Games and Happiness: How To Hack Happiness To Create Long Lasting Happiness With or Without Games


Games are often linked to happiness. And hence it was apt for ‘Reality is broken‘ to analyse a gamer’s happiness and to find out if this form of happiness is desirable.

(This is a book review of “Reality is broken” by Jane McGonigal)

In the previous review of the book Reality is broken, we talked about how we can increase work satisfaction. Today’s review focuses on what we can learn about happiness from games.

To understand the happiness that gamers feel, we first have to understand about the phenomenon of being happy. Which Jane does a great job at explaining to the layman.

The 2 sources of Happiness

Happiness researchers have divided the source of happiness into 2 major groups: Intrinsic and Extrinsic.

The former is of course, more desirable.

Reality is broken explains that intrinsic happiness is more sustainable as it is ‘autotelic’, meaning that it has to be a self motivated and self rewarding activity. Extrinsic happiness is usually ‘hedonic’.

Extrinsic happiness or happiness drawn from external or material sources is usually unsustainable because when we get used to the baseline of happiness drawn from a certain level of external sources, we become used to it and are no longer able to draw the same level of happiness from it. Hence we tend to need more of the same thing to ‘feel’ happy.

(Honestly, i think my vocabulary improved after reading this book)

4 features of Intrinsic Happiness

Now that we know how long lasting, sustainable and desirable happiness is induced, Reality is Broken goes on to reveal the 4 obvious but often neglected sources of intrinsic happiness.


1. Satisfying Work

Jane repeatedly states in Reality is Broken that we actually like to work and that gamers are a hardworking bunch.

However, the condition to activate this innate ‘love’ for work and the intrinsic happiness derived from it, is to feel that our work is satisfying.

And these are the characteristics of ‘Satisfying Work’:

  • Clearly defined work
  • Provides a certain level of demand or challenge
  • Work that produces direct results in proportion to the effort put in


2. Experience or Hope of being successful

Another source of intrinsic happiness has to do with success. The experience or even hope of being successful creates happiness.

To induce intrinsic happiness in daily life, seek opportunities or communities that allow you to experience success.

Success in this instant does not have to be something big like making a million dollar or saving the world. It can be something relatively easy to achieve and yet allows you to feel good about yourself. An opportunity to show your talent or something that you are good in is sufficient.

(And this is why we should always compliment the people around us too. It creates happiness! 🙂

The interesting thing about success is that even the hope of being successful can induce a sense of happiness.

If you cannot create or experience success daily or frequently, you can seek opportunities that give you the hope of being successful.

These situations increases optimism about our chances of success and allows us to aspire to something and have something to look forward too.

One way to create the hope of being successful is to spend some time learning about something you are interested in. The feeling that you are improving over time is also a source of intrinsic happiness.


3. Social Connection

The first 2 sources of intrinsic happiness comes from internal reasons. However, internal sources of intrinsic happiness can only induce a certain level of happiness. The 3rd features focuses on social connection and forces us to think about the importance of the relationships we have.

Jane mentioned in Reality is Broken that the bulk of intrinsic happiness comes from spending time with the people we care about. And, this is true even for introverts.

(And that’s why MMO games are becoming more popular these days.)

To increase chances of social connection and interaction, Jane advocates the use of games (duh). But of course any other activities would also do great as long as the activities allow you to share an experience, build bonds and strengthen your relationship as well as do things that matter together.

(by the way, these ‘things that matter’ doesn’t have to be big or significant things. playing a game with the aim to kill a common enemy and save the virtual world works too)


4. Meaning

Now that we have touched on the internal and external sources of intrinsic happiness, Reality is Broken moves on to look at things from a macro view point.

Having meaning in the things we do creates sustainable intrinsic value. But, how can we create meaning in life?

Jane suggests that being a part of something larger than ourselves, something that allows us to feel awed creates this happiness inducing meaning.

Deep down, we would all like to be part of something huge and epic, something that can shake the world and make a lasting difference that could possibly outlive our existence. This creates motivation and induces intrinsic happiness.

Ultimately, there are 2 main takeaways:
1. Happiness can be induced externally and internally. But intrinsic happiness is longer lasting and more sustainable – it’s motivation has to be derived from oneself rather than from a material source.

2. Intrinsic happiness has different sources from a personal level to a macro world view level – it is difficult to remain happy alone.

Support the author, purchase Reality Is Broken, read and perhaps you would find gems suited to you in the book.+

3 Happiness Hacks

Jane suggests 3 things you can do frequently to become happier:

1. Random of acts of kindness, 2 x a week.

Helping others makes you feel good about yourself.

2. Think about death for 5 mins every day

Thinking about death creates a sense of gratitude.

3. Dance more

Movement and self-expression can create a sense of happiness.

Written by Yen Yee

Yen Yee

An aspiring digital entrepreneur who continues to learn and find her way around in the online world.


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