We’ve been pursuing happiness for 2,500 years. Philosophers, theologians, psychologists, economists, marketers, self-help gurus, Hollywood, Broadway, and just about everyone else has been trying to find out what makes happy people happy. Although we all search for happiness, we often have a hard time describing what happiness looks like. An exotic vacation? Sharing dinner with family? Buying a new handbag? A bigger house? Happiness is not just a positive mood, but rather an overall state of well-being that involves pleasure, engagement, deep satisfaction and a sense of meaning. However, if we obsess too much on finding happiness, we might miss the joy from the little things in life that bring us pleasure and contentment.
The Psychology Of Happiness
Over the last 20 years, the field of positive psychology and the science of happiness have made considerable advances in bringing to light what makes us happy. In particular, positive psychologists such as Martin Seligman and Ed Diener have analyzed the lifestyles of “very happy people” and found out that we can, to a certain extent, generate happiness through our thoughts and actions.
There are three dimensions of happiness we can cultivate: The pleasant life emerges when we experience positive emotions in the moment, through basic pleasures such as enjoying a great meal, good company, watching the sun rise, or listening to music. Mindfulness can help us amplify these positive feelings and stretch them overtime. The good life is achieved by building our skills, discovering our unique strengths and virtues and leveraging them to improve our lives.
When we are actively involved in trying to achieve something (such as painting and decorating a home, putting together a complex slide deck or writing a book) and reach a point where we feel challenged, but sense our skills are well suited to reach this goal, we experience a state called “flow.” In this state, we are completely absorbed during the experience and feel particularly rewarded after achieving our goal. The meaningful life is when we feel fulfilled by a purpose that is much greater than ourselves. Our life feels meaningful when we raise a family, get promoted, improve the lives of people around us, work towards goals or anything else that generates the feeling of a life well lived.
Applying positive psychology Barbara Frederickson is a leading researcher in the field of social psychology and positive psychology. That is, she studies love and other positive emotions such as joy, inspiration, and pride, through the lens of social science, rooted in research studies, hypothesis, and data. One of the ways she suggests we can cultivate positive emotions is by creating positivity portfolios. Each portfolio is made of mementos, images, gifts, music and objects that evoke a specific positive emotion such as joy, pride and amusement. Participants typically spend two days creating the portfolio, and the rest of the week looking through it. One of the many contributors to my book Brand Hacks, Anna Lucas, studies positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. As such, she chose gratitude as a theme for her current positivity portfolio. Overtime, Anna has assembled numerous positivity portfolios, each looking at a different positive emotion. Anna told me the exercise permeates throughout her day and her whole week. The portfolio makes it easier and faster to prime herself with positive emotions. Each time she needs a boost, she can look back at her positivity portfolios and enjoy the memories they evoke.
Case Study: How Spartan Race Delivers Authentic Happiness
Spartan Race organizes obstacle course races that challenge people to get out of their comfort zone and push their physical and mental limits. Before showing up for a race, you train for it “like a Spartan,” weeks, sometimes months in advance. Spartan organizes classes that are aimed at preparing people physically while fostering a community. Racers also receive nutrition advice and are encouraged to shop for Spartan Gear. Upon completing the race, you receive a medal: tangible proof that you challenged yourself, acquired the necessary skills and achieved your goal.
Today, Spartan Race organizes over 200 events a year, each race gathering up to 10,000 participants. Spartan race hits on all three dimensions of authentic happiness: it delivers an instant pleasure through a challenging workout that feels immediately rewarding. It helps people experience flow through its training and nutrition programs, in preparation for the race. Finally, it fosters a community of like-minded individuals that share their achievements, making their success all the more meaningful.
How can your brand implement positive psychology? Ask yourself, how your brand can contribute to fulfilling these four quests?
1. Pleasure: How can you deliver something that feels rewarding immediately and help your customers savor the experience overtime?
2. Flow: Help your clients acquire new skills and achieve new goals. The key is to set goals that feel challenging for most people but are still attainable. Before finding success with Spartan Race, founder Joe De Sena lost millions of dollars trying to launch Peak.com, which was meant to become a hub for extreme adventure. As it turns out, not many people are willing to trek 350 miles or more through the Sahara or climb Mount Everest.
3. Deep Satisfaction: We are not just talking about good customer service and managing call waiting time here. How will your product or service make a long-lasting positive impact on your customers lives?
4. Meaning: How can your brand and its products help people make their lives more meaningful?
You will find many more case studies and tips in my new book Brand Hacks: How to Grow your Brand by Fulfilling the Human Quest for Meaning.
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