Can you be happy for 100 days in a row? Sure, that sounds pretty easy, doesn't it?
Do not tell that to the 71 percent of people who started but failed the challenge. If you have spent any amount of time online in the last few months, chances are you have come across #100happydays. The hashtag shows the world that you have taken on the challenge to be happy for 100 days in a row.
Every day, you have to find one moment in which you feel happy. You capture that moment with your camera, hashtag the picture, and upload it to the social network of your choice. #100happydays is not only the simplest most difficult challenge; it also has its roots in Switzerland.
Dmitry Golubnichy, the 27 year old creator of the hashtag and the founder of the happiness challenge, lives in Zurich. And he is my co-worker, so we used our coffee break to talk about changing people's lives with a hashtag, The Today Show, and the secret to succeeding in the #100happydays challenge.
What's the story behind the project?
Last year, I was in a little bit of a slump and I had a hard time achieving all the goals I've set for myself. I decided to take a break and visit my parents in Latvia. One evening, I met up my old friends from university and we talked about our lives, and what we've done since we graduated.
They basically told me some of the same stories I had heard three years prior. Once it was my turn, I told them that I had visited 10 different countries in the last year alone, I complained about the rainy weather in Zurich and that I couldn't go skiing - typical #firstworldproblems. My friends were speechless that I was complaining.
You had the life everyone wanted.
Yes, I really had nothing to complain about. I started to feel embarrassed and realized that they might have a point. I kept thinking about how much I complained and how little I appreciated what I had. And because I'm so competitive, I decided to find one thing every day that made me happy - for 100 days. If I could find 100 moments, maybe my friends were right and I did have a pretty great life. That's how it started.
Why did you pick 100 days?
There is no particular logic for it. It's just a nice and even, yet arbitrary number. It seems to be low - you know, it's not 365 days. It's just a third of the year. Shouldn't it be possible to be happy for a third of a year? I think that's why people think it's so easy but once they start, they realize that it's still quite a commitment to be consciously happy for 100 days in a row.
And you chose to be happy publicly on social media...
I wanted the peer pressure so I chose social media to stay accountable. I chose the hashtag #100happydays and after just a few days, people started asking what it was all about, and whether they could join. So they kept joining, but I didn’t really bother keeping up with the numbers. That was in November 2013. After about 50 days, I noticed that my life changed and that it became easier and more spontaneous to take pictures and find moments I wanted to share.
When did you first look at the numbers?
Nobody used my hashtag before, so it was easy for me to check who was joining me in the challenge. After about 50 days, I already found a couple hundred posts with the hashtag, so that was very exciting. Since people kept asking me how to tell their friends about the project, I decided to create a simple website outlining the concept.
After the first night, more than 3000 people registered. I never expected that much feedback. I thought, you know, maybe I'd get about 100 people every month. But it just went through the roof. It was like when Forest Gump started running and people kept joining... Right now, there are more than 1 million registered people on the website. Last time I checked (in March), they came from over 170 different countries...
As of today, there are almost 17 million posts with the hashtag just on Instagram alone. Is it safe to say that it went from a trend to a movement?
I'm skeptical to call it a movement. I know that the attention span online is very short, so there's a chance that it's only a trend and that it will fade into oblivion. Of course, that would be very sad. So I'm prepared for this development and I'm trying to keep my expectations low. But I'm hoping that it will become part of people's lives for a longer time, and that they will regularly think of their lives and their happiness.
Was there a specific moment where you noticed that you're on to something with #100happydays?
I noticed that it became something bigger when I started to receive negative feedback, such as that first article that said this challenge is complete bull. At first, I was baffled and kind of angry. But then I realized that it really touches people's lives - positively and negatively. Or that they just wanted to vent because they failed the challenge.
But on a much lighter note, there were some positive experiences that lead me to believe that I do touch people’s lives. I started introducing a happiness barometer by asking people how happy they were at the beginning, during and at the end of the challenge, and I saw that some of them were on average 20% happier in the end.
When you look at the project and the contributions, is there a story or an experience that stands out?
I receive lots of touching stories. With the permission of the authors, it's my goal to share them on the website. One morning, for instance, I received an email and a picture of a tatooed hashtag on a guy's arm: #100+
The email stated that his wife and kids had left him, and that he didn't have a good relationship with his parents. On top, this person had lost his job. He took the challenge and during the 100 happy days, he changed his life around 180 degrees. He fell in love, got a job, and reconnected with his parents. I don't know if it was because of the challenge, but I really hope that it contributed to it. He was so grateful for this experience and he got the tattoo to remind him of being happy for 100 days and beyond.
