Selling Happiness

Selling Happiness

Recently I found myself in the middle of preparing for a cross-country move with a fussy, teething baby to keep me company. Needless to say, I was feeling a bit stressed! So I took a TV break, hoping to find something that would help me relax and maybe even bring me some happiness.Luckily, I found just what I was looking for, but in a rather unexpected place. I saw a Golden Corral commercial announcing an event that quickly changed my life: Wing Fest! As they described their world-famous chicken wings, I felt a distant glimmer of hope deep in my heart; perhaps happiness could be mine after all! However, I still had some doubts as to whether Wing Fest could bring me the sublime bliss I was seeking. And then, I doubted no more. To conclude their commercial, Golden Corral recited their corporate slogan: Help Yourself to Happiness. I was shocked, yet relieved. I’ve always believed that happiness doesn’t come easily, despite deliberate efforts we might make to attain it. I never would have guessed that happiness is available in unlimited supply at a national buffet chain!MORE: The Psychology of Food AdvertisingDon’t worry: I have not gone crazy. Help Yourself to Happiness is of course a ridiculous slogan, but it serves to remind us of a serious problem in our culture. Corporate advertisers are well aware of the happiness craze sweeping our country—and they want to capitalize on it. Like many others, Golden Corral is clumsily attempting to associate happiness, the thing that everyone wants, with their brand of mediocre buffet food. Are consumers really foolish enough to fall for this? Are we more likely to go to Golden Corral because they have assured us that we will be helping ourselves not just to beef enchiladas or buffalo wings, but to happiness itself?Most people believe that they are not foolish enough to fall for such a transparent marketing ploy. However, the problem goes a little deeper than this. In their attempts to associate their brand with the nebulous concept of happiness, corporate advertisers are redefining the term itself. Indeed, if you asked a few random people to define happiness or how to feel it, you will be hard-pressed to hear the same response twice; some people think happiness comes from material wealth, while others think that a remote monastic existence is the only true path to bliss. Advertisers are aware of this ambiguity surrounding happiness and are attempting to convince us that it can be found in whatever product or service they are selling.This is cause for concern. People have already been pondering the meaning of happiness for millennia; aggressive marketing campaigns slapping together happiness and generous helpings of “smothered chopped steak” are making this important matter even more confusing. So what are we to do? How can we disentangle manipulative corporate slogans from a worthwhile pursuit of happiness?MORE: What Chemicals Are Lurking in Your Value Meal?First, beware of messages that play to our natural desire for self-gratification; true happiness does not come from indulging in every sensual pleasure. I have certainly enjoyed eating at my share of buffets, but that enjoyment turns to an upset stomach just a few hours later! There is nothing wrong with physical pleasure, so long as it is in moderation and not the focus of our daily lives.Second, advertisers will try to convince you that if you just had their product, life would be so much easier and better to live. In most cases, this is simply not true. Substantial research efforts suggest that at first, we do find enjoyment out of a new television, smart phone or some other gadget. However, it is generally only a matter of months before the enjoyment we once felt all but disappears; we adapt to material purchases. Therefore, whenever possible, try to spend your money on experience-based purchases (for example, traveling, seeing live music, or visiting museums) rather than material purchases, such as a piece of jewelry or a fancy decoration.We are all seeking happiness, and advertisers know it. Be resilient and don’t allow anyone with an obvious financial incentive to tell you what happiness is. Now, if you’ll excuse me, Wing Fest awaits!QUIZ: Find Your Real Happiness Quotient