Category Archives: Personal

Be Simply Happy in 2016

Happy start of 2016! I wish all my readers a year of achievement, inspiration and of course, happiness.

In early 2016, this blog will turn 2,5 years old. Since I entered the road to the discovery, I’ve now written just over one hundred post. I’m now in a much better position to answer the question what happiness is about. If I’d have to summarise what I learned in one phrase, it’d probably be the realisation how complex and simply happiness is at the same time.

Happiness is complex. It’s difficult to define and it’s difficult to pursue – the pursuit of happiness, this  is even futile.

At the same time, happiness is very simple. We all know it when we are happy and are able to feel happiness. Intuitively, we very well understand that friends, family, and fun experiences are more likely to generate moments of happiness than material things or status.

And maybe we don’t need long lists of New Year Resolutions, but just some simple ideas to take steps towards  (mine is to explore new recipes to cook!). Simplicity, humility and sometimes downright minimalism might be a worthwhile path to pursue.

Or, as the card I picked up when 2016 was only a few hours old put it: Be simply happy.

beSimplyHappy

Looking back at my experiences and achievements in 2015

In the beginning of this year, I formulated no less than ten New Year’s Resolutions. For me, the end of the year is the natural moment to look back and review what I experienced and achieved throughout the year.

This is how I did:

  • Live together with the girl I feel in love with last year

Yes! And it is a very special experience. Moving in together comes with some challenges. But these challenges are insignificant in comparison to the wonderful pleasure of being together every day.

  • Track and improve my sleep

Fairly well. Especially in the beginning of the year, I used sleep-tracking apps. They helped me somewhat improve my discipline in going to sleep and getting out to bed on time. But I haven’t systematically used them all year round. And my sleeping habits still can improve.

  • Expand my blog

Not bad. Especially after summer, I’ve opted for a somewhat slower frequency. I’ve taken the chance to take on some speaking occasions presenting my work in this field. But maybe most importantly, I’ve visited two ‘happy countries’ this year: Denmark and Bhutan.

  • Work on my health by running or by yoga

Could be better. I regularly do yoga, but not every week. And while I ran a personal best at the 5k (22 min 20 seconds!), I have only ran in training for that race, not all year round.

  • Celebrate my 30th birthday

Yes! And I celebrated it well, spending a weekend in the Belgian Ardennes with a group of friends.

  • Continue to do well at work

I think so. My role within our team has grown this year. And in the last week before the holidays, I won a new promotion (yeah!)

  • Travel to two new countries: Portugal and Bhutan (finally!)

Yes! I spent two weeks in both of them, discovering different towns and landscapes and learning a lot about their culture. And apart from these two, I also visited Denmark for the first time and made stopovers in Nepal and Qatar en route to Bhutan.

  • Watch at least one new TED talk per week

Almost. I’ve had a good amount of inspiration in watching TED talks this year, with topics ranging from basic income to indoor plants to improve air quality in house and from the strength of Muslim women in peace processes to cold-water surfing. While I saw many, I don’t think I got to one per week. And unfortunately I did’t attend any TEDx events this year.

  • Read novels and books about happiness

A little bit! A quick glance at my current happiness bookshelf suggests there aren’t too many additions: books on the November GNH conference in Bhutan and The Power of Negative Emotions being the exceptions. Still, (un)happiness was also a theme in other books that I read, such as Haruki Murakami’s title Norwegian Wood. And reading A History of the World in Twelve Maps also made me happy!

  • Become a better public speaker

Yes! Two and half years after joining, I finished Toastmasters International‘s Competent Communication programme. And I undertook some public speaking opportunities to talk about my discoveries on happiness.

 

Especially in the beginning of the year, I occasionally took a glance at the list to remind me what I wanted to achieve. But as the year progress, I took more and more distance. And now, I don’t even understand why I needed ten goals.

Goals are helpful to meet objectives and develop yourself. But if there is one goal I have for 2016, it is to have less goals…

Realising the Bhutanese dream

A couple of years ago I heard about an idea that eventually changed my life. That idea was Gross National Happiness (GNH).

