John Havens: [Full interview transcript]

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John C. Havens is the author of the book, Tactical Transparency: How Leaders Can Leverage Social Media To Maximize Value and Build Their Brand, and “Hacking Happiness.” He is the also the founder of The H(app)athon Project, and a contributing writer for Mashable. Read John’s full bio here…

Click here to watch John’s interview, “H(app)y.”

John: I’ll start with a story. You probably know of “klout,” this idea of measuring your online influence. Basically it’s just a measure using online algorithms etcetera to know when you tweet, you’re on Facebook, when you say something, how does the digital world sort of, react and, not to be pejorative, but it’s sort of a popularity contest in one sense, right? Because celebrities have a much higher klout score.

So about a year and a half ago, I was checking my klout score I think six times in the same weekend and my wife, God bless her, she’s like, “you know, I’m pretty sure they don’t change their algorithms that much.” I was like, “that’s a good point.” And I realized, I’m 43, I’m a dad and I said to myself, do I want to the sort of measure of my life – and I’m using that word on purpose – the measure of my life to be mainly about, you know, me saying cool, pithy things. And I began a search to find a ways that people identify action in the digital world. And I wrote an article for Mashable and came up with a term called “accountability-based influence”, or ABI, and all that means, there’s a ton of other terms for it, all that means is trust networks having a digital or virtual component. But what I’m seeing is this convergence of all these digital trust environments that are forming to be what I call a “virtual identity.”

Virtual identities & quantified happiness 

Basically, my idea on happiness from a digital standpoint is, I find all these metaphors between the actual study of what’s called “subjective well being” – instead of happiness, because happiness most people think of the ephemeral or emotional side of it – actual “happiness” to study the physiology of like a dopamine rush or the psychology of things like meaning. There’s actually a lot of ways to quantify happiness. So long story short is this idea of happiness online is actually now getting to the point where you can track it quite well. And I’m interested in knowing a person’s personal identity, their sort of essence, how they’re projected online, how they’re broadcast, essentially their avatar, if you don’t know how your data’s being used, it’s the same as sort of in real life, not knowing what makes you happy.

Can we standardize happiness metrics? 

There is this, sort of, cultural zeitgeist to sort of understand the metrics of well being and sort of standardize them. I think there’s a lot of reasons it’s happening. First of all, the science of happiness or wellbeing is growing and flourishing. Then there’s of course psychotherapy and therapy and now these are coming to a head, I think largely because people are wondering literally, “what makes me happy?” Not just in a sense of day-to-day my mood changing. And then, a major push is coming from the technology space with things like “quantified self,” the idea that if I can measure one aspect of my happiness, I can use a fit bit and know about my fitness. I can use a different thing and measure my sleep. What that means is that you’re actually saying, “in this area of my life, I see that I need improvement and I’ve identified it, now I can track it and once I track it and know the data, I can try to improve it.” So there’s all these different things, sort of synergizing that makes a zeitgeist trying to understand well being.

We’ve all wondered since time began, what makes me happy? Right? And then we’ve all dealt with like, we think we know the thing that makes us happy but it actually doesn’t. Right? So the person we’ve dated that was a poor dating choice. The job that we took thinking this will help me achieve meaning and happiness and it doesn’t. The thing that’s different now is that there are so many ways that technology has transformed how we can measure our lives. What I’m more interested in is how all these data streams start to converge this is also why this study is so important. If you know not just data about how you sleep, but what your health is, what your fitness is, your sex life, how often you go to the bathroom, all these different things, what you buy. What people aren’t seeing right now but what I’m seeing is the convergence of all these data points around your life. Right now they’re disparate. They are very quickly, utterly quickly, becoming convergent.

Mark Zuckerberg knows how you’re feeling 

What’s already an end game is how much data other people have about all of us. So Facebook with Nielsen data, right under the hood as it were, the Facebook-sponsored ads that you see posted to you are based on these incredibly articulate and advanced algorithms. Right? Google, you’re presented with when you search, cookie data. So, my point is that all these things that now can make up a big aspect of your identity in one sense, are reflective of your happiness. What you do to pursue meaning. People are sort of, realizing this picture of themselves already exists. It’s just that depending on who looks at it and what environment they’re sort of defining who you are. So they’re going to say, “you’re going to be more happy if you buy this product. You’ll be more happy if you date this person.” And you may in once sense say like, well where do you even get that information? Because they’re all over the place and you’re not defining it.

I think one aspect of technology that will make us a lot more happy is when we start to make cultural decisions that will catch up with our technology. I’m very focused on people being more self-aware. I think it’s very easy with technology to sort of turn off and let technology do the work of identifying your own happiness whereas I think that people have to proactively take the charge and say, well this is what I’ve identified I want to use and what technologies I want to use or how this is going to make me happy and start to pursue it.


  • People have an online identity that is comprised of their likes and dislikes
  • This identity can be interpreted in different ways based on the environment (Ex. Companies can use it to target ads or sell you products)
  • What you like online is connected to your online happiness – and this can be measured and studied
  • Havens advocates for people to actively create their online personalities, rather than allow technology to generate them for them, and cultivate their own happiness

Click here to check out John’s H[(app)athon Project and follow him on Twitter @johnchavens.



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