The Paradox of Happiness


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Carl Jung (1875-1961, Swiss psychiatrist) said, “Even a happy life brings some darkness and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not compensated by some sadness.” Human beings are comparison animals, whether we feel good or bad and to what extent are largely the products of comparing—our well being in relativity—against other people, e.g. I may feel rich when comparing with the poor Jack, but feel poor when comparing with the rich Bob; against other experiences, e.g. I may feel happy now when comparing with my sick periods, but I don’t feel particularly happy when comparing with my great moments; within an experience, e.g. flight without meals comparing the fun I have on Southwest is not that bad, I name the latest one as Intra-Experience Anchoring. Intra-Experience Anchoring is our interpretation from comparing real or invented facts within an experience; it suggests that the anchored (biased) experience will replace the actual (unbiased) experience, to determine the perceived pleasure or pain. In other words, what we feel within an experience is a relative rather than an actual pleasure or pain.

Human beings have a tendency to rationalize our behaviours and emotions. Psychologist Daniel Gilbert mentioned in his book Stumbling on Happiness, “The psychological immune system is a defensive system, when experiences make us feel sufficient unhappy, the psychological immune system cooks facts and shifts blame in order to offer us a more positive view. But it doesn’t do this every time we feel the slightest tingle of sadness, jealousy, anger or frustration.” We need more pain to activate our rationalization system. This concept is further supported by various research findings. Significant pains are needed in order to rationalize our suffering for something of great value.

Adopt this concept into business context. Suppose two restaurants are equally good in food quality, the first one you could go straight and have your seat, and the second one you’ve to queue up for 15 minutes. Most probably the second one will generate you a better perceived food quality (anchored pleasure) as you rationalize your pain to give yourself a good reason to queue up. When quality food is the predominant brand value, it is not only better, but necessary, to lower the performance on queue time (or it could be service, price, convenience, scenery, etc.). Our pains are well justified not only for a higher anchored (relative) pleasure, it releases the constraints so that the restaurant could reallocate the limited resources to what she does best—continuously to maintain and enhance the food quality, her true differentiator—resulting in a higher actual (absolute) pleasure and a more branded experience.


  1. Sampson,

    I understand what you’re saying, and I think it works that way very often with children’s products, like the scramble to get Cabbage Patch kids years ago. The rarer the toy, the more parents just had to buy it for the kids.

    But I don’t agree with you on restaurants—at least not the way I approach them personally. I don’t like lines, and if I can’t avoid them by making a reservation, I won’t go to the restaurant, no matter how good the food is. And I believe I won’t be snowed into thinking a restaurant that’s hard to get reservations to has better food. As a matter of fact, I hung up recently on a brunch place that was asking 48 hours’ notice of canceling a reservation or it would charge my credit card for $45 a plate. For brunch. Now, the restaurant may have been trying to aim at an elite crowd. But all I thought of was how annoyed I was at the cancellation policy.

    That’s especially the case with family restaurants—and completely at odds with your pain/long-line theory. There’s no way I’m going to pick the restaurant with the longest line when I’m taking my kids out. If the food quality is equal, then I’ll go to the restaurant I can get seated at every time. In fact, whenever we can get seated immediately at a restaurant that we like, I always joke to my husband that we better hope that the restaurant is popular enough to stay open but not so popular that we can’t get seated. Or conversely, we hope that not so many people find out about it.

    Gwynne Young, Managing Editor, CustomerThink

  2. Sampson

    I read your current and previous posts on ‘touchpoint pain’ with a growing sense of unease. Your suggestion that companies should build in dissatisfactory touchpoints into their offerings so that they can subsequently provide a contrast and correct the situation with satisfactory touchpoints is confusing, dangerous and not supported by customer behavioural research.

    It reminds me of the fallacy surrounding TARP research in the 1980s that hinted that customers recovered after complaining were more satisfied than those who never had a complaint in the first place. This resulted in a suggestion that companies should engineer complaints so that they could recover them later. Subsequent academic research exposed the fallacy.

    Almost 40 years of research in customer dissatisfaction, based upon Hirschman’s original 1970’s work on ‘Exit, Voice & Loyalty’ and Rusbult’s 1987 extension to include ‘Neglect’ show clearly that dissatisfactory touchpoints lead inexorably to increased defection, complaining and withdrawl, and decreased loyalty. This applies broadly across human relations with organisations including restaurants, airlines and big-box furniture retailers. Richard Oliver’s seminal book ‘Satisfaction: A Behavioural Perspective on the Consumer’ provides a good summary of the current research in customer satisfaction/dissatisfaction. Antonio Damassio’s book ‘The Feeling of What Happens’ provides a good summary of the current research in how humans process experiences. Daniel Kahnemann’s 1992 Nobel Prize lecture provides a good summary of the current research in the neurobiology of experience, including the trend-peak-end rule.

    If you have any new research to the contrary, I would be happy to review it.

    Companies should not build dissatisfactory touchpoints into their experiences. Period. They have enough work to do providing satisfactory touchpoints and recovering customers after accidental dissatisfactory touchpoints without introducing additional complexity through artificial dissatisfactory ones. Pain is clearly bad for business.

