As the brilliant playwright and author William Goldman wrote, "Life is pain... anyone who says differently is selling something."
Almost every product tries to sell happiness. They just can't all be as blatant as Coca-Cola, who have been using the slogan "Open Happiness" for the last ten years to obliquely claim that the effervescence of their soft drinks isn't merely carbon dioxide, but concentrated joy.
Happiness is like vaporware: it's always advertised as a product feature, but never quite arrives as promised. It's suitably vague to accompany the semi-plausible, almost-real, too-good-to-be-true web products and services that form the basis of the modern digital economy.
It's not an outright scam, because we know happiness could exist, it does, somewhere out there, and we know it's possible to produce. But it's nearly impossible to package, order, and receive on demand.
Or at least it was, before Julius Dreyer put it on the blockchain.
Happiness.com is a microcosm of everything the internet has become in the 21st century: it's a social network, a media platform, a mindfulness app, and a cryptocurrency all rolled into one leviathan with a killer domain name.
On happiness.com, HAPPY, the happiness token, is touted as "the world's first and only liquid secondary market for one of humanity's greatest needs - happiness." The purpose of the token is to create an incentive to join a social media platform and community whose stated goal is to cultivate happiness within the community by sharing resources about mindfulness and mental health, and to spread the teachings and mindset (and token sales) to others.
Aspiring joiners buy into the system by making a donation to the Happiness Foundation and receive membership, which comes in several tiers with various levels of access to other community members and courses. The foundation then re-invests this donation by buying HAPPY off of cryptocurrency exchanges and distributing the coins within the community.
The coins' distribution is determined by users' contributions to the community: "Social actions such as 'likes' indicate subjective contributions to the community and result in immediate HAPPY distribution." Tokens are also used "to unlock premium features (utility), ticket sales, event promotion, advertisement and other services (payment)."
On the surface, it's similar to the cryptocurrency ecosystem that comes with the Brave browser. Instead of mining your interactions for data and paying you nothing but targeted ads in return like other social media platforms, Brave and Happiness use their tokens to respectively incentivize privacy-conscious web browsing and participation in a mindful social media network.
There's no place on the main web site to actually sign up for a happiness.com account, only a newsletter signup form. But on the "What We Offer" page, which is linked to an old version of the happiness.com homepage, there are three tiers of membership listed, represented by a human silhouette, a star, and a crown. Star and crown-tier members enjoy exclusive privileges within the social network like "Write to newcomers and popular members," "See photos, webcams and videos," and "Send someone a smile."
On the current homepage and even on this somewhat-buried page, there is no information on how much of a donation is required to get to these membership tiers, or how much the tokens exchanged for this donation would be worth. According to CoinMarketCap, at the time of writing the Basic Attention Token (BAT) used by Brave trades for ~$0.19, and HAPPY... is conspicuously absent from any exchanges.
There's Happycoin (HPC), the first coin made for the people of Thailand, currently worth ~$0.09 and accepted in about 40 locations on the peninsula, with a bonus shop in Laos and a crypto trading post in Russia. And there's Happy Creator Coin (HCC), trading for less than 1/10000 of $0.01, which originated in 2016 as a Korean altcoin, but whose homepage now redirects to a campaign website for Bitcoin Profit, a crypto-trading scheme with a buy-in of €250.
The whitepaper linked on the happiness.com website is a Google Doc open for anyone to edit, and as of March 12 contained the HAPPY token business plan. Although this was marked in red in the publicly available doc as "unfinished/outdated...", it's the only clue to the potential existence of the token. It details the Happiness Foundation's intentions to launch a "karma token sale" in Q2 of 2019 with approximately 3 billion tokens, each worth $0.01 USD - and a hard cap of €15M for the 50% released for public sale.
Elementus, a company which provides data visualization and exploration tools for blockchains, provides this handy visualization of token sales from January 2014 to August 2018 — and if you don't have time or wherewithal to watch it, the first big data point is Ethereum's $19M token sale in September 2014, with a massive peak in the number of token sales and money raised by them in February of 2018, as investors rushed to capitalize on Bitcoin's highest ever price in December of the previous year.
According to Elementus, at least in August of 2018, the market for ICOs was maturing, but in the latter half of 2018, the United States' Securities and Exchange commission started cracking down on token sales and ICOs, confirming that at least in the USA, they must be regulated as securities. Floyd Mayweather Jr. and DJ Khaled were both fined for promoting ICOs on their social media in November 2018, and in February of this year, a startup in Washington D.C. that raised $12.7M had to give all of their investors' money back because they were not properly registered as a security.
The exposure of many ICOs during this rapid growth period as blatant scams or ponzi schemes, as well as the murkiness of international regulations on utility tokens and coin offerings have caused a large amount of mistrust for the token sale business model among the U.S. and international communities of late, but there are still true believers in the decentralized app economy and token-based web ecosystems.
And if there's any place where a trustworthy, international, cryptocurrency-based social network should be, it's where Ethereum had their ICO in 2014, and is not coincidentally where the Happiness Foundation is registered: in Zug, Switzerland.
Who's behind Happiness?
The small city of Zug, an hour outside of Zurich, has been called Crypto Valley. It attracts international corporations with its low taxes and clear regulations about cryptocurrency in partnership with Swiss banks.
According to the outdated-but-yet-to-be-deleted section of the happiness.com whitepaper, "The Happiness Foundation’s [sic] is a non-profit foundation under Swiss regulation. It is registered in Zug, Switzerland. The foundation’s main objectives are to spread happiness and the adoption of HAPPY in the world."
While this location gives the crypto-token part of the happiness.com ecosystem a credible infrastructure, the Happiness Foundation based in Zug has no other online footprint or history besides what is written on happiness.com, where it is referred to as "a Swiss-based non-profit Foundation."
There is a Happiness Foundation based in the UK which is a conglomeration of psychologists, coaches, and therapists offering courses in things like EFT, a 90s fad treatment for trauma that consists of tapping on different parts of your own body while repeating affirmations of self-acceptance. Another Happiness Foundation sells t-shirts and apparel designed by one of the victims of a 2011 drunk driving accident, with all the proceeds going to prevent drunk driving.
There are Happiness Foundations all over the world: Ecuador's Happiness Foundation provides homes, schooling, and spiritual guidance for abandoned or neglected children; the Indian Happiness Foundation provided 60 underprivileged children in Banaras with education; and there's a Happiness Foundation in Korea dedicated to sponsoring social innovations.
If you've heard of the Way To Happiness Foundation... that's a branch of Scientology.
There's even a Happiness Foundation that claims a registered trademark on the name "Happiness Foundation," which offers consulting services to nonprofit organizations and was founded by Mickey Beyer-Clausen, a Danish-born, New York-based serial entrepreneur and philanthropist. And while Mickey may hold the registration in the U.S. for the name Happiness Foundation, his happiness foundation sits on happiness.foundation — an uncommon top-level domain released in May of 2014.
What Mickey doesn't have was snagged by Julius Dreyer in 2018: the happiness.com domain.
The Dreyer web empire
Would you be surprised to learn that the same man who founded happiness.com owns fuck.com, gays.com, fetish.com, as well as runs the escort service Kaufmich ("Buy me," auf Deutsch), web development offices in Shanghai, and a PR company out of Barcelona? And it all started at age 16 in Bielefeld, Germany.
In 1996, happiness.com was owned by Dr. Mike Greenwald and Dr. Robert Schwartz, a licensed psychologist and psychotherapist who created BalanceQUEST, "your guide to high quality information and materials for pursuing happiness and greater satisfaction in living." Only a year later, the domain had already been transferred to Front Range Internet, Inc., a still-extant internet service then based in Colorado. BalanceQUEST wrested ownership again for most of 1998, until Wilks Publications, publishers of a print magazine called Happiness, bought the domain.
As he writes on his blog, Julius Dreyer was only 15 in 1998, when he first discovered he could make money day trading on the stock market, and after a year he and his brothers, David and Robert began experimenting with setting up internet businesses with catchy domain names. One of the most popular sites they created was poppen.de, a casual dating site now available in English as fuck.com, which has had over 3 million registered members since its founding in 2004.
In 2004, shortly after Julius graduated, the Dreyers had enough success and financial independence from their web development projects that all three brothers moved to Shanghai to develop their online communities full time. In Shanghai, they established The Net Circle, a web development company that would flesh out the Dreyer empire of web products like gays.com, an LGBTQ dating site and one of the largest social networks in Germany in the early 2000s.
Wilks Publishing maintained happiness.com to advertise the magazine from 1999 until mid-2012, when the domain was transferred to GoDaddy. In this time, the Dreyers and their associates built several companies as IdeaWise Group ("Connecting people, Creating happiness"). The most notable is Kaufmich.de, established in 2009, which connects prostitutes to clients in Germany, where the practice has been legal since 2002. Julius left Shanghai and settled in Barcelona shortly after, and founded Playa Media, a community management and advertising company for all of their dating and casual encounters websites.
Happiness.com was purchased by Delivering Happiness in early 2013. Delivering Happiness was a community website and newsletter with a mission to "Nudge the world to a happier place," founded in part by Tony Hsieh, better known now as the CEO of Zappos, who also published a book on his entrepreneurship experiences on the early internet with the same title. Hsieh's team didn't stay there for long, redirecting happiness.com to deliveringhappiness.com from 2014 until mid-2017, when it was released to domain name service Uniregistry. The first iteration of happiness.com as we now know it appears in the Internet Archive in July of 2018.
What is Happiness?
The "About Us" section of happiness.com, which is no longer linked anywhere on the homepage (and whose web design looks suspiciously similar to some not-as-nicely-named German social networks) says:
"The site started in 2017 with a simple magazine on the topics of mental health, mindfulness, emotional development and happiness research, as these topics are very important to us and are always present in our everyday lives. After a year, the desire to create a community came together to not only share the knowledge, but also to be inspired by others, to support each other, and to make the deep social benefits of these topics easier to experience for a larger group of interested parties to do."
There is no mention of cryptocurrency in the short summary on this page, which ends with the puzzling line "Human values ??are a top priority for the company."
So what is happiness? A crypto scheme? A mindfulness magazine? A hot new dating site from the mind that brought us gays.com?
The beautiful thing about happiness is that it can be all of these things at the same time.