The rise of Happiness Engineer & The Corporate pursuit of Happiness.

corporate pursuit of happiness

corporate pursuit of happiness

After several months of bloglessness I finally got myself up-and-running again. Full of inspiration? Yes. And I still remember my password too. Great! But that’s only half-way there.

Earlier this week, I couldn’t access my blog Administration. WordPress kindly informed me about the issues. The message was something similar to “Whoops! There’s something wrong. Please check the knowledge base for any known issues and if none of this helps, drop us a note”.

So I did all of that but ended up dropping them that note. The issue got solved extremely quickly by Andrew. But I don’t want to talk about WordPress’s great support service today.

Today I want to talk about Andrew. Andrew is a Happiness Engineer at WordPress. Happiness Engineer? What on earth? Well, WordPress probably met Marketing professor Jennifer Aaker and her research on “Happiness”.

Jennifer Aaker’s study on the corporate pursuit of happiness

Jennifer Aaker is a well-known professor marketing. She studies psychology alongside marketing and spent the last several years studying the subject of “happiness”. How do people find happiness? How do they keep it? How do they manipulate it? How do they use it as a resource?

Jennifer L. Aaker, General Atlantic Professor of Marketing, Graduate School of Business Stanford University

Jennifer L. Aaker, General Atlantic Professor of Marketing, Graduate School of Business Stanford University

The main finding of the study is that in fact a “meaningful experience” (e.g.: new skill) often makes people happier than moments of pure pleasure. This is what she and others call the “Paradox of Happiness”.

Next to that, she discovered happiness is age-dependent. Young people relate happiness to excitement whereas elderly link it with peacefulness. But what’s more important to me is that Aaker soon discovered that the above little nuances were key for marketing and business.
After all, she realized, brands are increasingly trying to appeal to consumer’s emotions to keep their sales going in these rough economic times.

So she set up her theory and easily convinced the academic world that she was on to something – resulting in a graduate-level class “Designing Happiness” in one of USA’s leading business schools. But in today’s post-recession economy, where morale is low, brand owners and marketers tend to see the appeal of promising happiness along with their products as well. They realized that they could deploy happiness as any other commodity to sell something.

Of course, the question is: how does one implement the ideas of Happiness into marketing and business? Let’s have a look at corporations that tried to integrate this entire “happiness idea”.

Aaker’s Happiness and some Big Guns

  • Adobe:
    got lectured by Aaker on the liaison between happiness and meaningful moments. The ideas were implemented through the “Adobe Youth Voices” project. The project allows children and teenagers from poor environments to use the Adobe software freely in order to create their story.
  • Coke:
    experimented with the link between happiness and the brand. Just think about Coke’s “happiness machine” or the entire “open happiness” campaign.
  • AOL:
    sources claim they have received lectures from Prof. Aaker but I don’t have an idea whether they implemented it in one way or another.

Benefits of “happiness-driven” marketing campaigns?

In fact nobody really knows for sure, as is often the case in social sciences. Aaker’s hypotheses is the following:

Marketing Happiness is one of the few ways businesses can still appeal to people in a manner that feels authentic. That’s important, because people have an aversion to anything that feels overly manufactured.

The concept of Marketing Happiness thus expands the idea of what it means to buy something. If you follow this theory, you believe that brands can provide greater meaning to the world for the consumer. One of those greater meanings could be things that enable happiness. Consequently the consumers want to share that happy moment and feeling as if the product is part of their lives and community (read: facebook likes, twitter mentions).
Happy Talk = Word-of-Mouth!

Case WordPress: bringing Happiness through a job title isn’t enough

E-mail from the Happiness Engineer at WordPress

E-mail from the Happiness Engineer at WordPress

Best regards — Andrew — Happiness Engineer —

As I mentioned earlier in this article, I dropped WordPress a note to register my issue. Most compelling about the whole support was the job name of the guy helping me out. Andrew is a Happiness Engineer. Guess his job is to engineer people into a happy state of mind, right? Now how can he make people happy?

First, and this is what most people believe is sufficient, he can solve our technical problems as soon as possible.

Second, he can inform us what the error is about and educate us about the skill required to fix it. Maybe next time I can do it myself. This is what’s going to make me really happy, according to Aaker’s findings. And it will probably make Andrew happy too. His work-load will decrease. Andrew choose the first option by the way. He solved it himself. Not teaching me anything. Maybe Andrew already figured I couldn’t fix it anyway.

Aaker discovered that a meaningful experience (e.g.: new skill, volunteering, spending time with family) often makes people happier than moment of pure pleasure.

Andrew, are you authentic? Do you really exist?

Aaker believes marketing happiness could be one of the few ways business can still appeal to people in an authentic way.

I doubt the authenticity of Andrew. Would an authentic human being out of flesh and blood e-mail you six times? Would he send recurring e-mails that bring you exactly the same message? I wouldn’t for sure. It felt like spam. And I’m quite convinced that you’d experience too much e-mails as “manufactured” as well. Didn’t Aaker learned us that we actually don’t like that?

Aaker says that people have an aversion to anything that feels overly manufactured.

Andrew, WordPress's Hapiness Engineer send me 6 e-mails.

Andrew, WordPress's Hapiness Engineer send me 6 e-mails.

WordPress and Aaker did they ever had a date?

So, in the end I find myself asking: did WordPress ever had a lecture from Aaker? Or did WordPress just hear about the “Happiness Buzz” and came up with a title to put on automated e-mails? One would think so. After all they didn’t integrate two key findings of the study:

  1. that happiness after a struggle is the most rewarding
  2. that bringing happiness requires authenticity

As they did:

  1. just solve my problem. OK, it was solved fast, so I’m quite happy with that.
  2. not show any authenticity to me. Yes, too much e-mails feel robotized and spammy.

Yours Truly — @vermeiretim — Awesomeness Developer —


  1. I’m still in love with WordPress. This is just storytelling.
  2. You can always frame a story like you want to. I could have written it completely different. Just consider me framing it from the perspective of me being happy because of writing this article as a result of my initial Back-office issue. If you look at it like that, Andrew truly engineered me to be happy. After all, the true struggle was writing this blog post. Now that’s finished, I’m happy.
    Or suppose I wrote this story with a focus on the opposite approach “fear appeals”?
  3. There used to be a theory/research about persuasive communication that stated that “fear” (as being the opposite of “happy”) was a very effective way to get attention and communicate a message: “fear appeals”. Here are some references from that “wave”:
    • Spence, H.E.; Moinpour, R. (1972). “Fear Appeals in Marketing. A Social Perspective”. Journal of Marketing 36 (3): 39.
    • Leventhal, H (1971). “Fear appeals and persuasion: the differentiation of a motivational construct”. American Journal of Public Health 61 (6): 1208.
    • Dillard, J.P., & Anderson, J.W. (2004). The role of fear in persuasion. Psychology & Marketing, 21, 909-926.
    • Witte, K. (1992). Putting the fear back into fear appeals: The extended parallel process model. Communication Monographs, 59, 329-349.
    • I’ve also encountered this philosophy in political sciences. Let’s think e.g. on Adorno’s theory of the “authoritarian personality” (1950).
    • Taken the above into account and from what I know from the “fear appeals” theory, one can hardly imagine that this could ever be an ethical way to promote your business value a.k.a. to organize your marketing around a.k.a. to use in your communications.

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