The Push Toward Happiness

The Push Toward Happiness

As the Great Recession drags on, Americans continue to re-evaluate their values in light of the new reality. The looming question is, “Can we make our own happiness?” Let’s face it, we’ve been a society that’s largely based our happiness on acquiring things.

But now, stuff isn’t enough.

Instead, people are turning to balance close interpersonal relationships, community and the greater good. Finding fulfillment is about more than traditional economics.

That’s the thought behind French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s recent announcement that he plans to base his country’s progress on more expansive measures including environmental sustainability, access to health care, prison population, and happiness. That’s right – happiness. Not Gross Domestic Product. Not Consumer Confidence. Happiness.

Sarkozy has no doubt been influenced by the work of progressive economists including Nobel Prize Winner Joseph Stiglitz who are actively developing a more holistic measure than GDP of a country’s overall well-being.

So what we’re talking about is Gross National Happiness. You’ve probably heard about Bhutan – a small, landlocked central Asian country that’s guided by the principle of Gross National Happiness. Environmental degradation has been avoided, the nation’s traditional identity and culture have been consciously protected. Business Week ranked it as the happiest country in Asia in 2006.

Exactly how does one measure the GNH of a country? The UN Development Index and the New Economics Foundation’s Happy Planet Index are two places to start. The UN Development Index ranks the US as the 15th highest Human Development country. The top five include Iceland, Norway, Canada, Australia and Ireland.

On the Happy Planet Index, the US scores a woeful 30.7, compared with Columbia at 66.1, Norway at 40.4 and China at 57.1. War-torn Sudan is a 28.5. Are we only a tad happier than Sudan?

We have a momentous opportunity to redefine wealth. I recently ran across this quote from the BBC, “Sustainable wealth has nothing to do with meeting actual needs, basic needs. It’s to do with the long-term welfare for entire populations, not just the extra zeroes in the bank balance of individuals. To try to reconceive wealth in that way, it’s one of the moral challenges of the moment: wealth as the well-being of societies.”

So what does this have to do with marketing? As a trend, the search for happiness has waxed and wanted – and we’ve seen it before, especially after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 as Americans re-examined their priorities. From that exercise in self-reflection, the experience economy became the norm. Consumers wanted a relationship with brands. So now that consumers are once again seeking happiness and the experience economy is no longer providing the fulfillment they crave, what will fill the void?

Here’s my prediction: Consumers are transitioning from the experience economy to the economy of Meaning. They are seeking deeper meaning in more facets of their everyday life, from their relationships to their purchases. Accomplishment. Beauty. Validation. Community. Harmony. Truth. Creation. Justice. Freedom. Enlightenment. Redemption. Duty. Security. Wonder. And that’s just a few. The company that can help their customers find more meaning in their lives will emerge as the leader. It’s a different way to think about things, but it’s the way of the future.

About the Author

Karen Barnes

Karen is a former contributor to Shelton Insights.

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