It sounds dramatic, but it is true. I must have heard about it before, but I was first truly captivated by the idea of GNH through a TED talk by Chip Conley with the title ‘Measuring What Makes Life Worthwhile’. At the time, I wrote a blog post for TEDxAmsterdam making the case to measure happiness and change the state.

No, the rest was not history. But everything that followed brought me to the creation of this blog, my coming of age as a happiness researcher and speaker, and ultimately to my trip to Bhutan to explore GNH.

Explore Gross National Happiness

Because indeed, four years after this first blog post, I finally have the chance to travel to Bhutan. I’ll be in the fortunate position to attend a conference on Gross National Happiness “From GNH Philosophy to Practice and Policy” at the Centre for Bhutan Studies. The CBS is a research institute on Bhutan and GNH, based in the capital Thimphu. While GNH as an idea dates back to the 1970s, it has been developed more thoroughly in the 2000s and 2010s. The 2012 GNH survey found that 8% of Bhutanese is ‘deeply happy’ and 32% ‘extensively’ happy. 48% of the 700,000-odd Bhutanese citizens scores ‘narrowly happy’, which means achieving a sufficient level in 50% of the 33 indicators. Only 10% of Bhutanese is unhappy.

GNH is not only something that is being researched and benchmarked. Importantly, the policy requires that new government proposal need to be assessed for their impact on GNH. For instance, Bhutan has decided not to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO) after a finding that it would not contribute to GNH.

A country full of paradoxes like any other

Making a dream come true is risky.

It can be dangerous to make a trip I’ve so long looked forward to. Due to GNH, Bhutan has long been a darling of Western travelers looking for philosophy, spirituality, and ultimately, happiness. Some Western observers have idealised or ‘Shangrilised’ Bhutan as a country.

Others, on the other extreme, have criticised the country as hypocrite for its low level of development, the use of GNH as an excuse for a failure to meaningfully increase the quality of life, or for ethnic violence in the 1990s.

Only when I am there I’ll know whether I am falling in either of these traps.

I’ve had several years the time to do my research and hopefully I have a balanced image of the place. Recently in my preparations of the trip, I read the book ‘A splendid isolation‘ by journalist Madeline Drexler. She aims to offer a balanced approach, highlighting that Bhutan like any other country on the world is full of paradoxes:

  • Tobacco advertising and smoking are forbidden – but in 2011, there was an outcry when a monk was sentenced for three years for smuggling in chewing tobacco for a value of $2.50.
  • There is a target of 100% organic crops – but many food products are imported from India.
  • Economic development is a policy objective – but self-owned business are seen as ungenerous to the collective.
  • Anti-litter laws are strict – but citizens ignore them.

Well, all I can do is promise to share my experience upon my return.

And for the mean time, I’ll leave you with a documentary that made a great impression on me. In a few words, it shows how Bhutan as a country is struggling with the arrival of modern times. Or more precisely, with the arrival of TVs – replacing yaks – in the countryside.

Spinach is not the key to happiness. And neither is Coca Cola.

Sex sells. But happiness might sell even better.

Marketers know that very well. They claim that purchasing their products – as opposed to their competitor’s – make a consumer happy. I already commented a bit on this a couple of months ago, in two posts about the psychological effects of food, and about marketing food with happiness claims.

Since, I came across this sign:

happiness

Beyond this a funny and simple sign in front of a bar with a cheeky claim about happiness, I also saw a perfected version of the message “Buy us = happiness” from Coca-Cola.

