Former Chief Business Officer of Google X, Google’s research and development lab, Mo Gawdat decided to use his experience as an engineer to build a solution to one of humanity’s oldest dilemma — the pursuit of happiness.
Between social media fostering political tensions, robots replacing workers and smartphones being addictive, technology is often seen as a threat to our well-being. But according to Mo Gawdat, it can also be part of the solution.
You decided to take a logic-driven approach to solve what you call “the happiness equation”. Where did the idea come from?
When you try to solve the problem as an engineer, you realize that we were actually born happy. Children are happy, and the older we get, the less happy we are. We have a machine that was working very well at the beginning, and then it broke. So instead of looking at the things we can do to become happier, I decided to look at how to remove the things that make us unhappy.
If we start to look at it this way, we realize that unhappiness is actually an alarm mechanism, it’s your brain telling you that something is wrong and that you need to act upon it.
My goal is to help people understand that happiness is like fitness: if you work on it a little bit every day, you’ll end up being happier. It is all the more necessary to act as our world is in a bad place. Depression and teen suicide are at an all-time high. At the same time, we are teaching computers to think, with artificial intelligence. If we don’t resolve our happiness issues, we’ll have computers that behave in the same wrong way that we do.
You’ve been in the field of innovation and technology for a while. How are you using your knowledge of these tools to spread your message? Are you working on an app, for example?
Definitely. We are building a smart application that will help people solve these issues on a daily basis. It works on a “be/learn/do” model. The “be” part is about awareness. The application will look at a few simple things regarding your lifestyle, like the way you use technology, your working habits, your relationships, etc. Based on these, the application will then provide you with some resources to read, videos to watch and so forth, to increase your knowledge of your own issues. Finally, it will help you act to solve these issues, in a highly personalized way.
If you’re an executive suffering from the illusion of control, the app will connect you to other individuals sharing the same issue, and with some readings (in your own language) on the subject. Or maybe the application will notice that when you use Facebook more than 20 minutes a day, your happiness decreases…
You worked at Google, in the heart of Silicon Valley. Big technology companies like Google, Facebook or Apple are having more and more impact on our daily lives. Do you feel like they have a role to play in making us happier?
I don’t believe that change will come from big companies.
Their goal is to release products that the consumer will adopt. So the easiest way to influence these companies behavior is to change our own behavior as consumers. Take iPhones, for example. If the whole world keeps lining up in front of Apple stores each time they release a new, fancier and pricier phone, they will keep doing so.
But if we stop buying their new phones until they build one that actually makes us more productive, that makes our life easier, that doesn’t lock us endlessly in the vicious circle of social media, then, all of a sudden, the focus of their research papers won’t be to build a nicer screen but to make consumers happier.
Which actions could they take in order to do so?
Technology can make us more aware and more engaged in investing in our happiness. For example, in the last iOS update, Apple introduced Screen Time, a digital health component, that tells you the truth about your phone usage. It lets you know how many times you switch on your screen every day, how much time you spend on each application, and gives you some tools to act upon it. You can for example set up a limit to how long you can use an app or have your screen on, but also cut down access to certain apps when you need to focus.
One of the biggest problems in tech today is that stickiness has a value. Facebook wants you to keep browsing because this way, you’ll see more ads. So if we get a better control on how we use our phones, and stop spending so much time on Facebook, for instance, they will have to switch their business model, provide us with ads that are more relevant. By taking actions to become happier, consumers have the power to put big tech companies back on the right track.
This article was written by our partner Sparknews.