Companies are planning to use your data to sell you "happiness," but they are barking up the wrong tree.
By Laura Musikanski, Executive Director, The Happiness Initiative
Open Happiness. Remember that ad? Coke would have you believe that all you need to do to feel happy is buy their product. Now Apple and Google are seeking a patent to use happiness data to sell you more stuff. They want to monitor your heart rate, the pressure applied to your screen, your facial expressions and your consumption patterns. Feeling down? Buy something to feel better. Feeling good? Buy something to hold on to that feeling.
What’s wrong with this scenario? It does not work.
The Easterlin Paradox: The Limits of Stuff
Common sense tells us money can’t buy happiness and more stuff is not going to make us feel better. Science has shown that indeed, after a certain level of income – about $75,000 for a family – having more does not make you happier.
In fact, having more may even make you unhappier. This is called the Easterlin Paradox. A paradox because when we really need more, we are happier when we have more money and stuff. After that, happiness comes from other sources: family, friends, helping others and a myriad of other ways to better oneself and others that has little to nothing to do with getting more, consuming more or having more.
A quote from the Bible that most of us know – religious or agnostic – is “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mark 10:25) And across the board, everyone can quote the phrase in our Declaration of Independence that grants us all an “ inalienable right to…life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
The knowledge that more stuff is not the key to our happiness or well-being is part of our culture and engrained in each of us. Yet, most marketers today would have us believe if you want to get and stay happy, you need the latest iPhone and a ton of apps, and they want to capitalize on that belief using happiness data.
The New Economic Paradigm of Happiness
The happiness movement was officially launched in April 2012 at the high-level “Happiness and Well-being: Defining a New Economic Paradigm” meeting held at the United Nations. Then-Prime Minister of Bhutan Jigme Thinley was joined by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in an urgent call for “a new economic paradigm that recognizes the parity between…social, economic and environmental well-being…”
They asked for balance at the individual, as well as policy, level. They envisioned a future where we would place our society and environment on the same level of importance as our economy.
The Metrics of Happiness
A large part of the happiness movement is about data gathering to realize this vision. For example, The World Happiness Report, issued by Columbia University, rates countries according to their level of happiness. That reports helps us understand how happiness measures can be used to guide companies and policy makers make decisions for the well-being of all—people and the planet.
Another example is an app being developed by John C. Havens, Executive Director for The H(app)athon Project that helps users track their values and life satisfaction as a way to improve their wellbeing while providing policy makers a better understanding about what makes their citizens happy. According to John:
“It’s important that these companies educate users on how mood study and passive data can improve their lives beyond just improving how they’re marketed to.”
The worry is that people will neither be aware of nor benefit from happiness data gathering by Apple, Google and companies that follow suit.
Real Happiness Data Points
Happiness data tells us a lot about what is important to people. Over 31,000 people have opted to take The Happiness Initiative’s Gross National Happiness Index. We are rating ourselves highest in social support. People respond positively to questions like:
- Do people in your life care about you?
- Do you feel loved?
- Are you satisfied with your personal relationships?
- Are you satisfied with the support you get from your friends?
And money can’t buy that. Spending more time with the people you care about will “open happiness.”
How Companies Can Use Happiness Data to Support the Triple Bottom Line
Companies can use happiness data in way that positively impacts our society, environment and economy.
According to the World Happiness Report, happier employees are more productive, innovative and sick less. Studies by happiness scientists Ed Diener and John Helliwell tell us that when people feel like they can trust each other, there is greater stability and well-being. And a report issued by the New Economics Foundation, Time on Our Side, tells us sometimes less is more, as has been found when companies reduce hours to partial or part time rather than lay-off people. The result is more job security and a more stable economy.
Most importantly, happiness science tells us what really makes us happy is giving our time and attention to others, expressing gratitude and expanding our capacity for compassion. This is where the happiness movement ushers in a whole new market that can bring people into true, authentic and sustained well-being and happiness for all.
A Vision of Happy Economy