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Happiness In Game Development: Why Try?
by Jamie Fristrom on 08/06/14 04:19:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

I’ve written a couple articles on how to be happy as a game developer, but just realized I have yet to talk about why we should even try to be happy. I kind of thought it was obvious. But lately a friend of mine has been ranting about how happiness is for saps. The gist of his argument is that the world sucks and we should be angry about it, not happy about it, because maybe that will motivate us to Do Something About Things.

And, well, it’s hard to argue. All the sexist bullshit I see; the fact that one out of six women get raped; Gaza; seeing some of my wonderful friends struggle through their lives with hardly any income to speak of, yeesh. Yeah, it makes me angry. And sad. I used to be numb to that kind of stuff but the older me is like a raw nerve.

For a moment, after reading his rants, it made me embarrassed to have named my company Happion Laboratories, and to be so dedicated to the pursuit of happiness myself.

And then I remembered: seeking authentic, lasting happiness does not mean you’re a douche bag. In fact, it likely means the opposite.

A lot of happiness science studies confirm it - the people who are in good moods and score high on tests of happiness (and low on tests of depression) are often the ones who donate more of their money and volunteer more of their time. (Some sources: *How of Happiness*, by Sonja Lyubomrisky; *Happy Money*, by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton; and the movie *Happy*.) They’re people who are doing good and making a difference. 

Take the Dalai Lama. He sure as hell has a right to be angry. And yet some people think he may be the happiest person on earth. Is he a sap? 

Whereas people who chase status and More Stuff are often mysteriously unsatisfied and depressed.
Since I’ve started reading about happiness science I try harder to give back more, and spend a lot more on charity and other people. My pursuit of lasting happiness has led me to become a better person.

So that’s reason number one to try to be happy.

Reason two appeals to logic. If we shouldn’t be happy as long as there’s some injustice or awfulness out there to be angry about … then that sounds like nobody should be happy until everyone is. Which means that nobody will ever be happy. Is that we want for each other? We don’t want each other to be happy unless absolutely everyone is?

There’s something to be said for putting on your own oxygen mask first. Maybe your anger will motivate you to help people but I think it’s just as likely that your unhappiness might motivate you to stay in bed all day and not lift a finger.

Finally, there’s another reason I try to be happy. I am super-fucking-privileged. I am a middle (or upper-middle, depending on how you count) class white male in the United States. Most of the world has it worse off than me. I have no right to complain. Although I suffer from dysthymia (or maybe it’s cyclothymia) and have had some bad crap in my life I feel obligated to work past it because I imagine the rest of the world looking at me and saying, “What does he have to complain about? He gets to make videogames for a living.” So the last thing I want to do is be unhappy about my personal situation. 

Now, if you find yourself with a belief like “happiness is for saps” or “nobody should be happy until everyone is” or “I can’t help the world unless I’m angry” - those are the sorts of hyperbolic all-or-nothing thoughts that clinically depressed people often have. You may want to take a test for depression (there’s one on this website: it’s the CES-D under the Questionnaires) and if you score high consider therapy, self-help books, and/or antidepressants.

But how far do we take this? It’s good to be happy sometimes, but if we’re ecstatic all the time then something’s wrong with us. 

Something I’ve been wrestling with lately is how much to expose myself to secondary trauma. When I hear about sexual assault or murdered children on my twitter feed, it does affect my mood. It does make me sad and angry. And so I sometimes wonder if I should tune out - after all, most of this stuff is beyond my circle of control - what can I do beyond retweeting and making pitiful contributions to rape awareness programs and the like? It seems I have to choose between being angry and numb. Is it really numbness, though? Although we are magnetically drawn to focus on what’s wrong, if we could step back and look at all the progress we’ve made over the centuries, and remember that most people are doing … okay ... most of the time ... maybe ‘numb’ is the wrong word. Maybe we’re just balanced, aware of the whole. 

The balance I strike? I don’t read or watch the news. But I do pay attention when people rant on my social networks, and often ask, “So what can I do?”

I don’t want to tone-police. If something makes you angry, by all means, get angry. Don’t fight it - that can fester. Go ahead and rant and fix things. But don’t stay angry forever. And when you’re done … be happy again.

 


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Comments


Thomas Happ
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To the degree that you have influence over it, I think it is simply more efficient to be happy. You perform better, have less stress, create less stress in other people, are less likely to give up on things, more likely to follow through with things, etc.

Mikhail Mukin
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I forgot who wrote it: Happiness is a short moment when you goal has just been achieved, but the new one is not established yet.

For some people, happiness and less stress is a way to do more. For some people (myself), it is almost the opposite. A lot of examples - university exams, physical training, game dev. I sure was not happy (when I was 20) during those 2 weeks preparing for state general physics exam! I rarely was that miserable in my life... reaching the limits of what my brain can process. But I learned so much! I wish I had to go through something like that not only for physics (and other things I end up not really using in life), but for something I actually use.

