HAPPINESS COLUMN | Happiness Predictions for a New Decade

CBC Happiness Columnist Jennifer Moss discusses trends in the 2010's and why she's optimistic about the coming decade.
Jennifer Moss predicts wellness technology will continue to gain momentum and proliferate, but people will find ways to retreat from technology with digital detoxes and media diets as well. (Getty Images/Hero Images)

We've officially said goodbye to the 2010's.

This last decade gave us some big, life-changing innovations in digital technology and social media, from autonomous cars, AI, even the potential for space tourism.

We also saw open discussions about mental health and wellness trending for the first time. 

Opening up about mental health

Over the last decade social media exploded and provided an opportunity to increase awareness of topics like mental health and mental illness.

Robin Williams' suicide in 2014 was an example of how tragedy and social media can catapult a topic like mental illness to the top of the news cycle. More recently, the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain supercharged these conversations.

As people struggle to make sense of events, it creates conversations, which also help to destigmatize taboo topics. 

Bell Let's Talk started in 2010, but it gained considerable momentum throughout this last decade as influencers and celebrities joined in.

The CMHA #getloud campaign brought in prominent Canadians like Jim Carrey, Howie Mandel and Ryan Reynolds to share their stories of mental health and Prince Harry started to openly discuss his battles with mental health as well. 

The Netflix series 13 Reasons Why tackled suicide and mental illness in youth in a way that hadn't been addressed before then.

People were openly debating how to portray these once forbidden topics in such a public way that it has slowly started to normalize the conversation. 

Tech joins the conversation 

We also saw a huge rise in mental health and wellness tech, specifically meditation apps.

Headspace was launched in 2010 by Andy Puddicombe, a former athlete turned Tibetan Buddhist monk, and rapidly gained popularity in the latter part of the decade.

Calm is another popular wellness app that is focused on meditation and sleep.

Both made a significant jump from consumer to corporate, demonstrating another big breakthrough in well-being over the last decade.

Mental health and well-being was not considered an acceptable topic for the workplace in the first part of the millennium.

Although stigmatization of mental illness is still a concern, and topics related to mental health are still normalizing, integrating meditation and happiness apps into work tools is promising. 

In the next decade, I predict wellness technology will continue to gain momentum and proliferate.

A simple analysis of venture-capital funding gives it away. Calm was just valued at $1 billion, according to a report this year in CNBC. Headspace just raised another $37 million in funding, according to Fortune magazine.

The expectation is that the number of people using digital assistants will triple in the next few years (to give you a figure, that's $8 billion digital voice assistants in use by the year 2023, according to the U.K.-based firm Juniper Research). 

With our homes, our cars, our phones, our refrigerators all connected to the cloud, our wellness could soon be entirely managed by our digital devices — not us.

Our Fitbit will track if our heartrate is up, queuing up Calm to put us through a breathing exercise to slow it down. It will see that we're not moving enough and trigger the refrigerator to order healthier food directly from Amazon, while Alexa in the background will play our workout music and turn on our smart fitness coach through our bike or mirror that tells us it's time to get going.

And, the connectivity goes on. 

'IRL will become a movement'

A growing number of people have already started to question whether this level of tech-integration is actually good for us.

On one hand, gathering health data can be beneficial. The American Psychological Association predicts that in the next decade, big data will help to provide better diagnoses and digital treatments.

Research on the efficacy of fitness trackers have shown that they do advance exercise goals.

Apps that decrease addiction to unhealthy eating and subsequently smart appliances that support those goals by purchasing healthy food can also benefit weight loss. Reminders to breathe in stressful situations have been part of the increasing popularity of meditation apps.

Feeling more calm in everyday situations could benefit us all. 

But there's a flip side to this argument as well.

People are feeling overwhelmed with such a massive increase in digital consumption and have started to push back. In the next decade we will have a rebellion — a harkening back to the old ways.

IRL will become a movement.

Wellness experts have already started to promote the idea of digital detoxes and media diets to give brains a break from the stimulus.

And researchers are saying it needs to go beyond just diets and detoxes.

They believe that in to protect the well-being of our future youth, significantly decreasing social media consumption will be mandatory. 

The future of well-being

Examples of this research can be found in the Canada150 paper, "The Future of Well-Being for Canadians."

They found that one of the biggest threats to the future of well-being for Canadians is the overconsumption of social media and digital technology going on right now in our youth today.

The impact of cyberbullying and hate speech has a serious long-term effect including a loss of identify, resilience and coping.

Kids are exercising less and aren't getting enough face-time with their peers which means less authentic social connections.

Advocates in government, both in the US and Canada, have suggested that tech companies need to take more ownership of the problem. Most would like to see more regulations on tech companies to stop addictive design and reduce screen time.

There is a battle going on right now with the biggest social media giants.

Governments would prefer these companies distinguish themselves as news media if they are going to behave like news media— which means different types of regulations and protection for consumers.

Arguably, these are the types of changes in policy and regulations that could go a long way in shaping our happiness over the next decade. 

A 'happier shift'

Perhaps I'm being overly optimistic, but I predict a happier shift in 2020.

Global hope has declined by 13 points in the last four years, according to a Gallup International survey. The world is feeling it.

When a pendulum swings all the way in one direction, it eventually wants to right itself. I see our priorities shift from valuing money to more time. This will change how we work, where we work, whether we'll take on debt that ties us to work.

People will be more mobile and flexible and as a result more global and inclusive.

This isn't just going to start now — there has been a growing unrest for the latter half of the decade. People are fighting for morality, culture, and values, they are standing up for the planet and humanity in general and are more vocal than before.

Humans can be really amazing in a crisis and I predict we're going to show that off this decade. 


Jennifer Moss

CBC Happiness and Well-being Columnist

Jennifer Moss is an international public speaker, award-winning author, and UN Global Happiness Committee Member. She is based in Kitchener, Ontario.