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Happy Is as Happy Does ...

December 31, 2009 By:
David C. Friedman, JE Feature
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Smiling faces all? Natch! Web-site creators Doug Hensch (left) and Andrew Rosenthal (right) are joined by consultant Martin Seligman, a well-known researcher of positive thinking at Penn.
"I want to be happy, but I won't be happy/Till I make you happy, too." These are the words to a 1925 song written for the musical "No No Nanette." In the past year, it also has become almost a theme song for Andrew J. Rosenthal and Doug Hensch, who are rapidly turning happiness into a booming business.

A recent University of Pennsylvania graduate, Rosenthal, 26, has taken happiness to a new plateau through the Web site www.happier.com, which he co-founded with Hensch a year ago to help get people out of the doldrums by utilizing the field of positive psychology.

In fact, the consultant for the site is Martin E.P. Seligman, a noted Penn professor with a reputation of being "the father of positive psychology."

"We officially launched the site Sept. 23, but have been running it in a quiet mode for the past 10 months," said Rosenthal.

Since the official launch, Rosenthal said that the site has received 400,000 hits and has more than 46,000 members.

He explained that the site is for people who don't want to just "be happy," but for those who want to "do happy" by providing the user with online tools and exercises designed to make an immediate impact on their lives.

"I have been working with academics for a number of years as both an undergraduate and a research administrator to study the designs of happiness, and there has been a real need to get the message out to a broader audience quickly," he explained.

When Rosenthal and Hensch decided that it was time to build a business out of happiness, they began by finding investors who understood the opportunity.

"We've been very happy with the initial launch, and now we're looking" to attract more investors "to grow the company."

The home page offers tips on how to be happy and positive, as well as poems, essays, recipes, editorials and other tidbits; there is also info on how to subscribe and contact the founders.

"Anyone can go to happier.com and, for free, read posts from expert professors and authors, watch videos and take a happiness test," he said.

But there is a price: Those who choose to subscribe for a monthly fee of $5 may access online tools -- little games that each have a specific purpose and are based on the leading scientific research. There is also a six-month membership for $24.90 and a lifetime for $99.

"For example, one of the games helps people let go of a grudge in their past," said Rosenthal. "The research shows that grudges hold people back, and that focusing on negative emotions in the past can really be a problem when you are trying to grow in the future."

Another exercise helps users better understand their strengths. From that, subscribers are provided with customized feedback and a plan on how to accomplish their goals.

Acacia Parks, an instructor of positive psychology at Penn, has researched many of the exercises utilized on the site, and was of the opinion that "people really need more than just the Web site to stick with a new habit."

However, the site is beneficial from a researcher's perspective, she added, "because it is taking things ... that I know are effective and putting it in a package that is easily digestible for users in a package that is getting out to the world."

Parks added that there are "reams of self-help books available to those looking to be happier. Many of them are just something someone made up one day and thought would be helpful. The Web site is priced comfortably compared to a self-help book, and if the site continues to grow and improve, and people continue to use it, in many ways it is more helpful than a self-help book."

Andrea Goeglein first learned of the site in June at an International Positive Psychology Association conference. When interviewed, she had just finished taping a segment of Rachel Ray's syndicated show to air in January on new habits for the new year.

"Some of the biggest names in self-help continually sell their traditional work," she said. "The Web site is different in that it invites someone in to continually work on themselves."

Rosenthal noted that approximately 70 percent of the members on the site are women.

"Women like the site because they understand that we partner with experts, and the opinions are not just the opinions of Doug and me," he said.

However, he pointed out that there are many men utilizing the site, especially in business.

Rosenthal also indicated that users tend to be a little older than those who traditionally surf the Web, noting that "the feedback we have received from older users is that the site is simple and easy to use. We listen to that feedback, and when we add new features, we always ask ourselves how this feature will play out among those who are not really into computers or technology." 

 

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