The giant sugared drinks producer is becoming the strongest commercial happiness provider. After taking happiness as a theme via ‘Share Happiness’ and ‘Open Happiness’ campaigns, it now has launched regional campaigns under the name ‘Choose Happiness’. In Belgium, one of the posters alludes to Brussels’ symbol Manneken Pis. It looks like this:

CocaCola

 

The science of food and happiness states that marketers very occasionally do have a point when they claim that their products can increase people’s happiness or positive emotions. ‘Comfort foods” fatty acids affect neural signals in the brain, and can result in a weaker response to sad images. And the production of serotonin, the neurotransmitter most linked to positive emotions and happiness, can be aided by products like spinach, turkey and bananas. Before you stock up on spinach, consider that this implies a limited positive link, and by no means a direct and automatic effect. Spinach is not the key to happiness.

And, sorry to disappoint you, neither are gin-tonic and Coca-Cola. The sugar rush of a Coke can give a momentary positive stimulus to your mood. But the same is true for a Pepsi, and neither equals happiness. Slogans like ‘Choose Happiness’ misleadingly suggest an automatic effect. Of course we rationally know that all the expression of fun, social status, and the good life are artificial tricks to seduce us.

But by claiming happiness, marketers enter a very personal life domain. If, as Coca Cola seems to argue, people have full control of their own happiness (‘success is a choice’),it implies that the easiest way to be successful is by consuming their product. It also transmits the message that failure is a choice, and that is our own fault if we are unhappy. That’s not something that I as a consumer want to hear from a company.

In a way, I prefer the cheeky slogan of a bar, saying that a gin tonic brings us closer to happiness. It’s a lot more playful way of attracting attention.

If I wanted a drink of happiness, I’d go for a gin-tonic.

If urgent, be patient

A couple of years ago, a blog post about life and happiness went viral. It was written by a nurse named Bronnie Ware in New South Wales, Australia. As a nurse, she took care of people with terminal diseases, washing them, feeding them, talking to them. Her work is hard, her days are long. She is the care-taker of people who are about to die. The proximity of their death helps people to reflect and find wisdom. And listening to terminal ill people taught Bronnie a lot about life. She wrote down what she learnt in a blog post.

Five regrets of the dying

It was called: ‘five regrets of the dying’. And the five regrets went like this:

  • I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others wanted
  • I wish I had the courage to express my feelings
  • I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
  • I wish that I had let myself be happier
  • And I wish I hadn’t worked so much.

The last regret, coming at such a moment of life when the latest seconds are ticking away, I believe, is one of the most important pieces of wisdom about life and happiness. In short, it goes into one of the fundamental complexities many people are facing: to find work-life balance.

If urgent, please text

New technologies ubiquitous in the 21st century make it even more challenging to find the right balance between work and family or private life. With smartphones and 4G, we can be be in touch with friends or colleagues from the supermarket, queuing for a French fries, or the toilet. I liked to joke that if phone were waterproof, technology would invade the last place where we are free with our thoughts. But apparently – and scarily – there are already at least 13 waterproof phones!

In some working environments – such as consulting, where I spent my working days – it is a natural facet of a service attitude that comes with the job to be available to clients and colleagues outside working hours. Sometimes, with a good dose of exaggeration and self-pity, we joke that we don’t have a problem with work-life balance, because work takes priority anyway. And when we are not available, for a meeting, a conference, or a day off, we typically inform colleagues. Usually, my message goes something like: if you have an urgent question, please send a text. Or in short: if urgent, please text.

Finding the right balance

Striking the right balance is hard. Some of the consequence of an incorrect balance are small: you may come home too late to go to the supermarket, end up tired on the couch for a night, or fail to make plans for the weekend. But some of the potential consequences are a lot more significant. Around 22% of workers experiences extreme stress. 4 out of 10 workers in the US go beyond 50 hours. And burnouts risk to lead to a depression, which is suffered by about one out of six people during their life time. Beyond that, an unhealthy family life is related to marital stress and behavioural problems of children.

The boss can help…

Companies increasingly recognise the problem, either out of the goodness of their heart or because of the realisation of negative impact on staff turnover, sick leave, and productivity. There are many things bosses can do and are doing to increase work-life balance and happiness at work. They can allow part-time working, or flexible working hours, or limit working hours. They can ensure child-care facilities.

