Matthew Killingsworth, PhD
Many thinkers, from Aristotle to William James, have argued that happiness is a core goal -- perhaps the core goal -- of human activity
I study the causes and nature of human happiness. Many thinkers, from Aristotle to William James, have argued that happiness is a core goal -- perhaps the core goal -- of human activity. According to this view, many of the things we value are valued precisely because we expect them to bring us happiness.
Paradoxically, large improvements to many of the objective conditions of human life, including bigger houses, better medical care, more advanced technology, and even improved civil rights, have brought only modest improvements to happiness in the United States, and in many developed countries around the world. There are many explanations for this paradox, ranging from humans' capacity to hedonically adapt to such changes (diminishing our ability to benefit from them) to humans' propensity to mispredict what will make them happy.
My research aims to improve our understanding of happiness primarily by collecting large-scale, real-time data on people's experiences in their everyday lives. To achieve this, I created trackyourhappiness.org, which uses smartphones to conduct a large-scale experience sampling study. The motivation for this research is that many of the most powerful determinants of human happiness and well-being manifest during our daily experiences. Past research has typically relied on one-time or annual surveys, leaving science at arms-length from people's actual lives. By studying everyday experiences, it is possible to gain more insight into how, when, and why certain factors are important for happiness.
During the Health and Society Scholar's program, I've benefitted tremendously from the advice and mentorship of the program's affiliated faculty. This has led to many new lines of inquiry, including studying the relationship between happiness and a variety of health and social variables, including exercise, other physical activity, in-person social interactions, technologically-mediated social interactions, subjective social status, self-reported health, perceived control, illness, pain, sleep, and much more.
The program's population-level focus has also prompted me to compare a variety of population level changes, including eliminating poverty, unemployment, obesity, loneliness, worry/anxiety, physical inactivity, and many other changes in order to determine which sorts of changes are likely to produce the largest population-level gains in happiness, and which are likely to have the weakest effects.
As part of my time in the program, I've also been working towards conducting large-scale, real-world experiments in order to test causality and to develop effective interventions for improving happiness. The technology development this requires is nearly complete, and I look forward to making this a central component of my program of research for years to come.
Finally, I've been fortunate to be able to take advantage of the Bay Area's status as a technology hub by developing relationships with some fo the world's largest technology companies. Most notable, I've begun a program of research in affiliation with Facebook that leverages Facebook's tremendous scope and reach in order to better understand the relationship between well-being and social media, and to consider how the intersection of science and technology can improve people's lives.