Consumer and Happiness. an Approach to Integrate the Concept of Happiness Into Marketing Theory

ABSTRACT - This study makes an approach to integrate the concept of happiness into marketing theory. Happiness is defined and categorized with the state-trait-concept. We chose two qualitative methods: a focus group and ZMET (Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Techniques) in order to affirm our assumptions and to point out the relevance of happiness in marketing. We derived a formula to interpret the value of happiness in concrete purchase situations. At the end of our study we mention some possibilities to integrate the concept of happiness into existing marketing and consumer behavior theories.


Pakize Schuchert-Guler, Martin Eisend, and Holger Lutters (2001) ,"Consumer and Happiness. an Approach to Integrate the Concept of Happiness Into Marketing Theory", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, eds. Andrea Groeppel-Klien and Frank-Rudolf Esch, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 227-232.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 2001      Pages 227-232


Pakize Schuchert-Guler, Freie Universitat Berlin, Germany

Martin Eisend, Freie Universitat Berlin, Germany

Holger Lutters, Freie Universitat Berlin, Germany


This study makes an approach to integrate the concept of happiness into marketing theory. Happiness is defined and categorized with the state-trait-concept. We chose two qualitative methods: a focus group and ZMET (Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Techniques) in order to affirm our assumptions and to point out the relevance of happiness in marketing. We derived a formula to interpret the value of happiness in concrete purchase situations. At the end of our study we mention some possibilities to integrate the concept of happiness into existing marketing and consumer behavior theories.


Happiness is an issue rich in tradition. People were interested in this issue ever since. Scientific discussion about happiness seemed to be reserved mainly to philosophers for a rather long time. Other scientific disciplines seldom dealt with the issue of happiness. However, in the last years other scientific disciplines like sociology, biology, economy, politics etc. developed interest for this topic. All these disciplines look for a definition, determinants and possible consequences of happiness, and the reciprocity with similar phenomena like for instance welfare. Happiness is still to be scientifically discussed in marketing (cf. Assael 1995). Though happiness is mentioned in consumer research as an emotional state, it is not discussed any further (Kroeber-Riel/ Weinberg 1996: 5; Mowen 1993: 182). There are only a few empirical studies which deal with the construct of happiness in the context of "locus of control" but not even these studies are very specialized (Rinehart 1998; Srinivasan 1992).

We try to show whether and how the issue of happiness can be used to benefit consumer research and marketing research. First of all, we try to define and categorize the concept of happiness. Within the empirical part of the study, we use two qualitative surveys: a focus group and a method based upon the ZMET-analysis. With the help of these two methods, we find first results describing the relevance of happiness and the kind of happiness people experience in purchase and consumption situations. These results help us to find links to the discussion of happiness within marketing theory as well as possible implications for the practice.


2.1 Approaches to define happiness

Happiness is a broad concept with a lot of different facets (Barrow 1980: 64ff; Veenhoven 1984: 13ff.). This becomes obvious if we take a look at the philosophical history of this issue. Ancient philosophers were mainly interested in the ability to influence and foresight happiness. They related happiness first of all to personal characteristics like special virtues and later on also to interpersonal, social and political affairs like justice or technological progress (Schaaff 1999: 36ff). Nowadays, empirical research focusing on happiness is above all located in sociology, social and personality psychology and physiology. Economical and social sciences focus primarily on prosperity and welfare, psychology concentrates primarily on subjective well-being and physiology regards happiness as a bio-psycho-social unit of emotional processes (Mayring 1991). Similar to the research in physiology, consumer research deals with happiness as an emotion within psychological determinants of consumer behavior (cf. Kroeber-Riel/Weinberg 1996: 54 and 100). Some authors also describe ways to detect the emotional state of happiness by analyzing non-verbal communicational elements like the lift of the corner of one’s mouth, the lift of the cheeks and the hatching of the lower part of the eyes (Ekman/Friesen 1978).

