The Happiness Industry | William Davies

Summary of: The Happiness Industry: The Economics of Well-Being
By: William Davies


In the quest for happiness, what role does money play? The book ‘The Happiness Industry: The Economics of Well-Being’ by William Davies delves into the complex relationship between happiness, wealth, and the industries that seek to exploit this link. The summary takes the reader through the fascinating journey from developments in neuroscience, to philosophy, politics, marketing, and even in the workplace, demonstrating how the science of happiness has been used (or abused) by various sectors of society. Get ready to uncover how happiness has been transformed into a commodity, and how this affects different aspects of our lives.

Measuring Happiness

Happiness is a measurable emotion. Neuroscience has proven the existence of observable chemical processes in the
brain’s orbitofrontal cortex that make up the “code” for emotions such as happiness. Jeremy Bentham suggested measuring
happiness objectively using human pulse rates and money. Governments have taken up the responsibility of maximizing
societal happiness by punishing or rewarding individuals for their actions. The use of money and pulse rates are just some
of the ways to measure happiness, assisting governments to direct human behavior toward this goal.

The Pleasure of Spending

In recent decades, researchers have sought to understand the relationship between pleasure and money. Studies have shown that people with higher incomes tend to be happier. Neuroscientists have since taken up the mantle, discovering that pleasurable activities lead to increases in dopamine levels in the brain. In fact, spending money activates the same pleasure centers that drive decisions to make a purchase. As a result, researchers have suggested that buying decisions are the result of specific neural pathways in the brain. While this research may benefit economists, business leaders, and marketers, it raises larger questions about the commodification of happiness and the power of money in our lives.

The Power of Advertising and Behavioral Analysis

Have you ever wondered why you bought a particular product? Advertising teams use neuroscience to manipulate our brains and make us want to buy more. Studies show that humans experience more pleasure anticipating a product than actually owning it. Advertising trends focus on selling the experience of using a product rather than its characteristics. Marketers also analyze our behavior to evoke certain emotions and manipulate us into buying. With online advertising and e-commerce, it’s easier than ever to measure consumer behavior and get them to do what you want. This power is not limited to marketers alone as employers also seek to harness our happiness.

Capitalism vs. Employee Engagement

The success of a capitalist business is closely intertwined with the engagement and happiness of their employees. Studies show that only 13% of the global workforce is enthusiastic about their jobs, leading to burnout, absenteeism, and reduced productivity which costs the US economy $550 billion annually. Companies can increase output by up to 12% if employees feel happy. Additionally, employee burnout leads to serious health risks that contribute to even further reduced productivity. To combat this, some businesses have implemented executive wellness programs and even hired “happiness consultants” to foster a positive work environment. For example, Google employs a “jolly good fellow” to spread mindfulness and empathy throughout the company. Ultimately, it’s important for businesses to prioritize their employees’ happiness and health as it directly affects their bottom line.

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