Something that would be useful for me as an individual, but arguably difficult for my sector is setting limits when you can access emails. In Germany, Labour Ministry guidelines prescribe that the ministry’s hierarchy cannot call their subordinates after working hours. And Volkswagen has installed a system that makes that people can’t send or receive emails half an hour after working time.

… but ultimately it’s up to ourselves to balance work and life

But as I already hinted before, work-life balance is a personal issue, and comes a lot with your personal attitude about work. The key points are:

  • be honest to yourself. A career is a choice. Some choices are incompatible with a healthy family life. A challenging job where you need to work very long hours or to travel all the time makes it difficult to balance a private life
  • manage your time. Sometimes there are key deadlines to meet, and work requires to stay a bit longer. But in many cases, the decision to leave a bit earlier or to stick around a bit is up to you. In quiet times – as July should be – there is space to take it a bit easier without affecting quality.

Some of these attitude can be changed. As I said, my habit is to inform my colleagues: “if urgent, please text”. A couple of weeks ago, shockingly, I had to go somewhere where I couldn’t bring my phone. So instead I wrote: if urgent be patient.

That’s what I strive for – to keep patience and calm even facing urgencies. Because I realise that in a couple of years time, I don’t want to wake up and realise I am turning into one of these people who in front of the eyes of death tell those around them: I wish I hadn’t worked so much.

If urgent, be patient.

Hope in the Greek crisis of happiness

As so many in Brussels I’ve been following all the news about the Greek crisis on a daily basis in the last weeks. I have followed these events professionally. I reviewed the politically progress in the talks, the economic impact on the eurozone, and contemplated the scenarios for further developments.

But with this professional distance, it is easy to forget how saddening these developments are .

Staying away of the question who is at fault, the tragedy is that politicians don’t come closer to each other. Countless meetings at ministerial level and several Euro Area Summits are ineffective.

The referendum about the latest EU reform proposals divided families between those who wanted to show their opposition to austerity and those who felt that no deal might be worse than a bad deal.

And Greek society suffers under extreme stress, as pharmacies run out of some medicines and banks don’t release more than sixty euros per day.

Pensioners – who often have the only income for a family of unemployed people – have to cue hours to receive 120 euros of their pension.

The best way to sum the crisis up may have been the picture of the crying Greek pensioner that made way of media in the last day. The photo is by Sakis Mitrolidis (AFP). The man on the photo broke down after being refused his ‘allowance’ by four banks in a row in Thessaloniki.

Photo by AFP/Sakis Mitrolidis

Photo by AFP/Sakis Mitrolidis

 

Effects on happiness

It should not be a surprise that a country in crisis is not a happy country. In psychology, there is a concept of ‘loss aversion’. Humans are surprisingly adapted to live in hardship. That is, if they are used to it. The impact of winning an additional hundred of euros in income is marginal compared to the negative effects of losing one hundred euros. In dollar terms, Greeks are not so miserable with a GDP per capita of  $21,687 in 2014. That’s about 1,5 times Polish GDP and twice the level of Turkey or Mexico. But whilst the latte three have grown their income in the last five years, Greek GDP is about 20% lower than five years ago.

This crisis also has a marked effects on happiness levels. The 2015 World Happiness Report does not only have figures for 2012-2014, but also compares them with the period 2005-2007. Greece is the biggest loser in happiness worldwide, scoring almost 1.5 points lower now than before the crisis. On a ten points scale, Greece’s happiness now stands at 4.857, ranking 102 out of 158 countries polled.

When Greek Prime Minister Tsipras and EU leaders that do want to show solidarity, they speak about taking measures to address the humanitarian crisis. Apart from that, there is also a psychological crisis or a ‘crisis of happiness’. Well-being of Greeks is further under pressure.

What to do?

It is clear that a political solution is needed to take away some of the uncertainty and distress. I am optimistic that yesterday’s Summit, the latest in the row, is allowing some progress. There is no financial programme yet, but the message is that it can be done in the next five days.

