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Hiroshi Tanaka

Hiroshi Tanaka, Ph.D [profile]

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Searching for happiness

Hiroshi Tanaka, Ph.D
Professor, Graduate School of Strategic Management (Business School), Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Marketing Strategy Theory, Branding Strategy Theory, International Marketing Theory and Advertising Theory

Researching consumer behavior theory

Recently I have authored Shouhisha Koudouron (Consumer Behavior), a textbook for university students, through CHUOKEIZAI-SHA (published on March 30, 2015). In 2008, through the same publisher, I also published Shouhisha Koudouron Taikei (Consumer Behavior: Social Psychological Approach). The new 2015 text, written in plain language, is an easy-to-understand revision of the 2008 book whose major readers were researchers, graduate students and experts of marketing. At the same time, the content has been updated, using latest research findings.

Not only that, this text introduces new topics that have not been touched upon in consumer behavior books up until now. The new topics include possession, trust, value, happiness, flow experience, authenticity, hermeneutics, sacred consumption, gifts, luxury, diffusion, other-directed character, reference groups, innovators, sharing, collaborative consumption, co-creation, consumer innovation, ethical consumption, customer satisfaction and online consumer behavior.

Why were these revisions necessary? Consumer behavior theory is basically part of marketing theory. Since the main targets of business marketing activity are consumers or customers, marketing research has become a major pillar in understanding consumer behavior.

However, consumer research in recent years has not been limited to the narrow meaning of consumers as targets in marketing, but deals with an extremely wide range. It is natural to think that most human behavior is related to “consumption”. Because of this, this textbook covers concepts and issues that, at first glance, appear to have no direct relationship with consumption.

In this essay, I would like to take you through the concept of happiness from the viewpoint of consumer behavior.


What is happiness?

Let’s think about what happiness means. Happiness is probably one of the things humans most strongly desire. In Pensées, 17th century French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote the following.

“All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. (…) Happiness is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.” (Chapter 7, Verse 425)

I believe that it is natural that happiness is important to all human beings. However, the question is, what defines happiness? In the quote above, Pascal says that even men who commit suicide seek happiness. So what is happiness?

Two views of happiness

We can say that happiness is a subjective experience and is the thoughts and feelings held about oneself (Deci & Ryan, 2006). In that sense, it can be said that happiness is a “subjective sense of pleasure.” A subjective sense of pleasure comes from high positive emotions, low negative emotions, and a high sense of satisfaction. Happiness is the positive emotions of joy and fun, and the situation when one is feeling satisfied.

However, happiness is not always this psychological sense of satisfaction. Where the happiness we experience in our everyday lives is “hedonism”, another viewpoint of happiness is “eudaimonism”. When people work hard to achieve something, even it was a difficult job, they can feel happiness. For example, the process of a woman giving birth and raising a child puts a great burden on their lives, but it is unthinkable that many women are feeling unhappy about it.

Happiness felt towards one’s life is a like the sense of happiness similar felt when looking back over how you have lived your life. In other words, if it is a “goal” to attain psychological and emotional happiness, then it can be said that the sense of happiness in life is an emotion that exists in the “process” of achieving a target.

What is the result of happiness?

So, what benefit do consumers actually gain from being happy?

In a research report on medical research into happiness and health (Veenhoven, 2008), it concludes that happiness cannot lengthen the life expectancy of sick patients. However, it was discovered that there is a trend in healthy people living longer due to a sense of happiness. In other words, happiness does not have healing properties, but can contribute to preventing illness and maintaining a healthy life.

Why does this happen? The most used explanation is that, as opposed to feelings of unhappiness imposing negative physical effects, feelings of happiness lead to a better physical condition. Unhappiness raises blood pressure and weakens the immune system, whereas a sense of happiness activates the immune system.

