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The Happiness Code

Last summer, three dozen people, mostly programmers in their 20s, gathered in a rented house in San Leandro, Calif., a sleepy suburb of San Francisco, for a lesson in ‘‘comfort-zone expansion.’’ An instructor, Michael Smith, opened the session with a brief lecture on identity, which, he observed, can seem immutable. ‘‘We think we behave in certain ways because of who we are,’’ he began. ‘‘But the opposite is also true. Experience can edit identity.’’

Continue reading the main storyIrrelevant Things Matter in Economic BehaviorMAY 8, 2015

The goal of the ‘‘CoZE’’ exercise, Smith explained, was to ‘‘peek over the fence’’ to a new self; by doing something that makes you uncomfortable and then observing the result. There was an anticipatory hush, and then the room erupted. One person gave a toast. A product manager at Dropbox broke into song. In a corner, a programmer named Brent took off his shirt, revealing a milky chest and back, then sat with his head bowed. (He would later walk around wearing a handwritten sign that read, ‘‘Please touch me.’’)

The exercise went on for an hour, and afterward, participants giddily shared their stories. One person described going onto the patio and watching everyone else through the window, in order to experience a feeling of exclusion. Another submerged his hand in a pan of leftover chicken curry, to challenge his natural fastidiousness. Unexpectedly, he enjoyed the experience. ‘‘It felt playful,’’ he said.

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