Ritu Raj believes that happiness is both undeniably powerful and poorly understood.
So he’s using data to get to the bottom of it. Ritu’s BeingHappy app helps you track your daily happiness on a scale, determining what factors (like sleep, a sunny climate or a compliment from a coworker) help you be most happy. Ritu is interested in the external and internal factors that influence happiness and aims to optimize happiness for all.
Ritu believes that when we are truly happy, we are more productive at work, more thoughtful consumers and have more fulfilling personal relationships. In our interview, Ritu explains why he’s addicted to entrepreneurship, how he balances his artistic side with his go-getter inclination, and how the Constitution spawned his interest in the pursuit of happiness.
Tell us about yourself.
I grew up in New Delhi, India. My parents both were rebels and contrarians in their own right. My father who belonged to a major landlords, and the heir, left home at 17, and joined the communist movement, he was the editor of the largest daily communist new paper outside of Russia, a noted art critic and a scholar of Wittgenstein and Heidegger.
My mother belong to family that had provided security for the rulers of the state of Jaipur, she was the first woman to do a Masters in English literature, even if it meant going to an all male college. My dad made me read Karl Marx at around 7, and I started reading all Victorian literature, and by 10-11 had pretty much read what my mom was teaching post-grads. As a kid I sat in coffee shops and press-club with my dads friends abstract and modern artists, militant communists and philosophers, I was allowed to be part of the conversation, and always tried to say something interesting to score some “cutlets.”
Went to the best private high school in India, where the richest, most influential sent their kids – when I joined I was a total misfit, different ideologies, business vs literature, but it was an interesting school which focused on arts as much as education, I picked up photography and painting. And finished education as an incomplete PhD in Mathematics, and a student leader. In early development I had developed a strong sense that being a contrarian was ok, abstraction and absurdity is a way of life, from my mom a love of stories and reading, and my biggest lesson was the life of paradox that I lived – one side was art, literature, philosophy the other side – aggressive go-getters win it all.
Little did I know that I was being raised as an entrepreneur.
Describe the process of creating your BeingHappy app.
I have resigned to the fact that I love being an entrepreneur. The “resignation” there is based in guilt, like a drug addict. So I am always looking for ideas or concepts that have some resonance, but not limited to that, also looking for coincidence.
As it happened I went to India in July last year to visit my parents. Normally 4th of July I am at BBQ, and thats how I relate to the 4th. I was in India no BBQ, so I decided to read the constitution of the United States, having been a citizen for a decade. I started reading and stopped at the line “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”.
Before leaving for India I had met a senior vice-president from Stanford Medical Center who had been using a pretty long test to measure happiness based on scoring emotions with all the employees there. And the final thing was after years of living a happy lucky life I had started questioning “happiness.” The seed of the idea was sown. Can we measure happiness?
Following that was doing very exhaustive research into the area of happiness and measuring happiness. Talking and engaging with experts, reading everything from positive psychology to everything published by Daniel Kahneman, and all his critics.
Spending a lot of time with psychologists and specially social psychologists. One thing became clear that no one had built a system that could measure happiness at scale. With the tools available now; Mobile – immediate visceral response and the surrounding environmental data and affordable big data platforms for normalizing large data sets, birthed BeingHappy.
Using a data driven approach, and a proprietary algorithm analyzes a user’s emotional state across nine fundamental dimensions in order to determine his or her Happy Score. Simultaneously, the app collects data on ancillary variables such as weather, location, and health, so that, over time, users can track their happiness and better understand how it is impacted by these external factors.
Happiness is one of the most inherent human pursuits. As humans, our personal happiness has a major impact on our productivity at work, on what we buy and consume, and on our personal relationships. And yet, despite the undeniable impact happiness has on all aspects of our lives, for most people, it remains poorly understood. Often, we have a vague understanding of the factors that impact our personal happiness. I know, for instance, that I am happier when I get a lot of sleep, but how much happier? How much sleep do I need? How important is a good night of sleep compared to nice weather?
Ultimately, by quantifying and contextualizing users’ happiness, BeingHappy enables individuals, groups and businesses to find insights and take tangible action in their pursuit of happiness. Our next App will be coming out soon. It’s called HappyPulse, allows managers to do a quick adhoc survey of their teams happiness, mobile to mobile, using the same engine as BeingHappy – the key is to capture the emotional experience of the people instead of asking them to fill out a survey, which engages the rational brain.
Describe your experience using about.me. What do you like about our platform?
I love the about.me platform, I may be one of the first maybe 100 people to have a paid account, even though there were not any additional benefit, it’s a simple calling card, for me it expresses who I am, I love to look at other people’s pages.
Anna Lizaur is a Marketing Manager with about.me. She graduated from the University of Virginia. Anna is fluent in Spanish and can count to 100 in Chinese.