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Psychology of Trump Victory: Opportunities from the ARC of Happiness

Why did Trump win?  Theories abound, here’s a simple psychological rationale – People strive for happiness, which according to a well-researched, validated and influential model in psychology – self-determination theory – is driven by three things: the ARC of happiness – a sense of Autonomy, a sense of Relatedness, and a sense of Competence. When our sense of autonomy, relatedness and competence is thwarted by a sense or fear of helplessness, isolation and frustration – we vote for change

  • Autonomy vs. Helplessness – do we have a sense of self-determination or do we feel helpless and powerless slaves to a system?
  • Relatedness vs. Isolation – do we feel cared for by others and able to care for others, or do we feel increasingly alone and isolated?
  • Competence vs. Frustration – do we experience mastery and achievement in life, or do feel frustrated by an incapacity to meet life’s challenges?

From this perspective, the interpretation for Trump’s win is simple – for many people the current system is undermining their ARC of happiness by fostering a sense of helplessness, isolation and frustration. So we vote for change. Whether or not Trump is the solution is another matter.

Simple or simplistic? You choose. The ARC of happiness is not the only psychological lens to understand people and how they act, but it is simple, insightful and useful. It is useful because it provides a guiding light for digital innovation in the new Trump Era. How can digital technology help people in their pursuit of happiness by building their sense of Autonomy, Relatedness and Competence?

Design for Happiness. Now that’s a goal worth pursuing.




Written by
Dr Paul Marsden
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Digital wellbeing covers the latest scientific research on the impact of digital technology on human wellbeing. Curated by psychologist Dr. Paul Marsden (@marsattacks). Sponsored by WPP agency SYZYGY.