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Janxin Leu

Resilience and Renewed Purpose: Reflections from the MLOVE ConFestival

August 9, 2013

By Janxin Leu, Director of Product Innovation

I recently spoke at the 2013 MLOVE ConFestival, a celebration of mobile tech and its potential to inspire us. The event is something like a TED – Burning Man mash-up.  Even better, this particular event took place in a castle, tucked away in a German village.  Needless to say, it was an adventure.

So, why was I there? My colleague Fred and I were invited to share HopeLab’s resilience initiative with the MLOVE community.  I was going to present key empirical findings illustrating how three psychological experiences (purpose, connection, and control) can help us all bounce back from adversity.  I had a million questions heading into the event: Could I move technologists to join us in a mission to use mobile technology to help people thrive? Could I be authentic? Would I belong there?

Before joining HopeLab this year, I was a professor of psychology at the University of Washington, running my own research lab with graduate students, giving talks to scientists, and teaching undergraduates.  Fast forward a few months, and I’m on stage before a few hundred developers, designers, and thought leaders in the tech world. I felt unsure in this new role, even though I’ve given hundreds of lectures in the past.

Then right before my presentation – the opening keynote, no less – fellow speaker Jonathan MacDonald stepped on the stage to set the tone for the gathering.  He spoke of his experiences as a black boy growing up in England in the ’70s.  Of being adopted and severely bullied.  He also spoke of his rise.  From finding allies after being stabbed with a barbeque fork and losing consciousness.  To building a successful business in the music industry despite the odds, losing that business to a corrupt partner – and building it again.  The mandate Jonathan delivered to all of us present shot straight to my heart:

Keep your eyes on the main thing in your life, and keep the main thing, the main thing.

Fred and I both had tears in our eyes when Jonathan left the stage.  And that is when I felt a jolt of energy. I experienced a renewed sense of purpose for what I wanted to communicate to this community – my main thing:

I love science. I believe science can change the world and reduce human suffering.  And I love proselytizing the empirical word.

In that moment before stepping onstage, I found myself again.  And then I gave one of the most memorable talks of my life.


Happy Genes: How Positive Psychology Impacts Human Gene Expression

July 29, 2013

Your state of mind can affect your physical health – it’s the kind of thing we intuitively understand. Now science is offering some powerful new insights into this mind-body connection.


A study by researchers at UCLA’s Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology (including Steve Cole, HopeLab’s head of R&D) and the University of North Carolina shows that a good state of mind, or happiness, affects your genes. But there are different types of happiness, and these different types have different effects. According to a UCLA Newsroom post, the study found that:

“People who have high levels of what is known as eudaimonic well-being — the kind of happiness that comes from having a deep sense of purpose and meaning in life (think Mother Teresa) — showed very favorable gene-expression profiles in their immune cells. They had low levels of inflammatory gene expression and strong expression of antiviral and antibody genes. However, people who had relatively high levels of hedonic well-being — the type of happiness that comes from consummatory self-gratification (think most celebrities) — actually showed just the opposite. They had an adverse expression profile involving high inflammation and low antiviral and antibody gene expression.”

Insights like these are informing our own resilience initiative at HopeLab, as we explore ways to use technology to create psychological and social experiences that measurably improve our physical health and general well-being.


A full report on the research appears in the current online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

And you can see Dr. Cole share insights from this research at last year’s Science of Compassion: Origins, Measures, and Interventions event.

Yelena Kozlova

Cancer Survivors Talk Re-Mission 2 at OMG 2013 Summit

May 10, 2013

OMG, what a ride! We took Re-Mission 2 on the road to Las Vegas and got our game on, Stupid Cancer style. HopeLab was a sponsor of the OMG 2013 Stupid Cancer Summit, and it was great fun sharing the games with the more than 550 young adult cancer survivors who participated.

Watch this clip to see what OMG 2013 attendees had to say about Re-Mission 2:

As you can see, people at the event were courageous and open, ready to connect and share their thoughts on Re-Mission 2 and their experiences fighting cancer.  For me, listening to their stories was a powerful reminder of the preciousness of life and human resilience. And it was rewarding to hear folks say over and over again: “I wish I had these games when I was going through my treatment!”

Some people we met were new to the Re-Mission games concept, but many members of the Stupid Cancer community were no strangers to the original Re-Mission game released by HopeLab in 2006. My colleagues also got to re-connect with some of the young adults who helped create theRe-Mission 2 games while they undergoing cancer treatment.  There was a lot of conversation and gameplay as people had fun catching up!

The OMG 2013 Stupid Cancer Summit was one of the most meaningful conferences that I’ve ever experienced. Special thanks to the founder of Stupid Cancer, Matthew Zachary, and his team for creating such a personal, real, joyful and life-inspiring experience for all of us fortunate enough to be involved.

The event both inspired us in our work to get Re-Mission 2 to young people fighting cancer and served as a powerful reminder for all of us to appreciate life and to get busy living!


Game Time at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital

April 23, 2013

Last week the HopeLab team packed up our laptops and headed over to Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital (LPCH) down the road in Palo Alto to share Re-Mission 2 games with patients and hospital staff.  On hand were some of the young people with cancer who helped us design the games by offering input on characters and gameplay to help us amp up the fun factor.

Were the kids as excited about the finished games as we are? Seems so!

The mom of one young man who was particularly involved in Re-Mission 2 game development said, “He’s just wrapped up his treatment, and this was literally the first week in two and half years we didn’t have to be at the hospital for an appointment. And then he heard about this event, and he insisted on coming!”

The event gave us a chance to say thank you to the kids and hospital staff who helped make Re-Mission 2 possible. We could not have done it with out them. In fact, HopeLab and LPCH go way back – the oncology staff at the hospital were early supporters of the original Re-Mission game, and LPCH was one of the sites for the Re-Mission Outcomes Study. We were thrilled to have them back on board, along with a number of other hospitals across the country, to help make Re-Mission 2 a reality.

Once again, thanks to everyone at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital for all your enthusiasm and support. Play on!


Cancer-Fighting Gameplay: The Re-Mission 2 Trailer

April 17, 2013

Slice and dice! Seek and destroy! That’s what adolescent and young adult cancer patients told us they wanted to do to their disease. This new Re-Mission 2 trailer shows off some of that action in the games, but to get the full cancer-fighting experience you’ll have to spend some quality time blasting (and chomping, zapping and blowing up) cancer at www.re-mission2.org (games go live April 29).

Click play for a preview. More inside details after the clip!

How did we decide on the gameplay styles? HopeLab worked with over 120 young adults and kids with cancer to develop Re-Mission 2, and when they spoke, we listened.  The action in each game was informed by insights from these game co-developers, who we met at hospitals all over the U.S. In fact, the HopeLab R&D team flew thousands of miles to find out exactly how cancer might be chopped and destroyed in a game for maximum fun.

And here’s a little insider info: Nicole Weedon, who created this trailer, was also the mastermind behind the background art that you’ll see on www.re-mission2.org. Our adolescent and young adult co-developers let us know that they wanted to fight cancer inside the body, and Nicole worked hard to make that feel real on the website.


Your brain on Re-Mission

March 14, 2012

When I joined HopeLab in 2005 the notion that gaming might actually be good for you was a radical idea.  Indeed, many viewed games with downright suspicion.  Today, games are everywhere, and a growing body of data and popular commentary are making the case that games have real power to improve lives in many ways.  Our own study of the positive effects of Re-Mission on health behaviors among young people with cancer provided scientific evidence for the potential for games to positively impact behavior and improve health.

But until recently, we haven’t understood exactly how game-based tools can achieve this.  What are the “active ingredients” in games that can be intentionally designed to elicit specific behaviors?  Over the past several years, HopeLab has been doing some deeper research to tackle this question.

Read More »


How games can change the world

July 11, 2011

HopeLab’s Richard Tate speaks with Saatchi & Saatchi S, a sustainability and innovation consulting company based in San Francisco, for their Saatchi S Blog. He explores the success of the Re-Mission game and the social change potential of harnessing the power and appeal game technology, especially to improve kids’ health.


Liz Song

TEDYou: My Journey

March 23, 2011

Earlier this month, a few of us at HopeLab attended the TED2011 conference (at both Long Beach and TEDActive in Palm Springs) to partake in the annual inspiration feast. This year’s theme was The Rediscovery of Wonder, and the talks ranged from David Brooks’ social, economic, and political commentary (who made me LOL for almost the entirety of his 18-minute talk), to Sarah Kay, a 22-year-old spoken word poet who imparted life wisdom from beyond her years, to surgeon Anthony Atala, who printed a 3D kidney on stage!

As a first time TEDster, it was a remarkable experience to actually be at the conference and be amidst the empowered energy that radiates from everyone.

I was particularly struck by the community TEDActive draws. It’s a smaller group, coming in at just under 600 people. (Apparently quite intimate, compared to Long Beach’s 1500+ attendees.) The engaging TEDActive projects, inspiring dialogue that flows as a constant state of being, genuine openness to get to know people, satiating food trucks, frisbee playing, art making, fun loving group is irresistible! They even have their version of TEDUniversity, called TEDYou. It’s an opportunity for any of the TEDActive attendees to submit and idea for a talk.

Astonishingly, I was selected among my peers to share my personal photography. I use the word astonishingly because I was truly…astonished! It was completely unexpected and I didn’t think the TEDYou gods would select lil ole me from Redwood City. But they saw something that I couldn’t quite see at the time. They saw that I had something valuable to share and opened up an opportunity for that.

And so, I was allotted four precious minutes on stage. In preparation for those four minutes, I curated three years worth of photographs, timed it with a beautiful song called Mile Marker by Amy Seeley, and paired it with an articulation my life journey. And to my delight, emerged this piece:

The best part of it all isn’t that I can now claim my “I spoke at TED event” button (they have those right??). The best part was feeling overwhelmed with love and support from people who I respect and adore. What a gift! Sharing my story at TEDActive was simply the best fruit dessert you can imagine – juicy and delicious. The entrée was the journey before it.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post and watch the piece.

I’d love to hear your reflections and reactions.




My Top 3 of 2010 – What Are Yours?

January 6, 2011

2011 is well underway, but 3 social media campaigns from 2010 are still on my mind. Each is notable for its positive purpose, its worthy and instructive success (I’m thinking of ways we can borrow from each in our own work), and because social media made them possible. Here are my 3 best of 2010 – what are yours?

Sesame Street Spoofs
The classic kids’ program gets hip with riffs on Mad Men, True Blood, even the new Old Spice guy, demonstrating the Streets power to educate and entertain children (and their parents) via YouTube and smart phones just as well as it does on PBS and good ol’ TV.

KaBOOM! Members Project
The playground-building nonprofit puts out a call to action to save play and wins $200K from the American Express Members Project to support it’s work – and attracts a lot of new admirers along the way.

It Gets Better
In response to a rash of antigay bullying and related suicides, Pixar and White House staffers, sports heroes and pop stars, and hundreds of others came out in droves to post inspiring video testimonials for struggling LGBT youth who can’t picture what their lives might be like as openly gay adults. As far as social media campaigns go, it doesn’t get much better than this.


Thank you – yes, YOU

December 15, 2010

’Tis the season for shopping, parties, and merriment. ‘Tis also the season for reflection and gratitude. In the spirit of the holidays, we thought we’d hit pause and thank you for all your support.

Yes, we mean YOU! Our regular readers, followers, friends, kid experts, product testers, research participants, collaborators and partners. Our one-time site visitors, proud parents of staff, family and friends of friends who take an interest in what we do here at HopeLab. And most importantly, the young people around the world who use our products.

Thank you from all of us at HopeLab. We <3 you all!

Special thanks to our funding partners at the ESA Foundation, Vivendi, the Lance Armstrong Foundation, CIGNA, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation – we appreciate your ongoing support.