It is Ok to not be happy, it is ok to be angry. Well - try to still be a decent human being and do not put too much crap on people around you, as they are (usually) not the problem. But at the end - whatever helps you to achieve your goals matters. My sports coach told me I need to hit so hard as if "the the other guys" killed my baby. There might be happiness, but there is anger.

But I totally understand there are people who just want to be happy, do not stress etc. People from certain religions or nations seem to statistically tend to behave like that. Totally fine with me, but (no disrespect) I keep wondering if there is a correlation - why those religions and nations are not exactly the biggest achievers (wether it is technology. state of economy or Olympic medals).

Demian Schanzel
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So I'm still a relatively naive game design hobbyist, and found myself relatively stressed last semester due to the requirements I pushed on myself. And though the game that came out of that experience was lovely in itself, the memories of its development weren't.

And so in taking on and developing alongside five other people, I'm really focussing on how we might be able to make this opportunity and journey as entertaining as possible. Because though stress might fuel the development further, it's the ability to design and develop at will that I personally at least feel really matters in such situations

Anthony Becker
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Thanks for this article! I love to hear about how others respond to all of the terrible news there is to hear in the world, and agree that it is important and most effective to strive for happiness. I have a family background of depression and growing up felt a lot of doom and gloom that my friends never seemed to experience: but toward the end of my teenage years I decided to take responsibility for my own happiness, and boy has it ever worked :)

As far as all of the crazy BS going on in the world, my philosophy has three parts. First, remember that the news is sensational. The world is a lot better than you might make it out to be by watching CNN non-stop. On the other hand, most of the real problems aren't even being reported on. Symptoms-versus-causes and all that. Second of all, you have to keep working locally, without feeling guilty that you're not feeding the starving children or becoming an anti-rape vigilante. You have to understand the statistical nature of world problems and the fact that you just can't solve it all by yourself, even if you try. You have the biggest impact on your own little corner of the world. Third and finally, you should be aware of what is happening in the world and be moving in the direction that one day you can make a bigger global impact than you are making now. Also, learn about and help to spread awareness of the causes, not the symptoms, of what is wrong with the world, and empower others to also start heading in the right direction. Essentially the last two points are "think globally, act locally".

I've had to reconcile the idea of becoming a game developer with my concern with all the craziness going on in the world. As I look at all the directions I could be moving in, it seems like making games is the least impactful thing I could be doing. But it's something I've wanted to do since I was young, have a lot of enthusiasm for, and is a way to start making things, take the reigns of my own life, and begin a conversation with the public: so from that perspective I think it's a good place to begin.

Anyway, thanks again for the read!

Heng Yoeung
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Lasting happiness does not consist in this world, but the next one (assuming you believe there is a next one). God broadcasts goodness and happiness over the world, but that's just to give us a taste of what is to come. This is not to say that you shouldn't be happy. You definitely should be happy. But, Blessed are the mourners, blessed are those who thirst for justice, blessed are the poor in spirit: these are the words of the Beatitudes and there are more, you can find them in the Bible probably on the back cover. We live in a fallen world. That's why there are so many disappointments in life: failed marriages (which last I heard was over 1 in 3 in America among nonreligious people, much lower otherwise), pornography, wars, and that's the good news. Since the beginning of civilization, there's no shortage of disappointment. But, God has delivered us from eternal death through the willful death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ (if you believe in that). And it matters if you do or not. This is so because there is no objective reality outside of perception. (Read up on Quantum Mechanics; you can't isolate yourself from what you are measuring when making a measurement.) And so, what you believe is what reality is. Of course, there is objective reality but that's from God's vantage point. For you and me, if you never ever saw a tree fall down, for all intents and purposes, it didn't happen. The Christian puts on the mask of God because in so doing, he is becoming like God. Not God, but like God. Which means compassionate, generous, faithful and all those other good things you'd want in a perfect human being. Personally, I tune out the news for the most part. It's just the same depressing drivel day after day: somebody shot somebody, somebody stole something, someone said something stupid like sexist or racist. We do, however, have an obligation to do what we can while we live. We can't do it all by ourselves. We do what we can. The Dalai turns off the lights to his room every time he leaves. They ask him "why? what does it matter?" Well, in the grand scheme of things, not much. But, suppose enough people started to think like this. Can it be done? Absolutely. We can save the earth. Think globally. Act locally. That's all God asks of us.

Maria Jayne
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I approve of this post image.....carry on.

Thomas Henshell
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Something to think about:
there is more reported happiness below the poverty line than in the ultra rich. So even though most people are running for it, "stuff" doesn't seem to be an answer.