For the crisis of happiness, what we need is positive stories coming out of Greece. Shows of solidarity and support help.

A great example in the last week is the effort of Thom Feeney. He decided that if EU leaders couldn’t agree on a bailout, he would crowdfund €1.6 bn for Greece to repay the IMF himself. Maybe not so surprisingly, the effort failed (and the money was reimbursed), but with over €1.9 mln collected in a week time, his campaign did send a more positive signal about EU populations’ support for Greece. It’s now followed by a second campaign, aiming to raise €1 mln in humanitarian aid.

Screenshot Indiegogo

Screenshot Indiegogo

 

Also in the case of the Greek pensioner, the severest crisis resulted in a positive response. An Australian-Greek businessman – whose father grew up in the same village – heard about the story and decided to support the man with twelve months of pensions money.

These are only two stories. They reach a small number of people and can by no means solve all of the crisis. But they offer glimmers of hope that the days of gloom may be over.

Happiness in the past, present and future

Robert Biswas-Diener is one of the most original thinkers on happiness I know. His work provides a smart counterweight to the ‘happiologist’ part of positive psychology. A happiness consultant himself, he observes that within the ‘happiness biz‘, there are a lot of people who appear to see happiness at work as the one and only goal.

Interestingly, Biswas-Diener does not agree. He points that when people are happy, they are likely to have a ‘good enough’ philosophy. Gratitude and acceptance form one aspect of happiness. But being grateful with what you have can also hinder self-improvement. Instead, Biswas-Diener believes in the ‘upside of your dark side’: negative emotions like guilt, grief and anger can drive our actions and help us grow.

This is a very helpful contribution to the discipline of positive psychology, which sometimes appears to believe that acceptance and gratitude can take away real problems. Being positive can help in dealing with problems, but cannot take them away. A positive mindset should inspire real actions to face difficulties.

Happiness is in the past..

Only last week I came across Biswas-Diener’s TED talk, with the tile ‘Your Happiest Days are Behind You’. In his talk, Biswas-Diener answers one of the fundamental questions:

How can I be happier?

The common tendency of individuals is to see happiness as something in the future. One of the main reasons why people are unhappy is that they project happiness on goals they haven’t achieved yet. And often, these goals are conflicting:

‘If only I met a nice girl’.

‘If only I had a child’.

‘If only I had that dream job at the Commission.’

‘If only I could work less, and have more holidays’

As Biswas-Diener formulates it: the future is an unreliable sources of happiness. How can we escape from our own expectations about the future? There are various ways out. One of them is by manufactured or ‘synthetic happiness‘, as psychologist Dan Gilbert says. What my answer is, I’ll say below. But first, let’s look at Biswas-Diener’s answer.

The past is the source of happiness…

In his very, very worthwhile talk, Biswas-Diener says that the past, not the future, is the source of happiness. The happiest days are behind you. And with a personal story that I absolutely recommend you to watch, he tells us why he so much believes in the past as a source of happiness. The gist is as follows: by remembering happy moments of the past, you will be able to recreate moments of happiness, and you will experience them again.

Have you watched the story? Can you imagine the race between Robert and the little girl in the slum of Calcutta? Great!

Robert states that memories like this race are the ones that are the answer to the question ‘how can I be happier’. And I agree that remembering happy experience is a very significant part of the answer. But I wonder how reliable the effect remains when one remembers the same memory more often. I would expect there is a somewhat limited life span, as the ‘happiness impact’ of these emotional moments may wear off when you tell or relive the story more regularly.

Compare it to a band playing their hit singles: initially it’s great to see the crowd cheer when they hear your top hit. But if concert after concert, day after day, all the audience wants to hear is the same songs, it doesn’t feel the same anymore. A diverse set of top hits (and happy moments!) thus is important.

… or is it the present?

