Research Technique - Things that makes me happy

Written by: Gioel Gioacchino; Edited By: Denisse Albornoz 

This exercise is one of Recrear’s home-grown carrots. It grew organically in search for ways to find out what matters the most to people. We kick off the research process and team building by asking participants to make a list of ‘10 things that make you happy.’ We also learn about what makes people giggle and smile.   

Our experience using this technique
We love doing this exercise to open up workshops. There’s something about asking ‘What makes you happy’ that connects people and helps them to find common ground before we’ve even begun. We’ve asked this question in a number of countries and every time we’ve learned a lot about culture in the process. We found that some cultures unanimously agreed that ‘spending time with my family’ makes the top of the list. In others, families are rarely mentioned. Here is another example. People often include spending time with their boyfriend/girlfriend/partner in their list and yet nobody mentions sex, and if someone does, everybody giggles. When we arrived to Cuba, everybody mentioned ‘having sex’ in their list, and without any nervous giggles to accompany it. Point is, this exercise is a great window into culture and values.

Research and Development

What are we trying to understand about the community
We are trying to understand what matters the most to people. What moves people, what gives them comfort, what makes them shine. We’re able to learn about community values, and about how people interact with them. We learn about people’s vibes. Some people interpret the list exercise making bullet points, others are more poetic. This varies a lot based on different groups as well. The lists tell us a lot about what activities people like to do, and how they like to spend their time.
Why is it important for the community’s development?
We believe that happiness matters. And we care about the people we are working with. Caring matters for community development….it matters a lot, more than we can explain in words.
At what stage(s) of the research cycle is this method used?
Community building;  Data Collection.


What do I need?
Not much. A pen and a paper. Ideally you’d have some relaxing music. This is a track we love.
The ability to listen actively.
How long does it take?
This exercise takes no preparation. Depending on the group and how you decide to play with it, it might take between 20 to 40 minutes.
  1. Get people into a circle and tell them this is an invitation to think about the things that give them happiness. Ask them to close their eyes.
  2. Play relaxing non-distracting music in the background (low). Ask them, with their eyes closed, to think about the things, people, places, activities that make them happy.
  3. After some 30 seconds, tell them to open their eyes. With the sheet of paper and pen in front of them, ask them to write a list of the 10 things that make them happy (give them 6-8 minutes).
  4. At this point, depending on the size of the group, they can get into smaller groups to share or share with the entire group (in the case that it’s small).
  5. In the smaller groups, ask them to collectively come up with a list of 5 things that give them happiness. Everyone in the group must agree with the final list.
  6. The exercise can end here or you can continue by asking each group to select one of the words in their collective list of 5. Without telling any other group what that word is, the group is asked to create a frozen image of their word.
  7. When the group is presenting the frozen image, the others are invited to walk around this sculpture garden and give life to the statues by going behind them and speaking a word or phrase that they feel represents the image.

Benefits and Challenges  

What are the benefits of using this technique?
This exercise allows participants to reflect individually and collectively on happiness. It is a great way to connect participants to one another and find common ground. We’ve found it to be a good stepping stone to building trust and forming new relationships in the team.
What are the challenges of using this technique?
Not everyone has the same idea of what gives them happiness, but this is part of the challenge. Some of the things that make people happy are harder to represent in an image, but people get creative!


How to adapt the technique
This is a great opener exercise to connect people. We use the topic of happiness but it can be tweaked to generate ideas around any other question. Even more provocative ones!

Tips and Traps :
When the group is much bigger (say over 30), then do sculpture gardens with several groups.

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