Marketing: Not the Source of Unhappiness

In a recent post Seth Godin wrote a post called Destroying Happiness where he cites marketing as a source for unhappiness in the world. “What you have doesn’t make you unhappy. What you want does. And want is created by us, the marketers. Marketers trying to grow market share will always work to make their non-customers unhappy.”

I think this is an over-generalization and over-simplification of human psychology and I don’t think marketing can be blamed for unhappiness. Of course, I do not believe Seth was suggesting that marketers are the only cause of unhappiness, there are an unlimited number of things that can make someone unhappy: work, lack of relationships, lack of safety. However, I don’t think marketing is a good explanation for why we are far richer than someone in the middle ages, but not really happier.

Positive psychology is basically the study of happiness and has become very popular in recent years. One of the major findings from this research, from the amalgamation of numerous studies, is that money has a very low correlation with happiness. Once you are out of poverty, an increase in money has almost no affect on your happiness level. Another equally important finding is that happiness remains essentially static for an individual. For instance one study followed a group of individuals who had won the lottery and another group who were paralyzed. Amazingly, after about one year both groups had returned to their base level of happiness.

So this can suggest that the reason that we are no happier today than we were a hundred years ago is because an increase in wealth does not cause an increase in happiness. In other words, marketing is not the reason we are unhappy.

The underlying question is whether marketing causes culture to be the way it is, or if human nature causes marketing to be the way it is. It is human nature to desire things, material and immaterial. Would the world be better off if everyone lived like Buddhist monks and didn’t desire ownership of anything? It’s very difficult to say but I don’t think it would.

Image source jaja