The pill-less placebo that just might make you happy

A team of researchers wants you to participate in The Placebo Happiness Study, which seeks to make everyone happy using the video equivalent of a sugar pill.

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Participate in The Placebo Happiness Study and you too could be smiling like a supervillian in no time!JD Hancock/Flickr

The placebo, scientists have discovered, could actually be powerful medicine, even when people know they're taking the fake stands-in.

Now, a project that kicked off its Indiegogo campaign on Tuesday seeks to harness the power of the placebo -- which comes from the Latin for "I shall please" -- to make thousands of people happier.

In late 2010, Harvard researchers divided 80 patients suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome into two groups -- a control group that got no medicine and another group that got tablets that described honestly as "like sugar pills." Three weeks later, twice as many of the sugar pill takers reported improved symptoms than the control group. They also improved roughly at the rate a group on the most powerful IBS medication would have.

Seeking to harness this ability of even known placebos to improve our well-being, philanthropic entrepreneur Daniel Jacobs and tech entrepreneur Prosper Nwankpa assembled a team of scientists, technologists, and community leaders to create The Placebo Happiness Study. The project is seeking $20,000 in Indiegogo funds to roll out the study across the globe.

Contributors (who can pledge as little as $1) become participants in the study. During each of the 30 days of the study, participants will log in to a website, rate their happiness, watch a one- to two-minute video (the placebo), and then share an intention on the site for something they'll do in the next 24 hours to make themselves happier.

Like what?

"We encourage small, sustainable, repeatable steps," Jacobs told Crave. "That is the purpose of intention formation -- something you can and WILL do." The Indiegogo video suggest that one possible intention could saying "hi" to five strangers. Of course, reading at least 10 minutes of Crave a day is an even better idea (but you knew that).

If you're wondering whether something as simple as watching a short video and promising to do a little something to make yourself happy really works, it seems that it can. The Happiness Study team did a similar experiment in March with 1,000 people. According to the researchers, those participants increased their daily happiness by 40 percent.

Since then, the team has been working with researchers at UC San Diego -- including James Fowler, uber-popular author and professor of medical genetics and political science -- to design a refined study. "So we believe there's a good shot you'll feel happier," says the Indiegogo page.

Speaking of shots, I'm familiar with using those to get a little happier. But there's always that blasted morning after. As I get a older, a side-effect-free placebo sounds pretty good, so I might just be throwing some of my own cash into this campaign. At least placebos never hurt.

About the author

Freelancer Michael Franco writes about the serious and silly sides of science and technology for Crave and other pixel and paper pubs. He's kept his fingers on the keyboard while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore, and rehydrating (with beer, of course) in Prague. E-mail Michael.

 

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