Focus on “Meaning”, not “Happiness” for an improved customer experience


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Recent work in psychoneuroimmunology (there is a field of study for everything) has shown that our gene expression differs according to two different types of well-being. Hedonic well-being refers to happiness we get from having access to and consuming resources. It is exactly the kind of well-being that is popularized in most marketing efforts. It’s a kind of “bling-bling”, I have everything well-being. On the other hand, eudaimonic well-being refers to having a sense of purpose and a deeper meaning. It is the sort of well being that one feels when donating time to a charity or doing some work which contributes to the community even though it may not be the best paid.

Researchers at UCLA and UNC found that when people reported having hedonic well being (feeling happy in their lives), they had a gene expression that would lead to chronic conditions like cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases and a weakened immune response. The opposite was true of those who reported eudaimonic well-being (feeling a sense of meaning in their life). They had gene expression that contraindicates chronic disease and actually enhances the immune system.

The interesting point is that the gene expression associated with eudaimonic well being (meaning) is healthier that that associated with hedonic well-being (happiness). It is not good enough simply have a sense of well-being. That is not specific enough. It is necessary to know the source of the well-being to understand our body’s internal reaction, the gene expression.

This gives food for thought. Perhaps the goal in customer experience should be to help customers (and employees) gain a sense of meaning from engaging with the business. Most businesses are squarely focused on exploiting the “consuming is happiness” concept. This may lead to an increase in stress in the neuroexpereince even when the customer does not consciously recognize it. The benefits of hedonic focused customer experience may have a shorter shelf life than eudaimonic focused customer experience.

What does eudaimonic customer experience look like? Disney’s experience is about putting a smile on kids’ faces. Parents engage with Disney get that sense of eudaimonic well-being because they fullfill their mission as great parents. Lush beauty products allows customers to feel you are helping the environment. Google’s so far has more or less kept to it’s “Don’t be evil” motto.

What does a hedonic experience look like? Think Monsanto – their innovations make it possible to produce more and more food on given parcels of land which in turn make it possible for us to consume more and more “perfect” food at relatively cheap prices. Another example might be Walmart. They acquire goods at ever cheaper prices allowing customers to consume without regard to real cost of production and the pressures that creates for those further down the value chain. This leads to a happiness of cheap abundance (or of over consumption according to some critics). It’s as if an implied “greed is good” selfishness is built into these experiences. I am not specifically singling out these two companies. Most businesses will have similar inclinations given that 67% of businesses are merely transactional in their customer experience orientation.

The concept may be applied everywhere, a eudaimonic army is one where the soldiers are willing to put their lives on the line for a cause they believe in – country, democracy, religion, freedom, etc. A hedonic army is one where soldiers have joined for the benefits and are happy to have a paycheck. It does not take much to understand that a eudaimonic army will do better in battle than a hedonic one, all other things being more or less equal. The same is true for employees everywhere. If they “believe” as much as employees of Disney and Lush do, the customer experience is likely to be stellar. If the focus however is hedonic, there may be apparent happiness but the adverse effects the chronic stress gene expression equivalent will be ever present and working underneath the surface.

Consider adding hedonic and eudaimonic to your customer experience vocabulary.

Qaalfa Dibeehi
Qaalfa Dibeehi is the author of "Achieving Customer Experience Excellence" and "Customer Experience Future Trends and Insights". He has 20+ years experience in the customer experience related space with particular emphasis on organisations that have a dual commercial and social/community responsibility. He is Non-Executive Director at Emerge. Previously, he was Chief Operating and Consulting Officer at Beyond Philosophy and Director at Fulcrum Analytics. He has an MBA from NYU and three other Masters Degrees from City U. of New York in Statistics, Psychology and Health Care Administration.


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