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Happiness Hacks: Dancing and Playing with Awesome Animals

Dancing, be kind to strangers, and thinking about death are the three ‘happiness hacks’ McGonigal adopts in her book and in the games she creates, attempting to engineer and disburse happiness to all those souls without it.  I definitely take issue with the ethics of engineering happiness based on certain notions of what is happiness for everyone, but I do not think she is far from the truth.  I have zero interest in playing the games she created based on these, but I understand where she is coming from.  For me, my ‘happiness hacks’ (really a counterintuitive phrase for me anyways; that makes it sound like you’re hacking happiness to bits or something!) are dancing and playing with awesome animals.

I do not consider myself to be a particularly good dancer.  When I think about it too hard, I do not even want people to see me dance.  I was once described as looking like a dinosaur when dancing.  Enough to crush anyone’s self-esteem, definitely.  But, whenever I’m standing still, and there’s music playing, I cannot help but dance.  When I walk, I like to dance.  I’ll sing music in my head and start dancing.  Sitting in the car?  I might be dancing.  Definitely at shows, I’m dancing the entire time, even if I’ve never heard the band before and even if I don’t really like the music.  A few years back, my boyfriend and I took a ballroom dance class.  Before the first class, despite my history of taking dance classes, I was incredibly nervous that I would be terrible.  Surprisingly, he was a fantastic dancer and I was kind of impressed with myself!  That was one of the funnest activities we’ve ever done together, and like games, it really depended on our collaborative efforts.  Aside from all the wonderful chemicals your brain releases when doing physical activity and touching another human being, dancing is an emotional happiness hack.  It is an entirely personal activity – you are the only person dancing your dance.  Nobody can move like you!  Whether you’re a prima ballerina or just really like skanking, dancing is unique.  I feel better every single time I do a little jig.

My second happiness hack is playing with animals.  I mean, seriously, what ARG or MMO could possibly be better than playing with two tiny kittens or throwing a frisbee to your dogs?  These are games, but they are of a different sort because they are cross-species.  McGonigal argues that “the ability to make a good game together has recently been identified […] as a distinctive human capability” (McGonigal 270).  Yet, my dogs, Elwood and Riley, understand fetch (well, Elwood doesn’t yet realize that he needs to give me the frisbee back every once in awhile), and my friends cats, Matilda and Gunter Hans, at only 8-weeks old, have grasped the concept of chasing and grabbing after the toy on a string.  The fact that animals and humans CAN and DO play together is a really amazing thing – as different species, we can “focus [our] attention […], coordinate group activity, assess and reinforce each other’s commitment to the activity, and work toward a common goal” (McGonigal 270).  Playing with an animal is also a social activity,  but, for me, even better than interacting with a human.  Animals do not judge you but simply love that you’re interested in them.  Unlike the ‘intrinsic rewards’ McGonigal cites for video games, leveling up, earning points and rewards, (which sound a lot like the ‘real world’ extrinsic rewards she blasts, money, clothes, and bigger houses), playing with an animal only has the very pure reward of enjoyment.  How can you not be having the best time of your life when an animal looks up at you and just wants to play and play and play?



2 thoughts on “Happiness Hacks: Dancing and Playing with Awesome Animals

  1. This is exactly what I was talking about in my other comment! I should have read this first. You articulate a very obvious parallel here–the connection and similarities between rewards in gaming worlds and the real world–and this needed to be pointed out.

    Also, cats are magically mesmerizing and not a fair comparison.

    Posted by bretth2 | May 25, 2013, 4:34 am
    • Thank you! The difference between extrinsic and intrinsic rewards was something I really could not understand her argument regarding. She often suggests that people are still on the hunt for the ‘American dream’, but I think that, at least in our generation, that has completely gone by the wayside. I think it would be more appropriate to suggest that for young people, our ‘American dream’ is not money, cars, and clothes but what could be classified as false intrinsic rewards. We seek out approval, praise, and popularity in the virtual world- on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. (Certainly not all of us, but let’s generalize here for the sake of argument.) With the coinage of the term “(fill-in-the-blank-social-network) famous”, people no longer are concerned with the traditional fame, which comes with money, but with peer-approval. Such a notion seems more to accord with intrinsic rewards, albeit entirely false ones – or are they? McGonigal is invested in the ‘intrinsic rewards’ of gaming but fails to fully recognize the necessary duality of all rewards. This is where my ‘false intrinsic rewards’ comes in – just because something is not a material good (i.e. money) it is still given to us by external means – my sense of the phrase ‘extrinsic rewards’. Whether we seek out a higher salary, more followers on Twitter, or more ‘plus ones’ in video games, we are only ever seeking for external confirmation of ourselves for happiness. Why can’t we re-characterize our sense of rewards simply to say, “Wow, I’m really good at this. I enjoy being good at something I love.” If you love something and truly enjoy doing it, I’m not sure why you need repeated confirmation by others.

      Posted by emmajani | May 28, 2013, 12:44 pm

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