April 4, 2011
Happiness becomes a hot topic, from governments on down
Happiness is all the rage these days, the focus of government initiatives, books, nonprofits, even marketing classes. A lot of the attention has focused on the U.K.’s National Wellbeing Project, an attempt by Prime Minister David Cameron to measure a different kind of progress than what’s reflected by GDP. Cameron is taking a cue from Nicolas Sarkozy—who initiated a plan to measure national happiness three years ago—and France’s leader in turn followed Bhutan, where the phrase “gross national happiness” was coined in 1972. (The Buddhist kingdom is now leveraging the trend, recently introducing the tagline “Happiness is a place.”) In China, officials describe a new five-year plan as paving a path toward a “happy China.’”
Recent books include Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, which has been a best-seller, and The Politics of Happiness, from former Harvard president Derek Bok. Action for Happiness is a new U.K.-based nonprofit dedicated to “creating a happier society for everyone,” co-founded by labor economist Richard Layard (“the daddy of happiness science”). Meanwhile, British researchers are using the Mappiness app to help determine how environment affects happiness.
Understanding what makes people happy (a field of research that’s “exploding“) is important for brands. At Stanford, marketing professor Jennifer Aaker teaches a course called “Designing Happiness” to business school students. “The idea of brands enabling happiness and providing greater meaning in the world is powerful,” she recently told Fast Company. “People have an aversion to anything that feels overly manufactured.”
Her case studies include Coca-Cola’s “happiness machine,” one of various ways in which the brand has played off the concept, from its “Happiness Factory” to the recent “happiness truck.” “Marketing happiness expands the idea of what it means to buy something,” as Fast Company noted. A range of other marketers have been making a direct connection to happiness as well, including Lay’s in the U.S., Walgreens in Puerto Rico and Dutch airline KLM.
Why is happiness so hot? The disruptive events of the 21st century—from 9/11 to the global downturn—have stirred up questions about what’s important in life. Many have embraced simpler pleasures, for example (one of our 10 Trends for 2009). There’s also a rising sense that “As our society has become richer, our happiness has not risen in step,” as Action for Happiness puts it, and that “Emotional prosperity is not the next e-mail in a relentless life,” as The New York Times’ Roger Cohen noted in a column on “happynomics.”
Photo credit: www.ons.gov.uk/well-being