What makes us happy? Thirteen happiness experts, including psychologists, researchers, monks, and the inimitable Malcolm Gladwell, try to shed light on this surprisingly difficult question in a series of TED Talks about happiness. Over and over, the same two themes emerge. First, we're usually wrong about what will make us happy--or unhappy, for that matter. For example, research has demonstrated that people who win the lottery are no happier about that event one year later than if they'd lost the use of their legs instead. And second, happiness is largely a matter of choice. Which is good news, because it means we can pretty much all be happier if we want to be.
I remember when I decided to launch my first company with my co-founder, Tara Roberts. Both of us had nurtured an exquisitely intricate vision for girltank — an online portal for girl entrepreneurs. We envisaged our website as the consummate space for sourcing, supporting and connecting female entrepreneurs, and imagined and incorporated all the bells and whistles possible for a virtual community. We just needed to build it.
The problem was, of course, neither of us knew how. That’s why it ultimately took us eight months, three different designers, thousands of dollars and a bottomless reserve of grit and resilience to finally forge even a rough draft of our vision. So often I felt like giving up and giving in. I remember questioning how we could possibly presume to help other entrepreneurs amplify their dreams if we could not even build our own. Yet luckily, Tara and I found the right mentors and support networks that held our hand to the end. And now, we are trying to offer the same for aspiring young women innovators everywhere.
Why is this happening? Because women born in the wake of feminism -- women like Sandberg, Slaughter, and me -- have been subtly striving all our lives to prove that we have picked up the torch that feminism provided. That we haven't failed the mothers and grandmothers who made our ambitions possible. And yet, in a deep and profound way, we are failing. Because feminism wasn't supposed to make us feel guilty, or prod us into constant competitions over who is raising better children, organizing more cooperative marriages, or getting less sleep. It was supposed to make us free -- to give us not only choices but the ability to make these choices without constantly feeling that we'd somehow gotten it wrong.
Last year, amid the stress of shutting down a company she’d co-founded nearly ten years before, Jacqui Kenny, a New Zealander living in London, began exploring the world on Google Street View. At first, she would pick locales more or less at random, poking around the streets of faraway towns and taking screenshots whenever she stumbled upon a striking image. After a while, she began seeking out certain kinds of views: arid regions with clear horizons; latitudes where she found that the sunlight fell at a dramatic slant. She was soon spending many hours on the project, which became a kind of retreat. “I really didn’t know what I was going to do with my life,” she told me. “I wasn’t in the mood to face the world yet, and this absorbed a lot of my focus.” When she looked back after a year of taking screenshots, she had accumulated an archive of around twenty-six thousand photos.
Kenny now posts photos from the collection on an Instagram account called Agoraphobic Traveller, a reference to another impetus behind the project: Kenny, who is friendly and witty in conversation, suffers from anxiety that, on a bad day, can make it difficult to leave the house. Contrary to a common misconception, agoraphobia is often less a fear of open spaces than it is a fear of losing control. Sometimes, she has difficulty going to aisles of the grocery store that are too far from the exit, and getting on a plane is a huge ordeal. To go to her sister’s wedding, in New Zealand, she told me, required months of therapy beforehand. The Street View project has become a way for Kenny to visit places that she could never go to herself—the more remote, the better, she said. It’s also a practice that involves a tension between control and surrender: she has the ability to parachute into anywhere in the world, but her views and angles and lighting are in Google’s hands. “So many times,” she said, “I’ll see something in the distance that looks amazing, but then the car stops or something gets in the way. It happens ninety per cent of the time. I always have to be prepared for that disappointment.”