Stumbling on Happiness

I´ve just read “Stumbling on Happiness” by Daniel Gilbert. Almost 10 years old and not everything is new for an ambitious reader but Gilbert shares some great insights and results of his studies of happiness.

Gilbert HappinnessUp front I gotta say that this book is easy to read and it´s absolutely worth it. Some of his theses are eyeopening or at least thought provoking.

The beginning of the book is about “how much of what you do is for you NOW and how much is to please you in the FUTURE“. All of us are very future-focused and do actions often to please our future-us. Do you know that the human beings are the only animals that think about the future?

Fear, worry and anxiety play huge roles in our lives. The most important reason we simulate the future is the fact that our brains want to control what is going to happen and what we are about to have.

This is my personal bottom line of the book. The fact that we want to take control. And even more important: Control which is more often than not just subjective.

People bet more money on games of chance when their opponents seem incompetent than competent – even when it is random drawing of cards. People feel more confident winning the lottery when they can choose the numbers on the ticket and people are more confident that they will win a dice gambling when they can throw the dices themselves.

So, as we see: it´s all about the feeling of having control in absurdly uncontrollable events and situations.

A quiet great part of the book is kind of a definition of happiness, which as we will learn is almost impossible. No one knows what happiness really is. Happiness has to do with experiences, feeling, even time and space.

(Short note: Last year was a movie released called “Hector and the search for happiness” which is also quiet good. At least the delivered message has some good points. Check the trailer out on youtube.)

Why is “happiness” and subjective decisions and opinions so interesting also for business?

Gilbert presents us some illustrative examples of how people think and how our brain works.

  1. People prefer to have jobs that pays $30000, then $40000, then $50000, rather than a job that pays $60000, then $50000, then $40000, even thoug the second one would pay more money all in all.
  2. People don´t think in absolute dollars but in relative dollars. We would drive across the city to save $50 on a $100 radio, but not to save $50 on a car.
  3. People are more likely to book holidays that has been on sales from $600 to $500 than an identical one that costs $400 that was on sale the previous day for $300. We prefer bad deals that have become a decent deal to great deals that were once amazing deals.
  4. People don´t like to buy the most expensive item in a list. So we an put a super pricey item in a list which makes other items look less expensive ($500 bottle of Champagne, makes a $60 bottle attractive.)
  5. People care about an attribute like the amount of words only when they can compare the item side by side. In an interesting experiement people could bid on a new dictionary with 10.000 words in it. They bid $24. Others could bid on one in bad condition with 20.000 words. They bid $20. A third group could compare both and bid. They bid $19 for the new and small one and $27 for the used and big one.

Summarizing these illustrative examples, we can say that value is determined by the comparison of one thing to another – in different situations, with different perspectives and of different kinds. If we want to predict how we feel about something in the future, we must consider the comparison we will make in the future, not the one we are making now or in the present.

It´s like with bad events such as sickness. When people are ask to predict their feelings if they would get a bad desease, they almost always overestimate how bad they will feel and how long they will feel this way.

Insurances use this fact a lot in their marketing and sales strategies of course.

Talking about the difficult sector of insurances Gilbert also mentions the thesis and example that if we believe that someone is smart, a single recommendation letter proves it subjectively. If we don´t believe a person to be smart, we demand quite a lot letters to prove him smart. Transfer this to businesses and brands. Having a great brand it´s easier to market. Having a difficult or damaged brand it is much tougher to get back to trust and positioning.

Now you see how some theses of this book may influence our marketing, pricing or our sales. Gilbert uses some illustrative examples as those written above which make this book easy to read and to use.

With general tendencies of our society we can trigger special emotions. People see themselves as more generous than others as well as less selfish than others. Sales people know how to use this to open doors or build a connection to their client.

And some tendencies and pattern of us can also be used by us for our business.

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