Sign up FAST! Login

Why can't we predict life satisfaction over the life cycle? People are bad at predicting what will make us happy.

Why can't we predict life satisfaction over the life cycle? uncovered by @EmEsfahaniSmith
10:53 AM Jul 24 2013

Stashed in: Facts, Optimism, @bakadesuyo, Awesome, @gretchenrubin, Meaning of Life, life, Remind Me, The Internet is my religion., Happiness, Happiness, @aaker, @zappos, @emesfahanismith, Five People

To save this post, select a stash from drop-down menu or type in a new one:

People are bad at predicting what will make us happy.

This is why the way to happiness is a choice.

We don't know what makes us happy, but we think we do, says Jennifer Aaker:

Tony Hsieh of Zappos wrote a book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose.

In it, he talks about Zappos’ issues that had nothing to do with the underlying performance of our business, but that increased tensions on their board of directors:

Some board members had always viewed our company culture as a pet project — “Tony’s social experiments,” they called it. I disagreed. I believe that getting the culture right is the most important thing a company can do. But the board took the conventional view — namely, that a business should focus on profitability first and then use the profits to do nice things for its employees. The board’s attitude was that my “social experiments” might make for good PR but that they didn’t move the overall business forward. The board wanted me, or whoever was CEO, to spend less time on worrying about employee happiness and more time selling shoes.

On some level, I was sympathetic to the board’s position. The truth was that if we pulled back on the culture stuff, the immediate effect on our financials would probably have been positive. It would have reduced our expenses in the short term, and I don’t think our sales would have suffered much at first. But I was pretty sure that in the long term, it would have ruined everything we had created.

By early 2009, we were at a stalemate. Because of a complicated legal structure, I effectively controlled the majority of the common shares, so that the board couldn’t force a sale of the company. But on the five-person board, only two of us — Alfred Lin, our CFO and COO, and myself — were completely committed to Zappos’s culture. This made it likely that if the economy didn’t improve, the board would fire me and hire a new CEO who was concerned only with maximizing profits. The threat was never made overtly, but I could tell that was the direction things were going.

It was a stressful time for me and Alfred. But we’d gotten through much tougher times before, and this seemed like just another challenge we needed to figure out. We began brainstorming ways that we could get out from under the board. We certainly didn’t want to sell the company and move on to something else. To us, Zappos wasn’t just a job — it was a calling.

In April, I flew to Seattle for an hourlong meeting with Jeff Bezos. I gave him my standard presentation on Zappos, which is mostly about our culture. Toward the end of the presentation, I started talking about the science of happiness — and how we try to use it to serve our customers and employees better.

Out of nowhere, Jeff said, “Did you know that people are very bad at predicting what will make them happy?” Those were the exact words on my next slide. I put it up and said, “Yes, but apparently you are very good at predicting PowerPoint slides.” After that moment, things got comfortable. It seemed clear that Amazon had come to appreciate our company culture as well as our strong sales.

I applaud Tony Hsieh’s emphasis on happiness in corporate culture.

Happy employees lead to happy customers.

Thanks for stashing this, Adam!

You are very welcome Soyeun. I regularly come back to this.

People are very bad at predicting what will make us happy:

That comes from Gretchen Rubin of the Happiness Project:

Daniel Nettle’s Happiness sums up, “that the best predictor of how happy people are at the end of the study is how happy they were at the beginning. It is as if happiness or unhappiness stem in large part from how we address what happens in the world, not what actually happens.” (p. 92)


If Daniel Gilbert is right, it’s harder to find good predictors of happiness than we realize.

Still, happiness is worth the pursuit… and the struggles.

On the other hand, Emily Esfahani Smith writes that the benefits of optimism are real:

It's another funny way of framing something important as probabilistic that we're entirely responsible for learning to recognize, control and master ourselves as deterministic--anyone can get good at choosing happiness as an internal state and extending its duration throughout our lives without it being dependent upon external conditions and other people's behaviors.

Or not.

Rob I think you're right, modulo people who suffer from mental illness.

For the rest of us, happiness is an attitude we can choose.

Apparently, a man is the worst judge of his own character. And happiness. And what he is good at. Hm...

We need other people to keep it real.

You May Also Like: