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The road to happiness is quite literally not the shortest way. A team of researchers has figured out how to use our senses and evaluate which route from point A to point B will give you the most happiness. They found out that even two minutes can make a big difference between just getting to work and taking a short detour to smell the roses.

The concept started in 2014 after researcher Daniele Quercia took an alternative path on his morning commute that included beautiful, uncongested streets instead of the traffic packed street in Boston know as Massachusetts Avenue. This route only added two minutes to his commute, but was far more pleasant.


From urban scenes filled with the smell of a bakery to beautiful landscapes, Quercia and his team, Luca Maria Aiello and Rossano Schifanella, have begun to map cities around the world according to how pleasant they are to people.

“Technology is focused on efficiency and not connectedness,” says Aiello, a research scientist at Yahoo Labs London. “The idea is to balance and maximize efficiency versus the quality of life.”

There is no contesting the fact that happiness is linked to health – the happier we are, the healthier our bodies and minds. Happiness has been linked to decreases in stress and hypertension, a boosted immune system, shorter recovery times after injury and illness, decreases in the amount of experienced pain, and living a longer and healthier life. If adding an extra few minutes to your commute time could increase your overall happiness, and health, which route would you take?

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It is often subjective when trying to determine what people find pleasing in terms of sight or aromas; however, the Happy Maps team has found that there is a huge consensus on things that people find attractive. For example, in one part of his study, Quercia would show people two urban scenes – A: a busy street with concrete buildings or B: an open green park with historical red brick buildings. Unsurprisingly, most people select B.

Using this research and technology allows them to compile geo-tagged pictures on social media. The team has created maps with streets that are weighted for human emotions. They also use research being done by others, like a group in London who are building an application for people to record the smells they experience on different streets.

Simply known as Happy Maps, the team uses the power of social media to map the pleasantness of urban areas in cities like Madrid, Barcelona, Rome, London, Boston, San Francisco, and New York.

For more information about Happy Maps, watch Quercia’s talk on TED or explore the beta website for Happy and Smelly Maps.

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