An Algorithm for Happiness

The Assignment

“An Algorithm for Happiness” was created for a graduate class in Emergent Digital Practices at the University of Denver. We were tasked to make a 1-3 minute video with no dialogue, under the topic of “Algorithms and Design.”


My whole life, I’ve been living and working with some very logical-minded people. As an emotive person, I have often found it difficult to translate my emotional expression into language that makes sense to the logical-minded people in my life. With this project, I aimed to incorporate an emotion many people (even the most logical-minded folks) strive for, happiness, into an algorithmic process. The code you see in “An Algorithm for Happiness” was written using a syntax mimicking Processing, a visual programming language.

Jumping for Joy (Over Unexpected Hurdles)

“An Algorithm for Happiness” is the second video project I’ve ever worked on. Before a couple of months ago, the techniques of videography and Final Cut Pro were pretty much foreign to me. Needless to say, when I imported my footage after shooting, I was pretty upset to discover that every single shot I’d recorded looked a bit jumpy. Perhaps I was asking too much of the computer, or perhaps I was setting a high bar for myself, but I decided that I needed to rethink how I was going to use the clips I’d already shot. It was my creative guru, my mom, who suggest putting everything in slow motion. I took the idea and ran with it, or walked with it, as the case may be. In the end, a problem I thought was irreversible turned out to be an unexpected creative push in a better direction. After putting everything together, I realized that I wouldn’t have wanted to do it any other way.

This situation also reinforced what I’ve been learning in graduate school – design is an iterative process. The best designs generally don’t come from the first try, and they almost never turn out how we originally expected them to. If we let them, our designs seem to take on a life of their own. Part of being a “good designer” isn’t just solving the problems we encounter, it’s about being able to reframe the “problems” and instead see them as opportunities to approach the project from a different direction.

What’s Your Happy Algorithm?

I didn’t want to make this video just for the sake of having an assignment to hand in on the final day of class – I wanted it to have a message for viewers to takeaway. I tried to break down exactly what it was about certain things I experience almost every day that really made me happy. I want viewers to look at the code and reflect on their own happiness. In an age of incessant digital media, it’s easy to get caught up in the bad news. It’s not hard to get distracted by negativity and to gloss over the things in life that do make us happy, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential. For different people, reaching “complete” happiness might involve working your dream job, being financially stable, love, and a lot of other things that many people spend their whole lives trying to attain. But happiness doesn’t start there. Happiness grows from taking a moment, slowing down, and appreciating the things you already  do have. I’ve shared part of mine, so I challenge you to consider: what’s your happy algorithm?


  1. Judy McCartney
    November 23, 2013 05:00 Reply

    Good morning Jinnie! This was all putting a smile on my face first thing this morning! I am so glad your dear mother shared the link so I could watch this. And I could not agree more –do what makes you happy. And with that thought I am off to the coffee pot! I hope you are enjoying grad school and it is not too stressful. Also hope you are getting an opportunity to enjoy Colorado as it is really an amazing state. Have fun!!!

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