Our mission statement, copyright notice, and cast of characters.

Tool Kit
Happiness Activities
Back to basics.

Applied Happiness Activity
A Letter from Thiagi
Reply when you feel like it.

Circles Jolt
Read the article and watch the movie.

Jolt Principle
Inside Every Lengthy Activity…
I've shrunk the activity!

Four Events for Game Designers
October and November 2008, January 2009, and later in 2009.

Learning Activities
Learning Activities Revisited - 7
Sampling activities and the Case Method.

Brian's Words
The Slow Learner by Brian Remer
Is this the definition of insanity?

Check It Out
Authentic Happiness
How happy are you?

Single Item Survey
Happiness Tips
Beyond “Don't Worry, Be Happy”.





To increase and improve the use of interactive, experiential strategies to improve human performance in an effective, efficient, and enjoyable way.

Editorial Roster

Editor: Sivasailam (Thiagi) Thiagarajan

Assistant Editor: Raja Thiagarajan

Associate Editor: Jean Reese

Contributing Editors: Brian Remer and Les Lauber

Editorial Advisory Board: Bill Wake, Matthew Richter, Samuel van den Bergh, and <type your name here>

Copyright Info

The materials in this newsletter are copyright 2008 by The Thiagi Group. However, they may be freely reproduced for educational/training activities. There is no need to obtain special permission for such use as long as you do not reproduce more than 100 copies per year. Please include the following statement on all reproductions:

Reprinted from THIAGI GAMELETTER. Copyright © 2008 by The Thiagi Group, Inc.

For any other use of the content, please contact us ( ) for permission.

Subscription Info

All registered subscribers receive Thiagi GameLetter free of charge.

However, to prevent us from becoming bankrupt, we have decided to adopt a Busker Protocol. If you like what you read, if you find it useful, and if you'd like us to continue publishing the newsletter, please feel free to chip in with any financial contribution. Our estimated annual cost for this newsletter is $30,000. So we suggest an annual contribution of $30 (which is less than one-third the subscription cost of Thiagi's earlier paper-based newsletter). We would appreciate any amount that you send us, but make sure it is less than $30,000 (since we don't want to make a profit). You can mail your check to Thiagi, 4423 East Trailridge Road, Bloomington, IN 47408 or call us at (812) 332-1478 to charge the amount to a credit card. Or you can charge your credit card online , through The Thiagi Group, Inc. Please let us know if you need an invoice for financial record keeping.

Feedback Request

Thiagi believes in practicing what he preaches. This is an interactive newsletter, so interact already! Send us your feedback, sarcastic remarks, and gratuitous advice through email to . Thanks!

Tool Kit

Trainers and facilitators use a variety of interactive, experiential strategies to improve human performance. Based on his two decades of research, Thiagi has identified, catalogued, and explored several different strategies. In earlier issues of the Thiagi GameLetter, the Tool Kit section has explored several of these specific interactive strategies and presented practical suggestions and field-tested examples.

This month, we explore a new (and slightly unusual) addition to our interactive tool kit.

Happiness Activities

Happiness activities are structured exercises that are undertaken by individuals to increase their level of sustained happiness. Most happiness activities are based on research evidence from positive psychology.

The Ultimate Goal?

As trainers and performance consultants, you and I work on measurable goals and objectives. If we repeatedly ask “Why?” to any personal or professional goal, we may reduce it to the most fundamental form.

Watch what happens: I telephone one my friends and ask her to tell me a current goal or objective she is working on.

She says, “I want to improve my writing skills.”

I ask, “Why?”

She explains, “Because I want to write better business proposals.”

I keep asking her “Why?” (This is a skill that I picked up from my grandson Jason.) I drive her crazy but she is intrigued enough to give me a series of responses:

Another telephone call to another friend results in another starting goal: I want to brush my teeth regularly.

Responses to my “Why” questions:

Try this experiment yourself. Ask a friend to share a goal, an objective, or a New Year's Resolution. Pester her with repeated Whys. In most cases, you will end up with I want to be happy or its equivalent.

If most goals and objectives can be ultimately reduced to the pursuit of happiness, why don't we bypass the enabling objectives and directly teach people to be happy?

Why Bother?

Maybe you don't want to sound like a New Age guru or a spiritual advisor. Maybe you are too embarrassed to suggest a Happy Workshop to your client or training manager.

Before you skip the rest of the article, consider this: Research shows a high correlation between happiness and desirable results in such areas as sociability, energy, charitable behavior, cooperation, popularity, getting married, staying married, networking, friendship, social support, flexibility, productivity, effective leadership, effective negotiation skills, resiliency, immune systems, health, and longer life. You can distribute copies of a 2005 report by Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, and Schkade, “Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change”, to emphasize this point. In addition, several other researchers suggest that a circular connection links happiness and success.

