Stumbling On Happiness: Why I Left Intel To Work On Happy Brain Science

by Scott Crabtree

Since leaving Intel to work on Happy Brain Science full time, a common question has been “What’s your story? How did you get to this point?”

I was a cognitive science major at Vassar College (it turned co-ed in 1969, in case you were wondering). I’ve long been fascinated by what makes brains tick. But despite using artificial intelligence in my career, I was mostly leaving cognitive science behind while I worked on games and other software.

As I say in this new YouTube video, my path into the science of happiness business truly started several years ago with a New York Times article that started off “If Daniel Gilbert is right, then you are wrong.  That is to say, if Daniel Gilbert is right, then you are wrong to believe that a new car will make you as happy as you imagine.” Fascinated by the article, I bought his book Stumbling on Happiness. I was intrigued to learn how bad most of us are at predicting what will make us happy.

A few months later, I saw Gilbert’s positive review on the back of Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book The How of Happiness. That triggered me to buy it. To say I liked her book is a huge understatement. I was thrilled to discover a real science of happiness. This wasn’t just one woman’s opinion. This was practical information on how to be happier, based on experimental data.

I thought to myself, “I want to learn this and live this.” My next thoughts were, “I’m not going to do that. I’m going to forget all of this in about one month, and go back to being only somewhat happy. How can I not forget this amazing science?” After a moment, what popped to my mind was, “If you really want to learn something, you should teach it.”

So I proposed a talk called The Science of Happiness in Game Development for the International Game Developer’s Association Leadership Forum, and a similar talk to an internal Intel conference. Both conferences wanted me to present. Now I had a good reason to go read every science-based book and article on happiness I could find. I was delighted to do so.

After months of work I finally delivered the talks. I received the best feedback of my life. The great feedback wasn’t just from the audience. It was also how I felt inside. I felt I had done something that could really help people.

I love making games and apps, and helping others do so. But teaching others how to apply the science of happiness to work was deeply satisfying in a new way.

In the first five minutes of my talk, I showed a slide that includes the benefits of happiness. Happier people are more sociable, creative, resilient, insightful, productive, and successful. They are healthier and live longer. When I talked about these and other benefits, I found myself saying “I want to be this. I want our company and our industry to be this. I want the world to be this. And I want your help. So let me know if you know of anyone else who might want to see this talk.”

The Science of Being Happy and Productive at Work went viral. I ended up presenting it dozens of times to thousands of people. Some asked if I was getting tired of presenting it. To the contrary, I was energized and satisfied every time I presented. Soon I was expanding my focus to include more neuroscience and cognitive science.

As I presented at more conferences, I started getting asked if I could come to businesses and present. I started getting paid to do what I was enjoying more than anything I had enjoyed in my career to date. To my surprise, I found myself compelled to switch careers.

So I saved pennies, had long talks with my wife, thought a lot about it, and resigned from Intel in January. Starting a new career isn’t easy. But I’ve been thrilled to be able to work full time the past two months on making others happier and more productive. Nobody knows if I’ll be able to sustain a career helping others apply Happy Brain Science to work. But I know I’m happy trying.

Thanks to everyone involved who’s helped me get to this point. The list of individuals I want to thank is long enough to make for a very boring post. But if any of you are reading this, I hope you know I’m talking about you, and I hope I’ve expressed my gratitude to you directly. You’ve helped my career take the most surprising and satisfying turn of my life.

So that’s my story. What’s yours?