Imagine you’re a time traveler from an ancient era: The year 1990.
You step out of the time portal, introduce yourself to a few people, and start to learn what’s changed.
You learn that we now hold almost all of humanity’s knowledge in our pockets, among other things.
We hold almost all of humanity’s recorded entertainment. Every song recorded. Every book written. And a cornucopia of thoughts about pretty much everything, from bite-sized messages to meal-sized articles.
You learn that we can get in touch with almost anyone in the developed world in seconds.
So it would come as no surprise to learn that young Americans now spend almost 75% of their free time on a screen, or that Americans are now much richer.
You might think that humanity has finally created Utopia. Imagine how happy these people must be! But you would be wrong.
It turns out that Americans of the modern age are no happier than you are. How could this be?
If you dug deeper, you might eventually find someone in the field of psychology who could tell you. Maybe you’d come across this snippet form a recent study:
“Leisure activities and recreation satisfaction have even been shown to be greater predictors of life satisfaction and quality of life than sex, education, religiosity, marital status, age, health, employment status, and income.” -Newman et al., 2014
This would be confusing. If leisure and recreation satisfaction are the biggest predictors of happiness, shouldn’t these people, these demigods of digital entertainment, be happier than me?
You decide that you can’t go home without an answer. So you run an experiment of your own. You put these stickers all over one of America’s major cities, with no instructions.
And every morning at dawn, you drive to your stickers and take photos of what people wrote down. You summarize what you find in a 90 second video.
What would you write on that sticker? Take a moment, wherever you are right now, and think about it. Even better, write it down on a piece of paper.
What makes you truly happy? If you were on your deathbed and a genie offered you one more week at full health, what would you do during that week?
This is a question that we should all think about regularly. The answers themselves will not change our lives, but they can be a starting point. A first step. And that’s how everything begins.