Some people also use the challenge to help their friends or family members who tried to commit suicide. There are families who took it together to help and support each other after such a traumatizing incident. It helped them focus on the little things in life together.
What's the future of the hashtag?
There are many plans, and one of my walls at home is full of post-it notes with ideas. The next step is to publish a global happiness index based on how happy people stated they are. Our data shows how happy people are in 170 countries, so I think sharing it with the world could have a big impact.
I'm aware that there are a lot of very scientific ways to measure people's happiness, but I think that my questions during the challenge give very accurate answers as well. They naturally take all the aspects of someone's life into account.
I also want to develop apps, but the main goal is to take the challenge offline. I want to give people the chance to meet and share their happy moments with each other. There are a lot of people who don’t have access to the Internet, and I think it would be unfair to exclude them from the project. I want to create ways for people to share their happiness.
Anything special planned for Switzerland?
Yes, I will probably have some trials for the happiness hubs here. There are people who thrive on spreading their happiness around and give back. On the website, people can sign up and donate their time or skills to help other people get happy.
Say you're a web designer who wants to help someone else design a website, or if you want to start a local chapter and become a happiness ambassador. I just started it earlier this month and we already have over 1000 people who signed up, so I think I'll start the first trial hubs here. If any of the readers want to join us, they should definitely sign up. It will be a great way to experiment how we can take the project offline.
You've created a foundation to make sure that the project will have longer lasting effects. How does the foundation support your work?
There is an opportunity for people to donate to the 100 Happy Days Foundation. We will split the donations into thirds: One third will be for the production and delivery of the books – when you donate money, your 100 happy moments will be printed in a little book for you.
Another third will be for the people who produce these books: I'm cooperating with Stiftung St. Jakob where people with disabilities help produce the books. They are super happy to be part of the project. The rest is for future investments, like the happiness index or the development of apps to complement the website. To me, it's important to influence as many people as I can in this short time – online and offline.
How much time do you spend on the project? Is it still a one-man operation?
Right now, it's basically just me. I work at my day job until 7 or 8 PM, and then I work on the project until 2 AM or so. It has become my second life. Oh, and my third life is sleeping. Before I started working with the Foundation, I was doing all the cutting and glueing of the books myself, and it was a lot of work.
So Dmitry, what makes you happy?
That's a big question, but the #100happydays challenge helped me figure out what makes me happy. When I look back at my pictures, there are three things that stand out: Family, travel, and food.
I really miss my family who lives in Latvia, so there are a lot of pictures from Skype or when we traveled together. My second source of happiness is traveling. It has become an integral and inspirational part of my life, and I want to continue to explore the world. The third thing that makes me happy is food. I realized that I'm actually a big foodie. A result of me doing the challenge was to put 1/3 of my salary into a special account that I'll use to travel the world with my girlfriend and my parents. Making it possible for us to see the world together makes me happy.
When I looked at the website, there is hardly any information about you. Is that intentional?
Yes. Especially in the beginning, I didn't want people to associate the project with one specific person. This is an idea. I'm not the person or the teacher who tells people what makes them happy, and I also don’t want to sell them anything.
I'm neither a happiness guru nor a role model. I'm still struggling with the challenge and with happiness every day, because I feel that I constantly need to be reminded of what makes me happy. I'm also not going to check if they have submitted their photo or judge if their submission is truly happiness-worthy. So that's why there is no information about me on there.
But you ended up on a segment of NBC’s The Today Show and all kinds of networks worldwide...
Yes, journalists are smart and they figured out who the owner of the website is. I couldn’t give the interviews anonymously anymore.
Do you have any advice for people who want to start the #100happydays challenge?
I think the challenge itself is achievable by anyone who's determined enough - everyone is able to be happy for 100 days straight. How to get the most out of the challenge is to find those little moments when you are truly happy and you just smile. These are the moments when you need to take that picture and record that moment.
It doesn't matter what made you happy. It's about being in the moment and not so much about sitting down in the evening to reflect on what made me happy that day. Of course, it's good to reflect as well, but for this particular idea, it's all about cherishing those moments as they happen.
It's also important not be scared or thrown off by intangible happy moments, such as a conversation with a friend or something else where it's more difficult to take a picture of. Simply capture anything that you associate with this conversation. Your friend, a screenshot, the beverage you were drinking, the chairs you were sitting in.
It's your picture and your happy moment; you don't need to justify it to anyone. It doesn't matter what other people think of it.
Dear Newly Swissed readers, are you up for the challenge? Hashtag your pictures with #100happydays and tag @newlyswissed, and let’s all be happy together!