Therefore, I’d argue that neither the future, nor the past are truly reliable sources of happiness. Instead, I would focus on… the present. Ultimately, our life is lived in the now, not in the future nor in the post. Our aim should be to spent our ‘nows’ – the moment that is easiest to control – in a way that makes us happy. We can go out on a day when the weather is nice. We can do sports, meet friends, or work on goals that are important for us. And by doing so, and appreciating the great moments along the way, we both work on a happy future and create a supply of happy memories that we can enjoy again.

Smile!

The best thing about blogging about happiness, I’ve  already written before, is receiving articles and links related to the topic. All of these articles and videos are little gifts. Most of the time, they bring some interesting facts or news – or they bring a smile to my face. There are many serious things to write about happiness. A nice feel good video often can transmit what happiness is in a better way.

Like the Smile Man short film below, which I received from Julia.

Imagine you are always smiling. That is what happens to the main character in the film, due to paralysis of your face muscles.  Smiling always, it turns out,is not easy. I tried for a couple of minutes, but gave up. It feels funny in a way, but it simply hurts my face.

In the film, similarly, artificial and constant smiling results in a series of practical problems. But it also brings about a personal connection and the realisation that the power of a genuine smile is enormous.

Money – making sense of the root of all evil

Money, it’s a crime 
Share it fairly but don’t take a slice of my pie
Money, so they say 
Is the root of all evil today
But if you ask for a raise it’s no surprise
That they’re giving none away

Pink Floyd, Money

For a happiness blogger, money is an obvious topic to cover. In the last year and a half, I’ve written a series of posts on money and happiness.

But how does money affect me?

I hadn’t thought of that so much, until I took a workshop with Sydney Schreiber last month. Sydney’s workshop is titled Making sense of your relationship with money (see intro video here). And indeed, participating helped me reflect on how I use money and what it does for me.

This reflection started already before the workshop: as homework I had to calculate my net worth, or the value of all my (material) possessions, and my annual income. This is not an easy thing to do. When it comes to a collection of books or ties, for instance, do I count the €15 or €20 I bought a book for? Should I consider how much I could earn by selling your ties? And how does it work with gifts when I don’t know their price?

Money has a million different meanings

moneyFrom an association exercise with the group, we could observe that money means something different for everybody. Terms that were mentioned when Sydney asked us to associate went in all directions: from ‘hedonism’, ‘root of all evil’ and ‘pollution, to ‘love’ and ‘pleasure’, and from ‘happiness’ to ‘unhappiness’. For Sydney, none of these associations is right or wrong: he sees money as a blank screen, that represents whatever we project on it. It’s a valid point: money doesn’t have any meaning per se. Fundamentally, it’s merely a piece of paper that gets its meaning because we accept in exchange of books or ties.

How we see oftentimes is influenced by our background. Are we raised with American, European or Asian values? Do we value material possessions, personal creativity, or social harmony most? Do we come from a business-like or a spiritual family?

Another interesting exercise we did was writing our biography with money: when were we first aware that money existed? Had it ever created great possibilities or difficulties? An extract of the one I wrote:

I don’t have many memories about money in my childhood. I probably received around 2 guilders (€0.90) per month when I was around 6 or 7, and 5 guilders (€2.25) when I was nine. Most if not all went to my savings.

I did spend some money on ice cream or pinball machines during holidays. My family usually didn’t spend a lot of money. Saving is important in the Netherlands and we don’t like to waste money.

 

For something that influences our lives so much, we think surprisingly little about money. One of the takeaways I got is how ambivalent money is to people. It can have a positive as well as a negative influence one. And whilst this seems quite obvious intuitively, psychological research even has been able to prove the effect.

Psychological research shows: money impacts enjoyment

A study from the University of Liège, described by the Scientific American, laid out evidence that money can influence how much we enjoy certain experiences. In two experiments, the researchers tested how participants would enjoy experiences. Half of the participants were primed as they were shown a picture of money; the other half did not. Then, they were asked to do a psychological test. The results showed that the first group scored lower on enjoyment of pleasant experiences than the second.

