Modern life just seems to keep getting busier and more pressurised. Many of us are struggling with the same conundrum: we have less free time, but we also have heightened expectations about what we should be doing with the time we do have and the rich and fulfilling lives we should be leading.
Our Life 2.0 project with ESI Media for The Evening Standard tapped into some of the latest academic research on happiness and wellbeing to explore how people navigate these pressures and how marketers and brands can help people achieve their goals.
Here’s some of the themes we talked about at FOM and Petersham Nurseries.
Multi-tasking may be cool, but it makes you a fool
Paul Dolan’s Happiness by Design is always a good place to start. Marketers have embraced the idea that people are driven by System 1 thinking. But Dolan shows it’s System 2 that is the key to happiness. Happiness by Design is about paying attention and planning our lives around the everyday things that make us happy. Of course, if it was that easy everyone would be doing it! Designing happiness requires headspace and focus. Things that are in short supply in our modern lives. Distraction is one of the big enemies of happiness. Going with the flow just won’t cut it. We need to work at it and focus our mental and physical energy on figuring out what makes us happy- then we need to do it.
‘You can’t buy happiness’ goes the saying. But in Buying Wellbeing: Spending Behaviour and Happiness, Aknin et al (2018) summarise a growing body of research that shows how everyday spending choices have a significant impact on wellbeing. Here are some of the key themes:
People often focus on the wrong things when they are thinking about improving their lives and being happier.
Lyubomirsky et al (2005) argue that happiness levels are determined by 3 components:
- Genetics– e.g. temperament and personality traits
- Life Circumstances– e.g. employment, marital status etc.
- Volitional Activities– e.g. choices to exercise, leisure and cultural activities etc.
Genetics and Lifestyle account for around 60% of our happiness and are very difficult to change. People tend to focus on big life changes and personal transformation as the key to greater happiness (‘if only I could be more x,y z,’ ‘get that bigger house’, ‘new job’, ‘new partner’!) But, focusing on making smarter spending choices is a more reliable, volitional, route to greater wellbeing.
Experiential purchases lead to greater satisfaction than material purchases. But it’s the little things that count…
Life is uncertain and full of risk. Self-determination theory (Ryan and Deci, 2000) argues that wellbeing depends on the fulfilment of 3 basic needs:
- Autonomy– control over life
- Competence– feeling able and capable
- Relatedness– feeling a sense of belonging and shared meaning and identification with others
Experiences tend to be social and satisfy our need for relatedness. But, people tend to overlook the value of everyday experiences and focus on ‘the big stuff’ (e.g. the trip of a lifetime, the VIP experience etc.). Smaller routine purchases (i.e. products and services) create order in our lives, rituals provide meaning and contribute to feelings of competence and control which are the other key components of wellbeing.
Life 2.0. The Optimisation Economy
We found all of these themes coming through strongly in our work with ESI Media for The Evening Standard. In Life 2.0 we interviewed a wide range of Londoners about what makes them happy. Of course, everyone wants to be happy and has their own personal goals and unique visons of the ‘good life’. All agreed that London offered a unique combination of threats and opportunities
But the ones that seemed to be navigating it best are a growing group we called the ‘optimisers’. Optimisers take responsibility for their happiness and deliberately plan the resources available to them (media, tech, products and services) to improve, enhance and optimise their experiences and to buy back their time.
Aknin, L.B., Wiwad, D. & Hanniball, K.B. (2018): Buying well-being: Spending Behaviour and hapiness, Social and Personality Compass
Dolan, P. (2014): Happiness by Design: Finding Pleasure and Purpose in Everyday Life, Penguin Random House
Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K.M., & Schkade, D. (2005) Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology, 9(2), 111-131
Ryan, R.M., & Deci, E.L, (2000): Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, socila development and wellbeing. American Psychologist, 55, 68-78