Can happiness be found online? Enter the “Virtual Happiness Project” in the Netherlands, which explores the relationship between the Web 2.0 (in particular) and happiness.
Though the final report hasn’t been released yet, the project’s global survey results and experiments suggest something that a lot of Facebook users already sense: social interaction is a driver for happiness, and the Web 2.0 is a valid way to experience it.
Jim Stolze, a writer and researcher involved with the project, says the Internet has become our “new global campfire,” the place where we gather to argue, laugh, talk, learn, love, turn strangers into friends, and to get a sense of belonging.
“We are a social species and we need to interact in order to feel alive,” he says.
As happiness research over the past half century or so has shown, belonging is a strong a predictor of happiness. Psychology courses introduce students to Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs,” a pyramid diagram created by the American psychologist Abraham Maslow.
The project suggests the pyramid’s middle levels of “love/belonging” and “esteem” can be met by services like blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other elements of Web 2.0, like comments sections below news articles or YouTube posts. But as with anything there are perils tempering the benefits of heavy Internet usage. Stolze warns the Internet can cause stress in users who don’t take control of the experience.
“The attitude that they treat the medium with,” he says, “defines the happiness they experience.” People who feel they “rule the Web” are happier than those who feel like “they are ruled by the Web,” he says.
“The first group sees the long tail as a brilliant place to cherry pick for the best results, and the second group immediately experiences stress because they can’t look at all the results.”
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