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The ARC of Happiness: What marketers can learn from the 2015 World Happiness Report

You’ve probably seen the results. Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Canada are the happiest nations on Earth (Syria, Burundi and Togo are the least happy).

The 2015 World Happiness Report is out, ranking countries by average happiness of its citizens.  You can download it here. It’s a great report and well worth a read, but not just for geo-bragging or geo-lust.  The World Happiness Report is insightful for any business for which customer happiness is important.

First, though – a recap of the rankings…

2015 World Happiness Rankings

  1. Switzerland
  2. Iceland
  3. Denmark
  4. Norway
  5. Canada
  6. Finland
  7. Netherlands
  8. Sweden
  9. New Zealand
  10. Australia
  11. Israel
  12. Costa Rica
  13. Austria
  14. Mexico
  15. United States
  16. Brazil
  17. Luxembourg
  18. Ireland
  19. Belgium
  20. United Arab Emirates
  21. United Kingdom
  22. Oman
  23. Venezuela
  24. Singapore
  25. Panama
  26. Germany
  27. Chile
  28. Qatar
  29. France
  30. Argentina

  1. Afghanistan
  2. Rwanda
  3. Benin
  4. Syria
  5. Burundi
  6. Togo


Whilst there may be little value in this summary list itself for marketers, the World Happiness Report contains at least four useful insights for marketers.

1. A Simple Measure of Customer Happiness

How do you measure happiness? The simple answer is the ‘Cantril Ladder’. Simply think of a ladder, with the best possible life for you being a 10, and the worst possible life being a 0. Now rate your own current life on that 0 to 10 scale.

That’s your Happiness score, a measure of subjective well-being and life-satisfaction.  So what? Well, one opportunity for marketers is to adapt the Cantril Ladder – used by the OECD – to measure customer happiness (…Think of a ladder, with the best possible product/service/brand experience for you being a 10, and the worst possible being a 0. Now rate our product/service/brand on this 0 to 10 scale).  Of course, there are other proprietary measures of satisfaction the quality of experience – but why not stand on the shoulders of giants – and use the simple Cantril Ladder?  If it’s good enough and useful for for the OECD and the World Happiness Report…

2. What Drives Customer Happiness

What’s perhaps more interesting for marketers is that the Happiness Report identifies the six drivers of human happiness. Together these six drivers explain three quarters of the variation of happiness in any one nation

  • Health (Healthy years of life expectancy)
  • Social support (as measured by having someone to count on in times of trouble)
  • Household income/GDP (per capita)
  • Trust (as measured by a perceived absence of corruption in government and business)
  • Generosity (as measured by recent donations, adjusted for differences in income)
  • Freedom (perceived freedom to make life decisions)

Although these are population level correlates of human happiness, they are insightful. Beyond communicating and delivering product/service benefits, is there an opportunity to scale the happiness ladder, and demonstrate how your product or service delivers against these higher order drivers of human happiness?

3. Emotional Drivers of Customer Happiness

The Cantril Ladder is not the only measure of human happiness; the presence of positive emotions (joy, pride) and absence of negative emotions (pain, anger and worry) matter as well as cognitive evaluations of subjective wellbeing. So in addition to using the Cantril Ladder, the World Happiness Report measures happiness emotionally, capturing whether people remember experiencing positive or negative emotions yesterday.

Could we use this insight that the presence of positive and absence of negative emotions are indicative of happiness, to measure, and more importantly deliver emotionally charged customer happiness? (think of your last product/service experience, to what degree did you experience the following emotions pride, joy, anger, worry, fear).  Interestingly, the World Happiness Report found that only three of the six happiness drivers listed above, appear to drive emotional (hedonic) happiness – freedom, generosity and social support.

Overall, these two strands of human happiness – cognitive and emotional – support the core insight from psychology (self-determination theory) that human happiness has an ARC:

The ARC of Human Happiness

  1. Autonomy (freedom)
  2. Relatedness (social connectedness/support)
  3. Competence (mastery)

The implication for marketers is that if customer happiness is your goal, focus not just on delivering promised benefits, but consider the ARC of human happiness – how does your product or service help the three core drivers of human happiness – autonomy, relatedness and competence?

4. Purpose and Meaning

Finally, in explaining the results, the World Happiness Report suggests that there may be a third strand to the DNA human happiness – and that is the degree we believe our life has purpose and meaning (known as eudaimonic well-being). Here the implication for marketers is that beyond product/service happiness, and in addition to cognitive and emotional happiness, we need ask ourselves how what we sell helps customers achieve their purpose and meaning in life?

Heady questions, but if we focus innovation and marketing on delivering human happiness, we’ll be doing something very special indeed.

Written by
Dr Paul Marsden
Join the discussion

  • The author did a great job. I spent a few minutes
    reading and checking the facts. Everything is very clear and understandable.
    I like posts that fill in your knowledge gaps. This one is of the sort.

  • I’m not surprised why Afghanistan or Syria is so far in the happiness rankings. I recently wrote a research paper about the sad childhood of a child born in conditionals of war. After writing this paper, I have concluded that I am very empathic and have a hard time talking about death.

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.