Defining Happiness to Build Brands: Personality November 2016
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The first three happiness reports suggested various ways for organizations to foster consumer happiness socially and experientially—for example, by facilitating volunteer opportunities (Defining Happiness to Build Brands: Happiness or Meaning?), by framing consumption as experiences (Defining Happiness to Build Brands: Experiential versus Material Happiness), or by invoking comparison standards favorable to one's own standing on a valued dimension of happiness (Defining Happiness to Build Brands: The Basics). Sonya Lyubomirsky (University of California, Riverside), author of The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, But Doesn't, What Shouldn't Make You Happy, But Does, suggests that about 40% of the happiness level in a person's life is attainable through intentional activity (for example, through volunteering at a local animal shelter or taking one's children to the park). Lyubormirsky explains further that about 10% of a person's happiness level may be due to circumstances (for example, the presence or absence of childhood trauma, where one lives, one's age, one's marital status). Finally, as much as 50% of a person's chronic happiness level may be due to a genetic set point for happiness. According to the set-point argument, individual people will feel idiosyncratic levels of happiness simply because of heritable factors, in addition to intentional activity and circumstances. Studies using monozygotic twins who grew up apart show that the degree of heritability of the stable component of happiness is about 0.80 out of 1.00. Set points relate to the relativity of happiness. A person with a relatively low level of "stable" happiness will feel happier after receiving a promotion, eating a tasty meal or spending time with friends, but still not as happy as a person with a relatively high level of stable happiness who did not experience similar boosts in happiness.
Part of a person's happiness set point may originate from temperament in childhood and, ultimately, from adult personality. Personality researchers widely accept that personality is largely genetically determined. A study by Nooshin Pishva of the University of Tehran and her colleagues correlated measures of personality (from the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire) with measures of happiness (from the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire). Results showed that Extraversion (a preference for being around other people and for being the center of attention) relates positively with happiness, whereas Neuroticism (a tendency toward anxiety, fear, moodiness, worry, envy, frustration, jealousy, and loneliness), unsurprisingly, relates negatively with happiness. Importantly, Extraversion and Neuroticism are stable personality characteristics throughout a person's life and, therefore, likely contribute to the genetic set point for happiness.
Sonya Lyubormirsky and colleagues define a person's age as a circumstantial determinant of happiness. In "The Shifting Meaning of Happiness," Cassie Mogilner (University of Pennsylvania) and her colleagues examined over 12 million sentences on blogs and websites using the "We Feel Fine" web crawler and found that younger people (younger than age 25) associate happiness predominantly with excitement, whereas older people (older than age 50) associate happiness predominantly with peacefulness. The authors measured happiness in a subsequent survey directly using a standard measure developed by Dr. Lyubormirsky in 2001, using the statements ''In general, I consider myself happy''; ''Taking all things together, I feel I am happy''; and ''Compared to most of my peers, I consider myself happy.'' Additionally, participants reported how often they felt excited rather than peaceful. Results confirmed the association between happiness and excitement for younger people and happiness and peacefulness for older people.
Together, personality and demographic factors may account for a large proportion of variability in self-reported happiness, well-being, and meaning in life. The US VALS™ system, for example, combines various consumer personality traits (including leadership ability, variety-seeking proclivities, and mechanical interests) and demographic variables to create an explanatory framework for various expressions of lifestyle. In light of the previous discussion here, VALS Experiencers are young, impulsive, irreverent, novelty-seeking, and action-oriented consumers who experience happiness predominantly as excitement. Thinkers, by contrast, are an older and more self-reflective, mature, and satisfied group and experience happiness primarily as peacefulness.
Future happiness branding may profit from a differentiation of happiness definitions by various consumer groups that have different set points for happiness but also experience happiness differently.
The following table summarizes the happiness phenomenon that the present series of reports discusses and suggests ways to measure happiness for brand managers and consumer researchers.
Happiness Summary Table
|Element of Happiness
|Pleasant taste, smell, sight, or touch
|Neurotransmitters (for example, dopamine)
|Short-term boost in mood; cheerfulness
|A Dunkin Donuts glazed donut, Boss Orange fragrance, sunshine on a cloudy day, and silk garments all appeal to the senses.
|GDP; belongings (for example, television, computer, refrigerator, furniture)
|Increase in life satisfaction up to a point (about $75,000) and then a decrease in life satisfaction
|Rich parents and poor parents are more likely than middle-income parents to have children who suffer from anxiety and substance abuse.
|Rank/relative standing in a group
|Average income levels; resources of relevant (similar) comparison groups or people
|Decrease in life satisfaction if one's score is below average; increase in life satisfaction if one's score is above average
|Poor people in Chile feel less happy than poor people in Honduras, because median incomes in the countries are different. Similarly, a person with an annual household income of $75,000 in San Francisco, California, feels poorer than does a person with the same income in Flint, Michigan.
|The company of significant other people
|Time spent working versus time spent on relationships
|Increase in life satisfaction with increase in time spent with others
|A college professor who chooses to give up a summer teaching appointment and additional salary to spend time with family will generally feel happier than a professor who works during the summer.
|Sharing an experience with someone versus sharing an object; defining a car as an experience rather than as a possession; feeling less bothered socially when comparing experiences rather than belongings with people
|Greater enjoyment of experiences than of material consumption among various demographics, except consumers with little disposable income; willingness to pay for experiences rather than for material purchases; less satisfaction with extraordinary than with ordinary experiences, because of difficulty in relating to others
|A person feels richer after going on vacation than after buying a Toyota Sienna, unless the Toyota is an experiential tool that makes a vacation better.
|Donation of time
|Emotions, connections, meaning
|Stronger feeling of meaning when donating time than when donating money; greater feelings of meaning from donations subsequent to first donation
|A person who spends every Saturday afternoon walking dogs at the local animal shelter feels happier than does the person who gives a monthly check to the shelter.
|Parenting, volunteering, caring about others, spending time with others
|Meaningfulness possibly independent of happiness
|A person on a fixed income who spends time with grandchildren every week and volunteers time at the local church feels meaning in life despite having limited resources.
|Higher or lower set points for happiness
|One person seems to have a smile all the time; another always seems grumpy and grumbles about potholes in the street.
|Extraversion, Neuroticism, various VALS personality facets
|Extraverts: happier over time than Neurotics
|One person is the life of any party, and friends adore the person's wit and style.
|Younger people: happiness as excitement
|The young person is going to a concert.
|Older people: happiness as peacefulness
|The older person is sitting down with a good book and a cup of tea.