In a second test, the same results were replicated in a different fashion. With again half of the participants given a stimulus of money (and the other group none), two groups were asked to eat a piece of chocolate. On average, the people who had seen the image of money munched away their piece of chocolate in 13 seconds less: 32 seconds for those primed with money; and 45 for those who didn’t have their experience spoiled by this exposure.

All this makes clear that money can have quite a significant influence on our experiences. Sometimes that may be problematic, other moments it may not. But in either case, it should be within our control. For that, it’s useful to have insight in your relationship to money.

For more about Sydney’s workshop, see http://freetobe.be/

Food & happiness II: selling happiness

Food products can bring comfort and even happiness, I wrote last week. But let’s be more precise: some food products can bring some moments of happiness. And marketers are happy to try and make us believe that its exactly their products that bring us closer to what we are longing for: happiness.

I am do not know a lot about the history of marketing, but I came across an interesting blog post by Bruce Bradley. He claiming that the way that marketers have sold their products changed over the duration of the 20th century. Whilst initially, Coca Cola advertised their products with its features (‘delicious, refreshing’), they have  gradually moved up in their claims. In the 1930s, the perceived product benefits (superior qualities, ‘America’s favourite moment’) were used to sell coke. In the 1950s, Coca Cola rewarded consumers on an individual and personal level for choosing their products (‘the sign of good taste’). And more recently, it’s about emotional benefits: ‘open happiness’.

brand-laddering.0021

Source: Bruce Bradley (www.brucebradley.com)

Happiness: the highest value to sell?

Nowadays, brands do not communicate the product itself as such, but promote it by linking it to higher values. Happiness probably is the highest value that we can aspire to. If not happiness, what is it in life that we are searching for? Indeed, it’s impressive how consistently marketers across different brands and food products are ‘selling happiness’. Some examples beyond Coca Cola:

  • The most famous of all: McDonalds’ ‘Happy Meal’ .
  • Unilever’s ice cream brand (Ola in Belgium, going by other names in other markets) claims that ‘ice cream makes u happy’
  • Coffee producer Illy invites you to ‘live happILLY’
  • In the US, Lay’s did a campaign around ‘happiness exhibit’, asking people to send it happy photo’s.
  • Also well-known: Coca cola did a campaign with the slogans ‘share happiness’ and ‘open happiness’

Basically, I’d eat myself into obesity from all the fat and sugar in all these products before I become happy! And if I finish binge-eating a bag of Lays or a bucket of Ola ice cream, I feel guilty and sad rather than happy.Of course there is no sense in any of the claims. By associations themselves with happiness as a virtue, happiness marketers try to communicate something bigger than their products. The claims aren’t only insensible, they are also potentially dangerous for public health. Maybe the commercial should come with a sort of disclaimer, similar to alcohol or tobacco: happiness effects not proven.
2015-02-28 14.43.13-4

 

It’s the act of cooking that increases happiness

Ultimately I believe that it is not so much the act of consuming, but the act of producing that gives food the magic that is associated withs happiness effects. Baking is one – although by no means the only – example. Human beings are creators. We want to make something new and claim it as ours. A home-made cake almost always tastes better than one from the supermarket.

Dan Ariely, already mentioned earlier on the blog, calls this ‘the IKEA effect’: we value things more when they are ours. A great example is the cake mixes that were being sold from the 1950s. The first cakes mixes required nothing but the addition of water. They sold very badly. The producers than changed one thing: they took out eggs and milks from the mix. Sales went up from this point: housewives felt that they had contributed to the product and  could claim the cake as ‘theirs’.

Happiness is made with our own hands

In the 21st century, so many people working behind a computer produce nothing concrete. The output they generate is in data, text and numbers. There is nothing tangible. Doing something physical, like baking a cake from scratch, weeding the garden, or creating your own painting allows you to show something real and tangible as your product. Spending time on baking your bread, cup cakes or biscuits is a ‘pill-less prozac’, claims a UK campaign group citing research associating baking with lower mental health issues. Happiness doesn’t come out of a bag of crisps or a bottle with a famous logo on it. It comes from what we do with our hands.