Increasingly, through our new fund Joyance Partners, and through shifts in the focus of our older fund Social Starts, we are becoming investors in the emerging science of health and happiness. We see changes in the behavior of the rising adult generation around taking greater control of their own happiness. We see breakthroughs in science with the potential to transform health. Most of all, we see these two essential aspects of life linked in a causal loop. Greater health increases the potential for personal happiness, and greater happiness can also help us be healthier.
As we deepen our involvement in these areas, we are finding other truths. Some we expected, some we didn’t. Here are some of these newly discovered (for us at least) truths about health and happiness.
Our brains can be changed. The process is called neuroplasticity and lasts throughout our lives. We are now seeing brain change and brain training as a practical pursuit. Startups today are not only reading, but actually altering, brain waves directly. Others are working through the human biome, the profusion of bacteria in our guts that is increasingly shown to have a profound impact on our minds.
As a species, we are programmed toward the negative, but practice can reverse that tendency. Our tilt toward the negative manifests as a kind of systemic forgetting that pushes us to over-forecast bad things that might happen in the future, and under-remember good things happening right now. A human can be sitting well-fed in a warm room and still feel anxious about future events that only exist inside her or his head. Early in human existence, this was a valuable trait. It was necessary to be always preparing for the next crisis; now, not so much. New techniques in VR and neuroscience are addressing this trait.
Happiness cannot completely be a function of online experience. At its core, happiness comes from other people. Happiness is a product of love. We can meet people online. We can have all kinds of experiences online. The net and its capacity to extend our experience and emotions over long distances is a marvelous thing. But, in the end, we need other people to be happy. So we are increasingly seeking technological experiences that deepen genuine human connection or that span both the online and real worlds.
To be more effective, emerging happiness tech will need to be less than totally effective. This sounds like a contradictory concept, but if a system utterly bathes us in joy, it becomes narcotic, addictive. And in that addiction, we lose the essence of real happiness, which is choice. We need to choose to be happy in each moment. So, great happiness tech will need, from time to time, to back off and let us have a taste of anxiety, fear, or discomfort. Only by this ghosting can we become newly aware of the choice we are making to embrace happiness.
In happiness, small wins matter. Being a tiny bit happier for a short moment is a wonderful win. Emerging science and tech doesn’t have to utterly transform us. It can generate profound effects through a nudge, a small evanescent shift. We call these small tilts toward happiness “delightful moments.” Delightful moments are the heart of our investing focus at the funds.
Our team feels investing in the emerging science of health and happiness will be the most interesting and valuable work we have ever done. We are participating in change at the most universal and intimate human level imaginable. In our work, we are….happy.
By Managing Partner Mike Edelhart