Not only that, but happy people also pay more attention to their weight and are sensitive to health information. Furthermore, it is reported that happy people participate in sporting activities more often, and tend to drink and smoke less. It has been proven that maintaining a state of happiness leads to us remaining healthy.

Can you buy happiness?

2002 Nobel Prize winner in the field of behavioral economics Daniel Kahneman and colleagues have published some interesting research. Data into seeking happiness from a large sample of 450,000 Americans was analyzed, and people were divided into “emotional well-being in daily life” and “happiness felt with life evaluation” for observation.

According to the report, “emotional well-being in daily life” rose with one’s income until a specific level. However, the sense of “emotional well-being in daily life” stopped rising at an income of $75,000 (equivalent of 6 million yen at an exchange rate of $1=\80). The average annual income for American households in 2008 (median) was $52,000 (Median Household Income for States, 2009), so an income of $75,000 lies in the upper middle range.

On the other hand, “happiness felt with life evaluation” also continued to rise with one’s income, but differing from emotional well-being in daily life, no upper limit can be seen. There seems to be a trend that happiness felt with life evaluation increases alongside one’s income. So, how about those earning low incomes? Unfortunately, low income earners in both the emotional well-being and life evaluation brackets only felt low levels of happiness.

The bottom line is, of the two senses of happiness, “happiness felt with life evaluation” can be bought with money. However, in the case of “emotional well-being in daily life”, if a certain level of income is reached, happiness will rise no further. This result, in a summary, shows that “a high income causes an increase with ‘happiness felt with life evaluation’, but ‘emotional well-being in daily life’ does not increase for those above a certain level of income.”

Understanding happiness

For those who have read this far, I hope you were able to understand happiness more than before. For those who want to read further, please take a look at Shouhisha Koudouron (Consumer Behavior Theory) (CHUOKEIZAI-SHA).

I wish to convey not only about happiness, but the fact that many important issues in life can be researched in consumer behavior theory and marketing theory. I hope that many people take an interest in the fields of consumer behavior theory and marketing theory which deal with this wide range of topics. In addition, to working businessmen and women, I would like to recommend a course in learning marketing and strategic marketing at the Graduate School of Strategic Management-Chuo University, which has been developed at Korakuen Campus for working people.

Hiroshi Tanaka, Ph.D
Professor, Graduate School of Strategic Management (Business School), Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Marketing Strategy Theory, Branding Strategy Theory, International Marketing Theory and Advertising Theory
Hiroshi Tanaka was born in Nagoya in 1951. He obtained a doctorate degree from Kyoto University (Doctor of Economics). He joined the faculty of Chuo Business School in 2008. Prior to current position, Professor Tanaka was marketing director at Dentsu Inc., professor at the Faculty of Business Administration, Hosei University, and visiting researcher at Columbia University. He is Executive Vice President of the Japan Marketing Academy. Major publications include Shouhisha Koudouron (Consumer Behavior Theory) (CHUOKEIZAI-SHA, 2015), Burando Senryaku Zensho (Branding Strategy Encyclopedia) (editor: YUHIKAKU PUBLISHING, 2014), Maaketingu Kiiwaado Besuto 50 (Best 50 Marketing Keywords) (U-Can, 2014), Shouhisha Koudouron Taikei (Consumer Behavior Theory System) (CHUOKEIZAI-SHA, 2008), Daigyakuten no Burandingu (Come-From-Behind Branding) (Kodansha, 2010), Yokubou Kaibou (Dissecting Desire), (coauthor with Kenichiro Mogi, Gentosha, 2006), and Kigyou wo Takameru Burando Senryaku (Branding Strategies to Improve Business) (Kodansha Gendai Shinsho, 2002). He also published Kyureeshon (Curation) as supervisor of translation (President, 2011) etc. He is a winner of the Japan Academy of Advertising Award (3 times), Chuo University Academic Research Encouragement Award, Shinobu Shirakawa Award (Tokyo Advertising Association) and the Japan Marketing Academy Best Paper Award.
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