Happiness. It’s something we all want to achieve, but can be elusive to many of us.
Not surprisingly, quite a few extraordinary individuals have been studying this state of mind. Take Gretchen Rubin, the author of The Happiness Project, who devoted a year of her life to learning how to become happier, or Shawn Achor, who studied happiness at Harvard for 12 years and gave a TED talk that many of us have likely seen. Both of these individuals, along with many others, are researching happiness to find new insights about actionable ways to make people happier. With our stress levels skyrocketing globally, happiness is becoming an increasingly important research topic.
A collection of research that had a particularly deep impact on me is from UC Riverside Professor of Psychology Sonja Lyubomirsky. Her book The How of Happiness found that only 10% of our happiness is determined by our environment and that 40% is in our direct control, mostly in our perspectives. The other 50%, determined by genetics, turns out not to matter all that much for individual happiness.
Without a doubt, Dr. Lyubomirsky’s research has changed the way we look at happiness. She has discovered that simple reflection, gratitude, and mindfulness exercises can produce statistically significant results in making people happier. Happiness, it turns out, is a perspective, not a result of circumstances.
As a bioengineer-turned-entrepreneur from UC Berkeley/UCSF who planned to devote his life to helping people become healthier and happier, I was profoundly impacted by this research. I want to improve people’s everyday lives at scale, and I have found that helping people adopt mindfulness in their daily lives effectively is an answer to empowering people to have a more peaceful, balanced, and positive life.
“Happiness, it turns out, is a perspective, not a result of circumstances.”
Mindfulness receives full support from western medicine
Mindfulness, our innate ability to pay attention to and be aware of our thoughts, body, and surroundings, has been receiving increasing attention and support from the medical and scientific communities as an effective technique for managing stress, improving memory and attention skills, enhancing relationships, and even physically reinforcing our brains (source: UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Center). Top medical providers and research institutions such as UCSF and UCLA operate integrative medicine centers that study and teach mindfulness, and managed care pioneer Kaiser also publicly supports mindfulness. Kaiser notes that “by training your mind to focus only on the present, you learn not to get lost in regrets from the past or worries about the future.”
This is important–more than some of us might realize. Mindfulness has the potential to reduce healthcare costs by $190BN, alleviate mental illnesses, and even increase organizational performance. Tech giants such as Google and LinkedIn, recognizing the deep impact of mindfulness in teams, have been pioneering global employee wellness programs and executive trainings.
Despite these known benefits of mindfulness, 92% of us do not practice it, and we are suffering from massive losses, at both the individual level and the societal level.
We at Aura Health are setting out to change that.
“Mindfulness, our innate ability … has the potential to reduce healthcare costs, alleviate mental illnesses, and even increase organizational performance.”
How technology can help people adopt mindfulness at scale
We have trouble adopting mindfulness because of a simple reason: Habits drive 40-45% of our everyday decisions, and mindfulness is not a habit unless practiced and adopted.
It’s quite ironic that mindfulness is an innate human ability yet we are not very good at it. Our tendency to overthink and worry under stress, exacerbated by society’s pressure to perform and our phones’ constant buzzing, prevents us from being in the present moment. To overcome these challenges, we must make an additional effort to practice mindfulness, usually through guided meditation sessions that help focus our attention to the present and ourselves. However, our responsibilities again prevent us from making this conscious effort.
With the available technology today, we shouldn’t have to fight alone and agonize to find time for meditation and wellbeing. Technology companies such as Facebook and Amazon constantly create and learn from their wealth of data to personalize their services for each user, offering a highly-relevant, addicting experience for users to revolutionize social communications and e-commerce. Similarly, digital wellness solutions must learn from their users and constantly improve their offerings. And if forming a habit is the key to adopting a new healthy behavior, the technology created to teach mindfulness to the population must focus on changing people’s habits, then leverage the insights from data to find new insights about how to make people even happier.
“We shouldn’t have to fight alone and agonize to find time for meditation and wellbeing.”
My brother and I created Aura to solve this very need. Aura is your digital wellness coach: When you join the mindfulness program, it will start you with a 3-minute guided meditation session–something so brief that you can’t push it aside for the next day. Then you get to rate each session, and Aura’s algorithms will learn from you to provide you with what you’ll find engaging and helpful for the next morning. Moreover, you can track your mood throughout the day, which will not only help you discover new insights about your mood patterns but also teach Aura how to best maximize human happiness.
It’s time for science and technology to come together and improve human wellness at scale, and we’re excited to take part in the movement.
This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.