The Happiness Machine |


What is happiness and where can you find it these days? With an ever-growing ‘audience’ on social media, happiness seems to be sought outside of the self more and more. Can you actually feel better about yourself when others tell you that you are great? And does this type of happiness last long enough? This project questions what affirmation of the crowd can do to a person.

At Holland’s largest theatre festival Oerol we installed our Happiness Machine; an interactive work that puts every single visitor on a pedestal for a brief moment. The machine highlights the most special features of a person. Participants take a short psychological intake, but while they are filling in their forms we secretly register their exterior features. Inside the cabin, the person is overwhelmed by a series of compliments spoken to him by a convincing, sensual voice. Every visitor gets a fully customized treatment, generated by interactive software. This makes the compliments feel very sincere, although people are aware of the fact that it’s only a machine. After this great confidence boost, the walls of the cabin fall open to the sides and the person experiences complete exposure to the audience standing around.

Besides providing this experience, we are gathering data on the participants. The intake consists of a happiness test and a number of general questions like age and social media activity. Also, a webcam in the cabin monitors the facial expressions during exposure, and we register the reactions. Results can be read at the bottom of the article.

The Happiness Machine functions as a research capsule for the upcoming show Happiness of Club Guy and Roni, a dance company from Groningen. This show will premiere at the end of september 2016. The project cooperated within a ‘depth’ program led by Gebied B.


Admittedly; Oerol is a festival that attracts conscious, culturally engaged people. Conscious about themselves, consciously treating nature and consciously interacting with each other. The average age lies much higher than at most festivals, and with binoculars you have as much chance of spotting an exotic bird, as you have spotting an exotic person. And of course, the conclusions of the research conducted with the Happiness Machine specifically applies to this group of conscious people.

Let’s start by saying that the overall Happiness score was extremely high. Great, but also a tad alarming. How would the scores have reflected at a Techno festival, for example? With an average score of 4,7 on the scale of 1 to 6, we know we have had the pleasure of receiving a bunch of happy folks. And fortunately so, because with a group of depressed people it would not have been so great to run the machine a 400 times. We received a lot of euphoric people and a show was to be expected every time the panels of the cabin would fall open to the sides. Almost nobody could suppress the tendency to throw the arms into the air at this moment. Such a strong hero pose has resemblance with animals celebrating their victory on a prey. We saw a lot of perky bows, blow-kisses and graceful turns being made, not to mention some of the expressive dance escapades we witnessed.

Of all participants, 57 percent said to have an extrovert character. Only 24 percent would describe himself as introvert and the remaining 19 percent was indecisive. Did the introverts prefer to stay at a safe distance from the machine with a fear to expose themselves, or does Oerol simply attract the more extravagant types? The Happiness score of extrovert people was 0,3 points higher than of the introvert.  When we order the scores from low to high, we clearly see that the higher the measured score, the more exuberant the reaction was when the machine opened. These happy people know how to seize their moment. The machine brings euphoria to the surface in those who already feel good. On the lower side of the Happiness spectrum we had people that left before actually stepping inside the machine. They indicated that they did not want to participate anymore (or was it after seeing the sight of their precedents?) These leavers scored remarkably lower: a 3,8.

The average age of participants was 41. Of which 69 percent was female. Do women need more confirmation and attention from others, or is this Oerol again, attracting more women? The large group of people over 50 had a very high average score of 4,8. It seems as though the older you get, the happier you become. That is a good prospect. The group of younger people in their twenties scores a little on the low side, but it is known that this generation has difficulties dealing with their imposed freedom.

The physical experience of the Happiness Machine could be compared with social media. With help of a compliment boost, you actually do feel very special for a short moment. Compare this to a series of glorious comments and likes on a photo you posted on social media. Most people just love to share their beautiful sides and moments with the rest of the world. 63 percent of the participants are active on social media, of which Facebook is by far the most popular. That youngsters under 20 are active on SnapChat and Instagram, is no breaking news either.

The question remains, what does this superficial confirmation exactly bring us? And how durable is this type of happiness? Enough ideas for a follow-up study.

The project is realized in cooperation with:
Afdeling Buitengewone Zaken | project initiation
Fons Venner | realisation of the machine
Rogier Koppejan | interactive software
Sarah Vink | voice actress