The Science of Sparking Joy

Is it possible to figure out a formula for what triggers the pure and unbridled happiness we call joy? And if we had a formula, how could it inform making stories and characters that bring more joy into kids’ lives?

Is it possible to figure out a formula for what triggers the pure and unbridled happiness we call joy? And if we had a formula, how could it inform making stories and characters that bring more joy into kids’ lives?

This was the question that led Gigglebug Entertainment CEO and Co-Founder, Anttu Harlin, to start a project to find out what joy means to a young audience and how it could, and should, become an industry-wide metric.  Anttu’s project was supported by research from KidsKnowBest CSO Pete Robinson. 

“Can we reach through the television and make an impact on a child’s sense of wellbeing?” Shivani Lamba

When it comes to measuring the success of kids’ content, the leading metrics have long been revenue and audience share. But what these don’t capture is the impact the content has on the audience, how it might make kids laugh or how the characters stay with them.

 These limited metrics leave the opportunity for something else, a measurement that puts kids and their opinions at the heart to find what boosts their happiness and well-being. If joy could be identified and measured, it opens up vast opportunities to dust off those diamonds in the rough and predict those sleeper hits that could lead to passionate fandom. It could help the industry lift new voices and uncover engaging stories and exceptional talent earlier.

What is joy? 

“Joy is a lot deeper than gags and comedy, and in turbulent times like we’re living in today, sparking laughter and joy is something that parents and families are really appreciative of. For kids who have been isolated from friends and family, moments of joy are incredibly important, now more than ever.” Anttu

Joy is more than just laughs and moments of pleasure; it’s something longer-term and more prevalent. It stays with you and boosts your sense of wellbeing over time. Joy is about more than moments of pleasure you don’t remember after the fact, it comes down to having something that’s fun but also with a sense of purpose (learning, relatability, can tell and share with their friends). Through this, joy becomes a useful umbrella word to describe a long-lasting sense of pleasure and well-being.

It’s possible to measure how kids enjoy video content through observing when they laugh and where they look, or when they get distracted and bored. The challenge with measuring joy is how to spot the potential there that this could be an experience that stays with the kid beyond the moment of watching something. 

“We all want to be understood. We want to enjoy shared joy. I ‘Peppa’ snorted at her (friend’s 2-year-old daughter), and you can see how deep that emotional engagement is, how understood she felt by me. I didn’t need to say I like Peppa” Esra Cafer – SVP, Global Brand Management eOne Family Brands

What joy means to kids

From the start of the project what was clear was the need for kids to tell us what joy meant for them and so as part of a global study, we asked them.

The meaning of joy shifts across age groups as kids hit different development stages. For the 10-12 age group, the focus of joy becomes on content that’s funny. We know from a development perspective they are looking for laughs, they’re at a stage when they are becoming incredibly social and they are looking for content to help get them laughs in their social groups and to share laughs. With the older age group, drama starts to come in as more complex emotions come to the fore.  What’s consistent across all three is fun and character being a driver. 

“Emotions are not trivial, there is a very wide and subtle spectrum. But joy is important – and you can only get to the light of joy, authentically, if you find the courage to let your narrative truly inhabit the shadow” Mikael Shields, CEO Acamar Films

So how can you measure joy? 

The challenge of measuring something as objective as joy needs a considered approach. To develop this, Anttu and Pete have begun the project by consulting a wide range of contributors including academics, researchers, broadcasters, producers and kids, to uncover how joy could be measured and how this measurement could then be embraced by the wider industry. 

The discussions were centered on three key points; 

1. Focussing on video of all forms 

2. How would this work globally

3. Lending on existing and tested validated metrics, incorporating a literature review of the existing clinical and psychological studies around well-being, health, happiness of how content can deliver valuable outcomes and experiences.

The next stage

The next step of the project will be to build a rubric, starting with the known unknowns identified by the industry experts. We will then consult with kids about how they value joy, where they experience it short term and long-term. By combining this with expert opinions and a literature review of existing studies into measuring well-being among adults, the outcome will be to a rubric that we can measure joy on. By observing and iterating, we’ll soon be able to measure content that can, and will, deliver joy both short-term and long-term. And we know that if you’re doing high on the joy metric, you’ll do high on the others. 

This is just the beginning of an initiative with the goal of influencing change to deliver better content.  The hope is to uncover a metric to measure joy and ultimately partner with an annual event for a joy award. But the success of it will rely on the broad industry involved and using the metric in practice. If you’re interested in contributing to this ongoing research about joy, please get in touch with us:

Read next: YTS Report: The New Hobbies on the Rise