In Search of Happiness

07/03/2012 03:09 pm ET | Updated Sep 02, 2012

There's a cool search tool on Google called Google Trends. You can enter any term and see how many people searched that term in the U.S. and around the world. It's kind of a popularity barometer in the search world. After entering Mike Indursky and seeing that absolutely no one has searched for it (not my mother, former girlfriends, people I owed money to, anyone!), I decided to be more high level in my thinking and entered three different words: Economy, Environment and Happiness. The first two are very big concerns in the world, and I was curious to see the level to which people searched these topics. Certainly the environment has been a huge concern, especially since An Inconvenient Truth came out years ago. As far as the economy, well, that's always on people's minds, especially with the seemingly-daily financial crises around the world. And, as the president of Bliss (great title, huh?), the global spa company that's all about happiness, I threw that in as well to see how the terms were related or not. The results were very enlightening and provide a huge insight into what's going on in the world today and the impact on trends in happiness and well-being.


Source: Google Trends

Eight years ago, the index on people searching for environment was extremely high. The index on people searching economy was roughly half of that. And poor little happiness was less than half of that -- a very poor showing in third place. However, over the eight years, the index on environment and economy have decreased month after month while the index on happiness has increased at almost the same rate to a point today where all three terms are at roughly the same level. Why would this be? Why, after a winter in the U.S. which felt like summer in India, and as Europe teeters on the brink of financial collapse, are people not searching these terms as frequently? It should be increasing, right? And why is the search for happiness increasing at virtually the same rate those terms are decreasing? Are these coincidences? Not at all. It's a dynamic where as the difficulties in the world increase and negatively affect people's happiness, we become increasingly aggressive in our search for happiness in the same proportion. In other words, the more miserable you're making me, the happier I want to be.

People realize that they cannot control the environment, the economy, or war or crime, but they can and desperately want and need to control their happiness. Think about it. Sure I recycle and I'm a damn good recycler, and I'll occasionally give my New York angry guy look if someone litters. I might even say something. And yes, I'm upset about Greece and Italy and closer-to-home JP Morgan and the market and how all this will impact my wallet. Both of these issues truly concern and upset me. The sad truth is that I can't control or have any meaningful impact on the environment or economy. But, I can control my happiness!

One could argue that the decreasing search on environment and economy indicates less interest in these topics. It's actually the opposite, I think. People are increasingly concerned about these issues because they directly affect their happiness and are taking more and more control by searching for tools and solutions to improve it.

I decided to check my hypothesis (my ego would prefer to call it a "fact," but to be fair to the scientific community I need to call it a "hypothesis"). I searched on another site: Amazon. I wanted to see how many books there are on happiness. My guess was about 3,000. I was off by a mere 20,000. Yes, there are more than 23,000 books with happiness in the title! Sure, not all of them are addressing this self-help category, like The Happiness of Penguins, but an overwhelming number of them are. From professors like Tal-Ben Shahar, who teaches the highly-popular positive psychology course at Harvard, to Gretchen Rubin, whose own path for happiness led to a New York Times bestseller, to Gabrielle Bernstein, a former PR executive who lives and breathes the topic, to the famous Dr. Andrew Weill, who admitted to lifelong depression and the need to find happiness, there are countless experts around the world all offering their points of view, theories, exercises and recommendations on helping people improve their happiness.

In most of these books, the basic premise is that happiness is a choice. Yes, there's the person who always seems to smile and laugh to the point you want to "accidentally" spill hot coffee on them if only to see their angry side. And then there are the Eeyores of the world who always walk with a dark cloud over their heads. Both are probably somewhat genetic. However, everyone has the ability to improve their happiness. You can choose to be a happy guy or a miserable SOB -- it's up to you. But it's not easy. We all fall into patterns that have been reinforced by our behaviors over a lifetime. The fortunate thing is that more and more people are realizing this and are taking action. Now they're searching for the tools to help them get to a better place. Telling an unhappy person to be happy is like telling a short person to be tall. The words aren't enough. The tools are key.

It's wonderful to see people taking action and searching for happiness and the tools to better achieve it. Searching for happiness is a marvelous pursuit. And perhaps, just perhaps, if my fact/hypothesis is correct, if people continue to search for and improve their happiness, we might just see a positive impact on the environment, economy and other concerns. Now, I have to search for my keys. If only Google could give me the answer to that.

For more on happiness, click here.