Being a sophisticated consumer of research reports, you may argue that correlation does not tell you which factor is the cause and which one is the effect. For example, if people become happier as they grow older, we cannot cause them to grow older by increasing their level of happiness. Recent experiments, however, go beyond correlation and suggest that happiness produces a broadening and building effect. Barbara Fredrickson (2005) and others have demonstrated that increasing happiness results in a person's ability to make more effective use of intellectual, physical, and social resources. Happiness makes your mind more expansive, tolerant, and creative. It makes you more open to new ideas and new experiences.

So if you want to develop smart, open-minded, and creative people, you may want to begin by increasing their happiness.

What Exactly Is Happiness?

The thesaurus has a confusing array of synonyms for happiness: amusement, bliss, cheerfulness, comfort, contentment, delectation, delight, desire, ecstasy, enjoyment, euphoria, exultation, felicity, flow, fun, gladness, gratification, hedonism, high, jollity, joy, jubilation, merriment, mirth, nirvana, rapture, recreation, relish, titillation, and zest. The wide range of definitions of these words does not help us get a clear understanding of what happiness is all about. To add to this confusion, until recently psychologists preferred to avoid happiness in favor of more politically acceptable terms such as positive affect, quality of life, subjective well-being, and life satisfaction.

For our purposes, let us point out that happiness is not a constant high. Nor is it a fleeting feeling or a state of denial of negative events as implied the stereotypical cliché, fat, dumb, and happy.

Among our preferred definitions, we like the statement that happiness is a preponderance of positive affect (such as joy, contentment, and pleasure) over negative affect (such as sadness, depression, anxiety, and anger) in an individual's experience.

More specifically, we prefer Tal Ben Shahar's definition of happiness as the overall experience of pleasure and meaning. In this definition, pleasure refers to the present benefit of enjoyment while meaning refers to the future benefit of purpose.

Martin Seligman goes a step further and identifies three time-based elements of happiness:

Can We Really Increase Our Happiness?

Before we explore happiness activities, let us ask an important question: Can we increase our level of happiness?

Currently, there is general acceptance among researchers of the conclusion by Sonja Lyubomirsky, who hypothesizes that a person's happiness level is governed by three major factors:

First, the bad news: There is strong evidence (primarily from studies of identical twins separated at birth) that the tendency toward experiencing happiness is an inherited characteristic. Sonja Lyubomirsky suggests that this hereditary factor (labeled as happiness set point) may account for as much as 50 percent of our capacity to experience happiness. This is why people who are elated after winning a lottery or depressed after suffering from a paraplegic injury return to their set point levels of happiness a few months after the incident.

More bad news: Most circumstances that surround your life do not affect your level of happiness. As conventional wisdom suggests, money cannot buy happiness. Christopher Peterson points out that there is no correlation between happiness and such circumstantial factors as age, gender, education, social class, income, having children, intelligence, or physical attractiveness. There is only a moderate connection between happiness and other circumstantial factors such as number of friends, being married, religiousness, leisure activities, physical health, and extraversion. Sonja Lyubomirsky estimates that these factors contribute to only about 10 percent of our capacity for happiness.

Here is the good news: After accounting for the 50 percent impact of the hereditary set point and 10 percent for life circumstances, there is still about 40 percent of our capacity to experience happiness that is still under the control of our voluntary activities and thoughts. This is where happiness activities enter the picture. Based on the practices of philosophical and religious sages through the ages and modern experimental research by positive psychologists, these activities have been shown to directly affect our capacity to experience happiness.

Happiness Activities

Here are brief summaries of 11 happiness activities, all of which have been experimentally validated. These activities are primarily based on the books and reports of Sonja Lyubomirsky, Christopher Peterson, Martin Seligman, and Tal Ben Shahar:

1. Best Possible Selves

This is an exercise for increasing your optimism. Think about and visualize what you will be doing and what you would have accomplished one year, five years, and ten years from now. Write down details of these fantasies to capture positive pictures of your best future. Repeat this activity once every month.

2. Comparing Fun and Philanthropy

Think of fun activities that you would enjoy (such as eating ice cream or playing card games with friends). Select one of these activities. Now think of activities that would be helpful to others (such as volunteering to babysit for your neighbor or picking up trash in a playground). Select one of these activities and set aside two days for performing them. On the first day, flip a coin to select whether you would do the fun activity or the philanthropic activity. Do the other activity on the next day. After completing both activities, think of your reactions: how you felt during and after completing each type of activity.

