Joy Hacking and the Future of Happiness

Posted on in Healthy Living by Jonathan Robinson


Ipopped the pink pill into my mouth and waited for the expected feelings of ecstasy. No, the pill wasn’t the drug Ecstasy, but rather a legal and safe alternative. Then I put on my transcranial stimulation device, known as the Thync, and waited to see what happened. Wow! After five minutes, it felt like my brain was flooding me with endorphins. Finally, I placed the scalp stimulator known as the Tingler on my head. An orgasmic wave of intense pleasure rippled through my entire body. After a few minutes of this frenzied euphoria, I took off the devices. Having just been catapulted into sweet ecstasy, my day became both incredibly productive and happy.

This is not a future scenario. This is how I like to start my mornings. Nowadays, there are new-and-improved ways to feel good—even ecstatic—that most people don’t know about. In an age when depression is rampant and dangerous drug use is epidemic, amazing new ways to feel peaceful, euphoric, and just plain happy are popping up all over the place. From safe drugs to “happy apps” to high-tech brain stimulation devices, a whole new world of ways to feel good is blossoming. However, people miss out on these amazing methods because they simply don’t know about them.

We live in an age where everything is shifting and accelerating. Yet most people still pursue an ancient path for finding happiness. Their formula is to try to control all the external events and people in their lives to be exactly the way they want. This is a tiresome activity at best, and there are always some events and people that we can’t control, leading to endless frustration and stress. However, there is a different model for finding more joy and peace of mind: find it within yourself. Of course, this is not a new idea. Everyone from the Buddha to Jesus has said that heaven can be found within, but now there are more efficient ways to tap into this magical inner kingdom.

About a year ago I was invited to talk to Google employees about the future of happiness. I described new ways to control their minds and emotions that were more effective than trying to control all the events in their life. The reaction was intense. Everyone wanted to know what some of these innovative ways to “hack happiness” were, and how they could get them. That inspired me to write a book on the subject.

In my research I learned that different things work for different people. For example, there are a lot of supplements known as “cognitive enhancers” that can dramatically increase your focus, energy, and mood. Yet you have to try out many of them to find the one or two that rock your world. I also learned that people define happiness in unique ways. Some people want a gadget that increases their pleasure, while other folks want a tool that improves their relationships or makes them feel peaceful. Over time I realized that although people want and like different things, certain items have consistently made my friends and me very happy. Some of my favorite tools have included:

» A combination of two cognitive enhancers, sulbutiamine and CDP-choline, makes me feel focused, energized, and joyous.
» Audio soundscapes from that can reliably induce blissful feelings.
» Apps that help quickly guide people to deeper feelings of love and gratitude toward those they care about, such as Happify.
» Spire, a gadget you wear on your belt that vibrates to remind you to relax when it senses that your breathing indicates stress.
» A “magic chair” from that induces deep meditative experiences just by sitting in it.
» Downloadable meditation “games,” such as the Inner Balance app, that help teach people how to stay centered in their heart all day.

Because I’m a junkie for joy, I’m continually trying the latest thing. As with all technologies, “inner tech” keeps getting better. In fact, some of them are so good that it’s possible to get addicted to them, which can be a problem. Ultimately, one has to discern whether a gadget is truly a friend that helps you find the joy within, or if it is just another WMD—widget of mass distraction. Since there are many tools that do very different things, there’s no simple answer as to whether something is beneficial to you. For example, people become addicted and dependent on coffee. On the other hand, caffeine can help prevent some types of cancer and helps people feel good and be productive. So is coffee a good thing? It’s up to you to decide.

In my own case, I decide if a specific technology is truly my friend by asking myself three questions. First I ask, “Does this tool lead me to being dependent on it?” It’s always better when technology acts like training wheels on a bike—the tool exists so that you can eventually do without it. If instead a gadget fosters a sense of dependence, that’s a warning sign it may ultimately not be worth it.

The second question is, “Does this technology help teach me how to better connect with a sense of peace or joy within?” If a tool helps me learn how to get to a more peaceful and joyous place more efficiently, that’s a good thing.

Lastly, I ask, “Does this supplement, app, or gadget make me more self-absorbed or more caring and compassionate?” If a technology helps me be more loving, I consider it a dear friend. It’s been my experience that, if you try enough things out, you can soon find something that feels good, and is even good for you.

It’s hard to say exactly what the future holds, although Steve Jobs seemed pretty good at predictions. In 1972 I had the rare opportunity to be in a computer class with him. At the time he was just a nerdy teen, and I was four years his junior. We would vie to play Tictac-toe on a 500-pound computer that our high school had recently purchased. Steve was obsessed with this machine. One day I asked Steve why he was so fixated on this refrigerator-sized computer. He turned to me and said intensely, “Don’t you see? This machine is going to change everything! It’s going to change the world!”

It turns out Steve Jobs was right. Nowadays it may not seem like the latest brain supplement, neuro-stimulator, or mood-enhancing app is going to change the world, but new technologies have a way of slowly but surely creeping into our lives. How we find happiness, peace, and even love are all being updated by advancing technology. This “technology of joy” will only accelerate until our pursuit of happiness is transformed in the next few years.

While some of these gadgets or tools can cost hundreds of dollars, I list more than 30 in my book that cost less than a latte. Currently, many of these apps, supplements, and gadgets are pretty unknown, but soon that will change. As science fiction writer William Gibson said, “The future is already here—it’s just not very evenly distributed.” By investing a little time and money in this blossoming field, you can find a few things that are mind-blowing. In a world where we’re all too busy and distracted, more effective ways to tap into the peace, joy, and love within can be a truly wonderful thing.

Jonathan Robinson is a psychotherapist, frequent Oprah guest, and the author of The Technology of Joy: The 101 Best Apps, Gadgets, Tools, and Supplements for Feeling More Delight in Your Life.

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