    Graham Hill

  3. Relationship is made up of touchpoints. Positive relationship is then made up of positive touchpoints along the touchpoint chain. One negative touchpoint experience can ruin all previous efforts in building positive relationship, especially in the world of information rich and time poor. People simply show no mercy to even little negative touchpoint experience. It is unrealistic to hope that creating negative now will deliver positive in the future. Fact is, negative now will usually result in zero immediately.

    Daryl Choy, the founder of WisdomBoom and Touchpoint eXperience Management, helps firms make a difference at every touchpoint. Choy can be reached at

  4. I do believe that we appreciate reaching the top of hills of success, after walking through the valleys of disappointment and even pain.

    Overcoming challenges is part of success. I remember, for example, the feeling of exhilaration after finishing a long/difficult bike ride.

    That said, I wonder whether designing any real “pain” into a customer experience is wise. There should be enough contrast between the peak and the low point, but the low point shouldn’t be memorable as very negative, in my opinion.

    There are situations where a long wait, high price or other challenges might make the end result (peak) seem all the more sweet. I’m thinking of the famous “soup Nazi” in the TV show Seinfeld. Of course, that was fictitious, but what about the famous NY nightclub Studio 54, whether the difficulty getting in (insults included) was part of the deal.

    I was just in Colombia for a conference, and Rafael Rodriquez spoke of very successful restaurant where the owner believes the long waits to get in help create a feeling of anticipation. I’ll ask Rafael if he’ll add to this thread to explain in more detail.

    Bob Thompson, CustomerThink Corp.
    Blog: Unconventional Wisdom

  5. The place Bob mentions is called “Andres Carne de Res”, something like “Andrew’s Beef Place”, is the most famous restaurant in Colombia and a quite lucrative business (7500 people over the weekend with revenues of US$1.5 million/month). Last weekend it celebrated 25th of continuous and growing success. At that place people love the waiting line. Being there is a dramatically different experience for adults as well as for kids. It is not the food (which is great), not the service (90% of the 700 waiters – most of them nice looking girls – come from the top private university in Colombia), not the price (high as it can be); it is just the experience.

    His owner, Andres Jaramillo has a very peculiar business philosophy and CRM/CEM approach. The only CRM/CEM tool he uses, besides superb service and a unique environment and exqusite food, is a small recycled paper notepad, where he annotates everything he sees/hears should be improved. When discussing with him the issue of the queue to enter the place, he argued that after driving 30 or 45 minutes from Bogota to Chia, a samll town where the restaurant is located, people are so excited to get in that making it not too easy, adds to the anxiety that later is rewarded just by being inside and exposed to a very unique experience. The line is not actually a standing waiting line, it flows, slowly but it does.

    Actually the queue is the beginning of the experience, because as you advance the 15 meters one–person-wide sort of corridor, you are exposed to a diversity of sensorial experiences that make you forget you are in a queue and make your expectations grow.

    Once you are seated (sometimes it could be up to 30 minutes before you get seated), you are constantly given dozens of small little unique touchpoints so that you also forget about the uncomfortable wooden chairs you are sitting on.

    Andres, is a master of customer experience and has managed to wisely convert what some may call “pains” (created on purpose) into emotions and the result is that people love waiting on the line, because that queue will lead them into a great experience. He believes those little pains add value to his business and so far he has proved so. When I suggested surveying his customers he said that surveys are the result of insecurity and a sign of weakness that customers may interpret as if something is going wrong. Quite an interesting philosophy!. For a deeper insight into what Andres Carne de Res’ experience means to people, take a look at

    Rafael Rodriguez
    Focused Management Colombia

  6. Gwynne

    I don’t agree with me too.

    I hate lines, and it will be a big surprise if I could find one who loves lines. If two restaurants are same good in food quality, definitely I will (and I believe everyone does) choose the one with no queue rather than waiting for 15 minutes. Isn’t it crystal clear that no one will prefer more pain to less or no pain at all? Yes, it is. You and I both hate lines very much, ‘convenience’ (in that case, queue time) appeals far more critical than ‘food quality’ to us (as family persons with kids). If we were her target customers, she did for sure address the wrong needs with the wrong brand values.

    Even if she is targeting the customers who treasure ‘food quality’ lot more than ‘convenience’, pain (queue time) is still the issue. Let’s say customers may be willing to wait for 15 minutes (tolerable pain) for better food and anything longer is regarded as unacceptable. Again, hardly would anyone who dare to choose waiting longer when ‘food quality’ is perceived as same good. The trick is at our ‘perception’. For human being, everything starts (and ends) with emotions, ‘perception’ always distorts our ‘actual’ experience. When we did try out the food of two restaurants, both may be equally good in objective sense, but the one with 15 minutes wait time (within one acceptable level) will trigger our psychological immune system to ratinalize our pain (queue time), and thus enhance the perceived pleasure (food quality)—which stands a better chance to be deposited into effective memories.

    To you and me with ‘convenience’ as the most critical need, if two restaurants we can get seated at every time (the brand value), the one with below-average food quality (within acceptable level) may generate us higher perceived pleasure on ‘convenience’ than the one with average food quality—though both make you wait zero minute—we rationalize our pain (worse food) for something of great value (no wait time). Again, we all hate worse food, and it will be a big surprise if I could find one who prefers worst to average…

    Btw, we do share the same joke. I tell my wife that we better hope that the restaurant (we love) is popular enough to stay open but not so many people find out about it so that we won’t have to wait.

    Sampson Lee


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