comes to attitude (in this case happiness).  So when we are measuring user satisfaction or branding strength, a lot of what we want to impact through design is already pretty set in stone. 

The impact of coping strategies is also telling.  Many studies find that user performance is as much a factor of things like self-efficacy as they are with design ease of use.  Confidence makes you good at things.  And in a self-fulfilling cycle, being good at things makes you more confident.  This has incredible implications for training and education.  Using techniques like scaffolding, slowly increasing difficulty, quick feedback, user-customized speed, etc all create a virtuous cycle of confidence and performance.

And happiness.

Another finding is that varied thinking increases happiness.  Whether it is varied and fast (like brainstorming) or varied and slow (like daydreaming), varied thinking increases happiness.  On the other hand, focused thinking does the opposite, leading to depression in extreme cases.  Focused and slow (obsession) or focused and repetitive (panic) decrease happiness.

A related finding is that whether you are good at multi-tasking or not (which I have blogged about before), it makes you less happy to do it.  There is something soothing about focusing on one thing at a time (like meditation) that makes you happier.  Of course, keeping in mind what we learned in the previous study, we need to have enough variety in this one focused task to keep it interesting.  Boring isn’t good, but confusion isn’t either. 

So the ideal way to optimize your productivity is the concept of Flow – create a single task that someone can get totally involved in but is challenging enough to be interesting.  Of course, you already knew all of this.  These studies just add some details about how to do it.