From research to design

The explorative research has produced a truckload of information. While all very inspiring, it is a bit too much to take it all into account when starting up the design process. Therefore I will now report of a crucial step in my project: ‘from research to design.’ In this step, I have reviewed the research outcomes, and formulated a focus for the design phase.

Research insights

The literature research and explorative research have been conducted separately. The goal of the literature research was to form a scientific basis for this project, and the explorative research was conducted to find out more about the experience of adopting a happiness strategy. While both having been useful to their own ends, they had not yet been combined into one research conclusion.

To try and bridge the gap, I reviewed the results of the explorative research to find links to theory. I did this by transcribing the two focus groups I’d organized, and making a cluster analysis of all the quotes of the participants. Their quotes could be grouped into themes, and these themes could sometimes be linked to some of the theory I’d found in my literature research.

The research review resulted in five main insights. These are valuable since they represent theory that has been confirmed in practical research, and point out product opportunities.

Insight #1 | Basic requirements for strategy adoption
As was expected, a number of themes corresponded with aspects that Lyubomirsky calls the ‘Five Hows of Happiness’, which are basically a program of requirements for the successful adoption of a happiness strategy (Lyubomirsky, 2007). The quotes of the participants confirmed the importance of developing a habit, optimal planning and variety, required effort, acceptation, and person-activity fit.

Some quotes that illustrate the importance of planning:
“My life is too much of a chaos to exercise the strategy on a set time every day.”
“I think it works to do things for others when the opportunity arises, in stead of planning such acts beforehand.”
“It’s negative that you have to push yourself to exercising the strategy on set times, but it also satisfying when it pays off.”

Insight #2 | The effect of a strategy on one’s happiness
Participants reported on their changes in positive affect and happiness upon executing their strategy. Although influenced by many factors, the general experience seems to be the same. This is illustrated by the graph below.

When evaluating the effect of the strategies, participants primarily reported a rise in positive affect, and in the awareness of their happiness. The question arises: Are happiness and the awareness of happiness the same thing? I would argue that they are, and that every time one is asked ‘How happy are you? / What is your life satisfaction?’ one makes an appraisal of his life satisfaction. This appraisal can only consist of life aspects that one is aware of. Thus, by increasing the awareness of positive life aspects, the appraisal can be influenced, and one’s life satisfaction can increase.

Some quotes that illustrate changes in happiness, awareness and emotion:
“Shortly after exercising a strategy I became happier. Thereafter the feeling faded away. If one can maintain exercise one can enjoy a continuum of peaks.”
“By recalling memories, I realized how many people are always there for me, which is a beautiful thing.”
“I became aware that I became happiest from some things completely unrelated to my assigned strategy. However, it may be that exercising the strategy led to this realization.”

Insight #3 | The general anatomy of every strategy
Some participants were more creative then others in finding new meaningful things to do, and in the way that they approached their strategies. Some took the instructions very literal, while others paid minor attention to them and customized the strategy to fit their lifestyle. This had a direct effect on the success of the strategies:

Some quotes that illustrate this topic:
“I bought a brownie for a housemate who was learning for an exam. I normally wouldn’t have done this, and it made me feel very happy.”
“I rang some people on the phone, and did things I would have normally done.”
“I was not able to thank someone, because I was unable to step out of my comfort zone.”

From the experience of the participants, a combination of active experimentation and reflective observation yields the best results. This insight can be linked to and supported by the experiential learning theory by American educational theorist David A. Kolb (1984). Just as in Kolb’s model, active experimentation allowed participants to experience new things, and reflective observation enabled them to translate these experiences into valuable lessons.

Insight #4 | How to create behavioral change
All the happiness strategies required the participants to change their behavior. Besides the requirements that Lyubomirsky mentions for adopting a happiness strategy, there is a more abstract framework that can clearly explain some of the experiences of the participants in changing their behavior.
This is the model of behavioral change by Stanford professor BJ Fogg (2009). It claims that for any behavior to occur, there needs to be sufficient motivation, sufficient ability, and something that triggers the behavior to happen at a certain moment.

Some quotes that illustrate the importance of motivation, ability and triggers:
“I was thinking: ‘Nice, I get to work on my strategy again.’ At first it felt more like a favor for someone else, later on it really became my own project.” (motivation)
“A downside is that you need a quiet room to be able to meditate.” (ability)
“I kept the booklet in plain sight on my desk, as a reminder.” (trigger)

Insight #5 | Unforeseen emotions
During the exercise of the strategies, the participants experienced many emotions that influenced their experience. A critical point lies in the preparation phase of every intentional activity, as can be seen in the graph below. Upon deciding to work on their strategy, most participants received a boost in their positive emotions, and felt anticipation, wonder and hope. However, when realizing the commitment and effort that was necessary for the activity, positive emotions decreased.
Furthermore, making plans and not exercising them produced negative emotions such as guilt and frustration. Sometimes participants would give up on the activity altogether. Managing one’s expectations and setting feasible goals proved to be key to increasing the chances of success. Achieving a goal often produced positive emotions such as joy, satisfaction, and pride. When expectations were surpassed, participants were positively surprised.

Some quotes that illustrate the effect of emotions:
“When I started exercising the strategy, I did not find it very important. That caused me to forget about it. Instead of happier, I became frustrated, because I had the feeling I was neglecting something I should do.” (guilt)
“It was motivating to see what I had accomplished with my strategy.” (pride)

Design Focus

Happiness can be defined as Life Satisfaction (Veenhoven, 2002). The appraisal of life satisfaction is a function of the awareness of life aspects and the perceived importance of life aspects. To increase either one of these would benefit the appraisal, and thus one’s happiness. Opportunity in increasing ones happiness lies in changing ones intentional activities through happiness strategies. Some happiness strategies are social. Others are individual. Some are focused on thinking, some on doing. Yet the context research has shown that all include some aspect of active experimentation and contemplation, very similar to Kolb’s experiential learning theory.

During ideation, the focus will be on applying Kolb’s principle in service of Lyubomirsky’s strategies:

The product should stimulate active experimentation and contemplation of a happiness strategy, to allow the user to adopt the happiness strategy with success, and increase the awareness and/or importance of positive life aspects.

During conceptualization, the focus will be on Fogg’s theory on behavioral change:

The product-aspects of motivation, ability and trigger will be developed to increase the persuasive quality of the product.

The personas from the explorative research will be used as a frame of reference, for the evaluation of ideas and concepts. The five ‘hows’ of Lyubomirsky will be criteria for concept selection and the final prototype test and product evaluation. They can be reasonably quantified and tested, and will thus enable a conclusion to be drawn.

The next phase of this project will be the ideation, where the first product ideas will be sketched. More to come very soon!

– Fogg, B. (2009). A Behavior Model for Persuasive Design. PERSUASIVE 2009. Claremont: Springer-Verlag.
– Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential Learning. New York: Englewood Cliffs.
– Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). The How of Happiness. New York: The Penguin Press.
– Veenhoven, R. (2002). Het grootste geluk voor het grootste aantal, geluk als richtsnoer voor beleid. Sociale Wetenschappen (4), 1-43.


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