Did I say something funny? by Capn Madd Matt on Flickr

Chris and I presented a workshop at Web Directions North this week we had originally titled, "The Enterprise and Government in the 2.0 Era: What's Next?"

Boring, eh? Well, we thought so. So, we sat down a couple of weeks ago to restructure the information we had into what we thought was a much more compelling way to look at things. We came up with this:

Part 1: citizen happiness defined

oh and this...

Part 2: the building blocks of citizen happiness

And, although I think the workshop went well and we exchanged loads of great ideas, the question was still asked, "What does government or enterprise have to do with Citizen Happiness?"

I have always taken it for granted that it should be my right, not my privilege to be happy. If I am a good person and a good community member, even moreso. But others disagree. Why? Well, it's mainly because we have a different view on what happiness means.

So, what does happiness mean? Some thing it means that you get what you want, you have all of the material things you desire and you have ultimate freedom. But I don't think that is happiness. There are multiple studies that prove that people who ostensibly have everything their hearts desire aren't any more happy than those who don't and who have to work hard to get a fraction of that.

The clarity came for me when I found a press release from the American Psychological Association on what actually makes people happy. And what did they find?

Attaining popularity or influence and money or luxury is not what makes people the happiest and is at the bottom of the list of psychological needs, according to a new study. Topping the list of needs that appear to bring happiness are autonomy (feeling that your activities are self-chosen and self-endorsed), competence (feeling that you are effective in your activities), relatedness (feeling a sense of closeness with others) and self-esteem.

These, to me, all seem like reasonable things to be happy about. Of course, self-esteem is that one piece you can't control (it's your set-point...what you are born with. It can be worked on with drugs, therapy and meditation), but the rest of them are very easily controllable. And there are many companies that I could look at today that I would say fit the profile of delivering the tools of happiness: autonomy, competence and relatedness. Companies that give you tools of autonomy, like Wordpress for raising your voice. Companies that give you the feeling of competence through their really intuitive interfaces that gradually get more challenging, helping you learn. Companies that raise your relatedness by connecting you with others in significant ways.

In fact, I feel that these also line up beautifully to the core values I attribute to what we call Web 2.0:

  • Openness
  • Collaboration
  • Community

Openness, I map to autonomy and competence because more clear information leads to people feeling like they can make better decisions...Collaboration, I map to competence and relatedness because you feel more assured on a team...and Community, I map to relatedness, but also autonomy, because it brings us closer together while breeding independence. In a big way, all of the best parts of the world around me are what causes alot of happiness. So much happiness, in fact, that people that 'get it' start to really reach that self-actualization part of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, which is the ultimate in human growth can lead to double happiness, or euphoria.

It isn't perfect, but I know it has certainly helped me and hundreds around me reach deep into our potential.

So, why is it that government or business can't see their roles in this? Sure, it isn't anyone's job to 'deliver' happiness to you...but why not play a role in enabling it? There are two ways in which you can help people with becoming happier:

  1. Create tools or deliver services that help people proactively pursue happiness
  2. Create tools or deliver services that reduce the barriers to happiness

And what are those barriers? Fear, confusion, loneliness, feeling disempowered and out of control of one's life and the basic struggle for survival (not being able to fulfill basic needs like hunger, security and sociality).

To me it seems pretty obvious that it would be simple to build a business around helping people achieve autonomy, a feeling of competence and relatedness. In fact, every web company that has been successful thusfar has their business build solidly on one or all of these. And I believe that as people discover that these things are within their reach, they will gravitate more and more towards companies that offer tools to helping them achieve happiness.

And governments? Sure, they don't have any real competition...or do they? According to The Flight of the Creative Class: The New Global Competition for Talent, there is a competition. Some countries call it the 'brain drain' (sounds awful). People are going to where they will be more happy, and it isn't necessarily for money. I believe it is for where they can build the most Social Capital and reach their ultimate self-actualization. The US protects its borders for a good reason. It's written right into the Declaration of Independence that "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" are inalienable rights to man. That's pretty powerful and though a good look around the US will show that those rights are, in fact, alienated all of the time, it is still part of the promise of the American Dream AND, I should add, within the grasp of just enough people to keep that dream alive.

But what would happen if we committed to it? What would happen if happiness was within the grasp of everyone and business and government delivered those tools instead of the tools of misery and insecurity? Wouldn't it be nice to have ample access to autonomy, competence and relatedness for everyone...not to mention the tools to get us climbing up Maslow's pyramid? I'd like to see this and what could come of it. I'd like to see more businesses built on a model of happiness.