3. Gift of Time

Give someone a gift of the most valuable asset you have: your time. Spend time for your friend and with your friend. Do not keep track of how much time you are spending. Do not tell your friend that you are spending time with him or her. Spend as much time as needed to create an impact.

4. Gratitude Letter

Think of different people in your life (such as your teachers and childhood friends) who have helped you. Write a gratitude letter to a one of these people. Don't make this a short thank-you note, but create a heartfelt outpouring of your gratitude for the different ways in which this person has helped you. Be specific in identifying what this person did for you and how you benefited from these acts of kindness. Have a meeting with this person and read the letter. Or read the letter over the telephone. If this is not possible, mail the letter to the person. Repeat this activity for a different person each month.

5. Gratitude Journal

At the end of each day, identify three good things that happened to you. Jot down these things (for which you are grateful) in a daily journal. Make this a ritual before going to sleep at the end of each day.

6. Hardship Debrief

Think of a crisis that you faced or a loss that you endured. Write down details of this incident, including all things that caused you pain and suffering. Without disregarding or downplaying the painful aspects of this incident, think of some positive outcomes. Consider how this crisis made you stronger, more resilient, and more appreciative of other things in your life. Think of the new doors that have opened when some door closed on you during this crisis.

7. Have a Good Day

Take this usually mindless remark seriously. For the next two weeks (or the next month), rate how good each day was. Identify patterns among your good days and discover the factors that contributed to your positive feelings about those days. Then deliberately set about planning and achieving a great day.

8. Let Someone Else Shine

When you are working with someone else or with a team, do your best to support your partner or teammates. Without calling attention to what you are doing, help the other people take a major role in accomplishing the goal and feeling good about themselves. Be generous and genuine in publicly giving credit and praising others for their contributions.

9. Meaning, Pleasure, and Enjoyment

Make a list of activities and goals that are meaningful to you (things that increase your sense of purpose). Make another list of items that are pleasant (things that increase your enjoyment). Finally, make a list of your strengths (things you are good at). Compare these three lists and discover overlapping items. Use the information to create your Calling Specification (similar to a Job Specification). Plan to spend your work and family time incorporating various aspects of this specification.

10. Signature Strengths

Use a valid online instrument to identify your strengths. Take the free VIA (Values in Action) Survey at and receive personalized feedback on your top five signature strengths of character (from among a list of 24 strengths). (More than a million people from around the world have taken this survey, which was developed by Seligman and Peterson.) Alternatively, buy a copy of the book, StrengthFinder 2.0 (by Tom Rath, published by the Gallup Press) and take the online assessment associated with it. Receive personalized feedback about your top five strengths (from among 34 themes). Write down your top strengths and refer to them frequently. Discovering your strengths is the first step in leading a more engaged life.

11. Using Your Signature Strengths

Once you have identified your signature strengths as suggested above, reflect on each one of them. Select one of your strengths and brainstorm strategies for using that strength in new and different ways. Then spend a day (or a week) maximizing the application of this strength. Repeat the process with each of your other strengths.

Next Step

This issue of TGL identifies other resources and ideas related to happiness. Since most happiness activities are performed at the individual level, you may want to test them out on one the most easily available participant: yourself. Measure the impact of these activities by using the any of the readily available online instruments. If you are convinced of the effectiveness of the activities, you may then venture to train other people on their use.

Let's spread some happiness around!

Applied Happiness Activity

A Letter from Thiagi

Dear Friend:

Since March 21, 1998 (exactly 3976 days ago as I write this letter) I have been designing a training game (or a learning activity) every day. I write up these activities, clean up some of the stuff I have written, select the better ones, and publish them in my monthly newsletter.

People ask me, “Why are you doing this? What do you get out of it?”

I design training games and learning activities—and I write them up—because of you.

You are right. I probably don't know you. But I am grateful to you, the anonymous reader.

I don't know whether you read the newsletter online or print it out. I don't care. The fact that you are reading it (or printing it because you want to read it when you have time) makes me happy.

I am grateful to my readers who take the time to send me feedback. I am also grateful even if you merely thought, “One of these days, I've got to give this guy some feedback.”

I am grateful to the readers who sent me a donation check to keep the newsletter going. I am equally grateful if you merely thought, “Maybe I should send a small check.” I am grateful even if you don't know that you can send donations.

I am grateful if you actually used an activity or a game with your participants. That magnifies the time and attention given to the activity. I am grateful even if you merely thought, “Maybe I should try this activity one of these days!”

I am grateful because you are giving me something very precious. You are giving me a scarce resource. You are giving me a slice of your life. You are giving me your time and attention and that makes me feel happy, gratified, and special.

