After Interviewing 1,000 People about Happiness, This Guy Built an App

November 21, 2013

1:00 pm

It started in a Barnes & Noble, when Edwin Edebiri interrupted a couple’s fight to ask them to rate their happiness from 1-10 and list three things that made them happy. For the next year, he traveled around the world – from Europe to Africa to Asia – asking people how happy they were and why. But he didn’t know he would eventually save a life.

Walking in Jack London Square in Oakland, California, Edebiri stopped a young man and asked if he could ask a question. The young man said no. But Edebiri persisted, and finally got the man to reveal his happiness score: 0. Shocked, he persuaded the man to listen to a story. Edebiri can’t even recall the story he told – it was the story of someone he had interviewed about happiness – but before he knew it, he had told nine different stories.

When Edebiri offered a handshake to say goodbye, the young man clutched him and wouldn’t let go. He insisted on knowing Edebiri’s name. The next day, Edebiri got a phone call and heard the most touching story of his collection:

“When I stopped him, he was on his way to commit suicide. . . . He said he wanted to just get it over with,” recalls Edebiri. “He said he’s been seeing a counselor for two years before he met me, and the 30 minutes we spent and the story I shared changed everything. . . . When he left me, he went back home and he flipped over the suicide note he left for his family and he started writing down reasons why we wanted to live based on the stories I was sharing with him. And he came up with 29 different reasons from zero just a few hours before.”

“That changed everything for me. Whereas before it was fun stuff – I was just doing it to kill time and put a smile on people’s faces – it became a mission.”

This mission led to the Happy Button app, launched this fall for iOS and Android. When you log in, you literally push a “happy button” to hear an inspirational audio recording from one of Happy Button’s 20+ coaches. You can rate your happiness from 1-10 and track it over time, watch video, and read blog posts about happiness. The design isn’t the most beautiful, but the concept has potential – particularly if Edebiri finds a way to incorporate more of the insights from those 1,000 interviews he did.

Alongside the app, Edebiri runs the I Am Happy Project, which hosts meetups in 18 countries and organizes projects like visiting seniors and orphanages, and wrapping Christmas gifts for children.

Edebiri walks around with a button that says “I am happy” – and I think he’s telling the truth. He reminds other entrepreneurs that happiness is good business: you’re more productive, you attract happier employees, and you can find investors who truly believe in you. When something goes wrong, happy people are more likely to get the benefit of the doubt, he says. Entrepreneurs should try to become their startup’s “chief happiness officer.”

“All the things that are usually on the surface are the things that are not going well,” says Edebiri. “When you take a minute and dig in a little bit, you find out there’s a lot of stuff that’s going well.”

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.

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