We all what to find happiness in our lives – but what is it exactly, and how do we define it? The answer may be more complex than you think. According to a recent article by Harvard Business Review, the cultural variations of “happiness” are considerable. Not only do our views on happiness vary culturally, they actually change over time.
The American ideal of the pursuit of happiness, is despite popular belief, a relatively new concept. Until the 18th century, most of society’s conduct was, somewhat dreary and downtrodden. Many early Protestants firmly believed that we should, “allow no joy or pleasure, but a kind of melancholic demeanor and austerity,” says Peter N. Stearns of Harvard Business Review.
It wasn’t until the age of Enlightenment when attitudes changed and spirits were in a sense, lifted. Finally was it not only acceptable to pursue a life of happiness and fulfillment, but it was considered improper not to do so. So what took place to produce such a change? Historians have suggested an intellectual shift towards higher valuation and improved living conditions (especially for the middle and upper class) set the wheels in motion.
However, this was just the first wave of the movement. Happiness also continued to transform in the workplace. More individuals started working from outside the home, bringing increased annual wages and became overall more social. In some respects it was argued, this new middle-class had no reason not to be happy due to these circumstances.
From the 1920’s onwards, the final surge took place. Transitioning out of a manufacturing to a white-collared economy, consumerism became predominant, and advertisers began to understand that associating products with happiness spurred sales.
This concept propagated when Walt Disney came into our lives simply to “make people happy”. McDonald’s decided it wanted to give us “Happy meals”, turning a year older was celebrated with “Happy Birthday”, and an advertising executive managed to make popular a yellow smiley face, even in the wake of the Kennedy Assassination.
“We may not wish to alter the happiness culture that modern history has bequeathed us; its considerable problems may be outweighed by the pleasure of having cheerful artifacts and smiling faces around us,” says Stearns. “But we can at least consider the possibility of modification. In our happiness culture there might yet be, after a couple of centuries of acceleration, room for improvement.”
What does this mean for marketers? While our definition of happiness is sure to shift and shape in the years to come, it’s important to identify what happiness means to your consumers today. What may be described as happiness for a millennial, may mean something very different for a baby boomer. Ask yourself, what do they value, what makes them laugh, smile or relax? By identifying those subtle nuances and niceties that make your consumers feel happy, you can dramatically transform the way your customers view and interact with your brand.
Do you know what makes your consumers happy? If not, it might be time to find out.