Thank you and have a playful day.




Circles Jolt

Challenge. You have 1 minute to do this. Copy the figure below on a sheet of paper. Complete this task without lifting your pen off the paper and without retracing any lines.

Two concentric circles with a diameter line drawn through them.

Another challenge. After you have done this (or after you have given up), here's the next challenge: This time, copy the figure below on another sheet of paper. The same restrictions apply. Don't lift your pen off the paper and don't retrace any lines.

Two concentric circles with a diameter drawn through the smaller circle.

More About this Jolt



Any number, working individually.


3 minutes


Copy of the two figures above.



Pens or pencils


In struggling to explain the solutions in a written form, we realized that a picture is worth a thousand words. Then we realized that a video is worth a thousand pictures. So we have created a cheap (but functional) video, using a Flip camera.

You can view the video on YouTube at .

Jolt Principle

Jolts are interactive experiential activities that lull participants into behaving in a comfortable way and then suddenly delivering a powerful wake-up call. Jolts force participants to re-examine their assumptions and revise their habitual practices. A typical jolt lasts only a few minutes but provides enough insights for a lengthy debriefing. Not all jolts entrap the participants; some of them suggest thought experiments and activities to provide enlightening insights.

At the January 2009 IAL Conference in Houston, I am conducting a preconference workshop on jolts with Tracy Tagliati. This workshop will contain several rapid design principles. Here's one of them:

Inside Every Lengthy Activity…

Inside every lengthy activity, there is usually a brief magical moment that produces major insights. If you can identify this moment, you can condense the activity into a rapid jolt.

Whenever I design a lengthy activity, I challenge myself to shrink it to 2 minutes. For example, my cross-cultural simulation Barnga lasts for 30 minutes to an hour. By focusing on the key moment in this simulation (that the assumption that everyone is playing within the same rules is incorrect), I am able to create a 2-minute version.

I have also shrunk lengthy simulations designed by other people. For example, I am familiar with several simulation games in the field of intercultural communication. Many of these games typically involve creating synthetic cultures with incompatible values, assigning participants to different cultures, and having them conduct elaborate negotiations under complex scenarios. One of the magical moments in these games involves the realization that what appear to be bizarre behaviors to us are customary behaviors to others.

Here's a quick jolt that captures the moment: As each participant walks in the training room, give her a small card with a cultural value and an appropriate behavior associated with it. (Example: You respect personal space. So stand at least an arm's length away from the others in your group when you are having a conversation.) Use as many different value-behavior cards as you can come up with. At the scheduled start time, ask participants to organize themselves into groups and come up with a ground rule that they would like to propose to the entire group. During this discussion, ask participants to incorporate the behavior specified in the value cards. Announce a 2-minute time limit and get out of the way.

After 2 minutes, debrief participants to identify the behaviors they found to be bizarre, irritating, offensive, weird, or unpleasant. Let them discover that all behaviors are based on desirable values and make logical sense to people who believe in those values.


Four Events for Game Designers

NASAGA 2008 Conference

Don't miss the NASAGA 2008 conference in Indianapolis (October 15-18). Visit the conference website for more information.

Here are some of the facilitators who will be conducting sessions at the conference:

Cynthia Beale, Dan Block, Ken Bellemare, Judee Blohm, Debi Bridle, Leeva Chung, Jim Clark, Michelle Cummings, Matt DeMarco, Tim Gustafson, Greg Koeser, Kate Koski, Les Lauber, Christine Martell, Chuck Needlman, Debbie Newmann, Chuck Petranek, Dave Piltz, Brian Remer, Matt Richter, Lou Russell, Chris Saeger, Becky Saeger, Nick Smith, John Steiner, Tracy Tagliati, Raja Thiagarajan, Sivasailam Thiagarajan, Stella Ting-Toomey, Samuel van den Bergh, William Wake, and Marian Williams

If they seem familiar, that's probably because they are all well-known training game designers and many of them have appeared as Guest Gamers in TGL.

Thiagi (and Tracy) in South Africa

We have been working with our South African representative Nigel Bailey of Gateways Business Consultants to bring the Thiagi Training Games workshop to South Africa for the first time in November 2008.

For more information, see the brochure (80K PDF).

IAL 2009 Conference: Liftoff for Learning

What if you

Join us in Houston (January 15-18) at the Liftoff for Learning conference. Thiagi (and Tracy) are scheduled to do a preconference workshop on Jolts. Thiagi will also conduct a session on accelerating the training design process.

For more information about the conference (and about accelerated learning), please visit the IAL website:

Thiagi Workshop in India?