I couldn't discern what precisely you mean by the word happiness. In my circles the word happiness means the momentary pleasures of life, like walking down the street and finding a twenty, or eating Ben & Jerry's ice cream in a waffle cone. Those are momentary rushes of pleasure (maybe even euphoria), but they fade. Usually 20 minutes after the ice cream the feeling has passed.

Now knowing the love of my wife, even when I'm alone flying on an airplane, or knowing the love of my 2 year old, that someone out there thinks I'm super awesome (even if i'm not). These are pleasurable too. But these are not momentary pleasures, they are constant. Sorta like a passive spell in Diablo III, it's just always there in the background humming along providing a daily "buff". In my circles we call these permanent passives "joy".

Video games, drugs, and many other things can give momentary spikes of pleasure. I haven't seen any that can give joy. Conversely, joy brings consistent happiness with it. Its sorta thrown in for free. Joy brings a steady calm and well being even when things suck, are miserable, or go horribly.

I see our society pursuing happiness (pleasure) instead of joy.

When you ask the question "Where can I find lasting joy?" I think you find very different answers than "Where can I find happiness/pleasure?"

Heng Yoeung
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I forgot to mention that depression is not a choice you make in life like happiness. It is a medical condition. You can't even WILL yourself to depression if you wanted to. It's like heart disease or cancer. You can't get those things by trying. They are things that happen to you. And, apparently, these things don't discriminate between good people and bad people. Why do good people suffer and some douche bags have it easy? That's a difficult question. Honestly, nobody really knows except God Himself. We do know though that whatever you suffer through, despite all logic, it is to make you into that image God envisions you to be. Like turning coal into diamond. Jesus even says that if you want to be a disciple, take up your cross and give your riches.

@Thomas

You make a good distinction between happiness and joy. Joy is a spiritual experience. Happiness is an emotional or psychological one. Same thing with beauty. Is it possible to see beauty in a homeless man peeing in the streets? Many would say no, because it's impropriety. But, what is proper or not are rules. They are not laws. There is no law that says you can't pee in the road, although many would think twice because it's humiliation. The Man has made up a lot of stupid rules for us all. Stick it to the man and piss in his street.

Chris Hellerberg
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Heng,

Actually yes, you can "will" yourself to depression. The primary cause—excluding bipolar disorder—for depression is learned helplessness. In fact, the #1 treatment for depression for sustained desired outcome is guiding the patient through learning and cultivating optimism.

Furthermore, it has been shown numerous times that "things that happen to you" (i.e., external circumstances) actually matter very little to our overall well-being. Our internal circumstances (e.g., thought patterns) have the most impact, which is how a millionaire can be depressed while a poor person is happy with their life.

Cheers!

CE Sullivan
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We aren't meant to be any one emotion all the time. People forget that emotions aren't permanent states. If we were never unhappy, we wouldn't be able to tell when we were happy.

Personally, though, I'm a fairly happy person, and I do my best to try to put positive rather than negative energy out into the world. I try not to rant too much on social media, or share my bad moods. I know a few people who I sometimes wish shared this outlook--I think what some people don't think about when they "share" their emotions is that they are in fact *literally* sharing them--but I know some people have a need to vent, so I try to be understanding.

I do think it's important to stay informed about what's going on in the world, but I get not wanting to watch the news, especially if you have a tendency towards depression. I did read something once that suggested that our view of the world as a horrible, terrible place is really warped nowadays by the fact that we hear about every little thing that happens, even things that happen on the other side of the world.

For example, I live in the US, and I just read something online about a dog dying after being left in a hot car on a ferryboat in the UK. If it weren't for modern innovations like the internet, TV, and newspapers, we would only hear about the things that directly affect us in our little corners of the world. Then the world wouldn't seem nearly as bad, because as they say, ignorance is bliss.

Chris Hellerberg
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Hi CE,

The warped view of many people of the world as such a terrible place is not so much because of "we hear about every little thing that happens," but because of the overrepresentation of bad news in our media.

Unless we make a deliberate conscious effort—and this really does take effort and can only be sustained for a shor time—to take into account that we don't have all the information and there might be more than we see, we simply don't. Our unconscious creates a coherent image of the world for us that is based ONLY on what we see and hear and so on. The Nobel Prize winning psychologist Dr. Kahnemann uses the accronym WYSIATI—what you see is all there is.

So the important thing is not to stop looking at bad news, but to ALSO look at good news; and, I would argue, even more so than we look at bad news. The world is a wonderful place, but people won't see that if they only look at the bad things that happen. :)

Cheers

Sean Hansen
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The article states that happiness should be contingent upon others, asking why it's acceptable to be happy when others aren't and whether a person's happiness helps others. Why should this be the primary question? It's your life: be happy for your own sake.

Nick Harris
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Better to maintain contentment than pursue joy.

Chris Hellerberg
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Yes, no, and maybe. It highly depends on the context (and your definition of joy). :)


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