We are working with Himadri Sinha of Oranje Training to bring Thiagi's workshop to Mumbai, India sometime in early 2009.

Learning Activities

Learning Activities Revisited - 7

Content and activity are the yin and yang of training. You need both to produce effective and engaging learning. Content without activity produces sterile knowledge. Activity without content results in wasted effort.

It is not enough if you have both content and activity. These two have to be carefully balanced, aligned, and integrated.

We have access to different sources of training content:

Over the past several years, we have been exploring different types of learning activities that can be used with different sources of existing content.

I discussed two or three learning activities in greater detail during each of the past six months. This month, I explore learning activities associated with samples and cases.

15. Sampling Activity

(Content Source: Samples)

The key element in a sampling activity is a collection of different examples (such as email subject lines, conference session descriptions, lead paragraphs of articles, or names of popular products). Participants analyze the samples, arrange them in different groups and sequences, identify key features, and list quality standards. Later, they apply their discoveries to create new products that meet their needs.

Sample Table Activity: The Best and the Worst

The training objective for this sampling activity is to write practical articles with how-to advice.

  1. Give a collection of short how-to pieces to each team. These items should contain practical advice on a variety of topics.
  2. Ask members of each team to review and discuss the items, and select the two best and the two worst examples.
  3. Ask the teams to prepare a checklist of dos and don’ts for writing how-to articles. The dos contain the features of the best examples and the don’ts contain the features of the worst examples.
  4. Ask the teams to collaboratively rewrite the worst example by removing the features that make it ineffective and by adding the features from the best examples.

16. The Case Method

(Content Source: Cases)

This learning activity involves a written account of a real or fictional situation (usually around a problem). Participants work individually and in teams to analyze, discuss, and recommend appropriate solutions. They also critique each other’s conclusions. In some cases, the facilitator recounts the actual decisions implemented in the real-world situation on which the case was based.

Sample Case Method Activity: Charlie in Chennai

The training objective for this activity is to explore cultural values related to gender and age in South India.

  1. Prepare a case about a woman working as a technical trainer in a high-tech company in Chennai, India. Keep the narrative about a page in length and include critical incidents that relate to mixed reactions to the trainer’s gender and age from local participants.
  2. Distribute copies of the case to each participant. Ask everyone to read the case, analyze it, identify key issues, write down significant points, and get ready for a discussion.
  3. After 15 minutes, invite a participant to present her analysis of the case. Later, ask for someone else to present an alternative analysis.
  4. Invite participants to discuss these analyses and key issues from the case. Avoid sharing your opinions or steering the discussion toward any specific conclusion.
  5. Conclude the discussion by suggesting that there are no correct answers in the analysis of intercultural interactions. Explain that everyone will experience a sense of frustration and a lack of closure in her overseas assignment because of multiple realities.

Brian's Words

Brian Remer is Creative Learning Director at The Firefly Group ( ). In addition to being a master of the 99-words format, Brian invents games and interactive strategies to expand learning and deepen insights.

The Slow Learner
by Brian Remer

The Slow Learner

One sweltering summer day, I sought relief on the screened porch. An enormous housefly was bouncing against the screen trying to get out. Feeling charitable, I waited until it got to the door then swung it open. But the fly kept bashing into the screen door anyway. I pushed the door open further. Still the fly ping-ponged against the screen never knowing a right angle turn would set it free. Finally I let the door swing shut.

When we don't see progress, what makes us think doing more of the same thing will set us free?

Check It Out

Authentic Happiness

Earlier in this issue of TGL, we talked about happiness activities. In this article we explored different definitions of happiness and different factors that affect your level of happiness. However, we did not get around to talking about measuring happiness or different factors associated with happiness.

Nowadays, measuring aspects of your happiness has become an easy task because the Internet is full of valid scales and questionnaires. You can use these instruments at your own leisure and your own pace. Another nice thing about these online measures is that you can get your scores and the interpretation of the results within seconds after you complete the questionnaire.

The best collection of happiness instruments is on Martin Selgiman's Authentic Happiness website, . Here is a list of 15 instruments that are included in this website:

Measures of Emotion

Measures of Engagement

Meaning Questionnaires:

Life Satisfaction Questionnaires

Single Item Survey

Happiness Tips

The BBC website has a wonderful section on happiness: . Among other things, this website features happiness tips from its readers. We decided to use this model for this month's single item survey.

Based on what you have read, heard, or experienced, can you give a suggestion on how to increase your happiness?

Here are some sample suggestions:

To contribute your response, visit this survey page (opens in a new window). You may include your name along with your suggestion or keep it anonymous. You may send more than one response.