2.2 The state-trait-concept

Obviously there are different concepts and meanings of happiness. Therefore, a more specialized categorization is required. The distinction between external and internal models of happiness are common in all scientific disciplines (cf. +tsch 1999). Happiness "from outside" is a state that depends on external and objective conditions, like material prosperity or consumption. Happiness "from inside" is a state that depends on internal and subjective judgments. With respect to the social-psychological tradition of consumer research as well as to empirical findings of prosperity and welfare research, it seems reasonable to deal with happiness "from inside". That means we conceptualize happiness as a subjective phenomenon of internal states that are only partly influenced by objective factors [According to social indicator research, people who live under favourable objective conditions can feel unhappy (dilemma of discontent) whereas people under unfavourable objective conditions can feel happy and be satisfied (paradox of satisfaction) (cf. Zapf 1984).]. Happiness has a strong emotional component as well as a cognitive component so that happiness is based on an interaction between activation and subjective interpretation (Kroeber-Riel/Weinberg 1996: 56; Stock/Okun/Benin 1986). We follow a rather cognitive approach to explain happiness. That can be put down to the facts that there are less measurement problems compared to affective conceptualizations and that cognitive concepts are more appropriate to show ways to influence happiness (Michalos 1980). Furthermore the cognitive approach is more adaptive to subdivide the phenomenon happiness into four groups (cf. Mayring 1991: 74f.): absence of burden is a quite unspecific emotionally and cognitively determined well-being, joy and in part also the feeling of being lucky are restricted to concrete situations and are quite short-lived mainly emotional states, happiness goes further than the feeling of being lucky and it is not restricted to an actual situation and lastly, contentedness is a mainly cognitively determined state of well-being. We consider the state-trait-concept to be an appropriate concept to categorize happiness because it is based on psychological theory of emotions which considers a cognitive dimension to be an important component of all affective processes. This theory is quite similar to the understanding of happiness within consumer research. Besides, this concept has already been confirmed empirically (Mayring 1991: 87ff. and 1999: 160; Veenhoven 1991: 15). "State" stands for an actual and situational condition, whereas "trait" means an all-over feeling of happiness that lasts a life-time and that has developed in the context of an individuals’ biography.

Options that influence happiness are different within the two concepts: states can be influenced in the short term whereas influencing traits takes a longer period of time. Besides, states seem to be more related to direct and objective conditions of life (like situations, events etc.).



2.3 Research questions

Based on the background of the theoretical categorization of happiness as state and trait, we show the relevance of the state-trait-concept to marketing theory, especially to consumer research theory. Since this kind of study has not been made before, we had to develop appropriate methods to look into the relevance of happiness in marketing theory. We used two qualitative surveys: a focus group and an innovative method based on ZMET-analysis. These methods are described in chapter 3.


We used two surveys to find out whether the state and trait concept also applies to marketing theory and if yes, then how it could be used in practice. These surveys are described in the following section. We refrained from using quantitative survey methods because of the explorative character of the study. Using a qualitative survey method seems to be more appropriate and reasonable since consumer behavior theory conceptualizes the construct of happiness as a subjectively experienced phenomenon.

3.1 Preliminary study

3.1.1Methodological principles of the focus group

Contrary to classical exploration that tries to get insight into individual behavior, opinions and attitudes, the focus group wants to obtain a broad perspective of opinions, ideas and expectations. These opinions are generated through the conversation in a small group.

We have chosen a focus group because we regard this method as being the best way to generate starting points for new concepts. This method was useful to draw the structure of our approach and to find useful and continuing thoughts (cf. Bnning et al. 1981: 79).

Relevant literature and practical experiences both suggest a group size of six to ten persons. These people should discuss the topic with the guidance of a trained person. Discussions should go on for about 90 minutes and be recorded on tape or video. Situational conditions of the discussion should be similar to an every-day conversational situation where opinions are formed and changed. Mutual motivation by the participants of the discussion is an advantage of focus groups where detailed comments and statements are born and possible inhibitions are reduced. Analyzing recordings can throw light on hidden motives, attitudes, etc. The process of opinion formation, the main focus of the discussion or even non-verbal reactions of the participants can serve as useful indicators for an analysis.

3.1.2 Implementation of the preliminary study

The focus group took place on August 25th 2000 at the Free University, Berlin. The group consisted of students and employees of the Free University, Berlin. We took a random sample of ten persons which got no preliminary information to guarantee the same conditions. At last three female and two male participants aged between twenty-four and thirty-three attended the focus group. After a short introduction, the presenter explained the topic (happiness) to the participants. The further process followed the rules of qualitative methods. In order to stimulate associations the topic was formulated in three questions written on a flip chart. The questions were: What is happiness? How does happiness feel like? When do you experience happiness in everyday-life? After presenting the questions, participants were asked to give their permission for the conversation to be recorded. They were also pointed out the scientific use of the discussion. The conversation lasted 80 minutes. The flow of the discussion and thereby the motivation of the participants could be maintained by mentioning some quite provocative proverbs ("Everyone is the architect of his own future", "You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink").

3.1.3 Results of the preliminary study

We used a content analysis method to structure the recording of the focus group. According to Mayring (1983) and Salcher (1978), content analysis looks into the frequencies and categories of the relevant statements. We focused on aspects and qualities related to the phenomenon of happiness, fields and determinants of the concept and experiences with happiness during purchase and consumption.

The main qualities related to happiness are:

+Happiness is a temporal phenomenon

the duration of feeling happy and the experiences with happiness are limited, the time is not determinable ("Happiness is a brief experience") [Comments within quotation marks are verbatim quotations of the participants of the focus group.]

+Happiness does not remain steady

Happiness has different intensities

+Happiness is a subjective feeling

Happiness is experienced quite differently by individuals ("Happiness is individual")

+Happiness is an emotion or emotional state

Happiness is a state of activation that is experienced and judged as a pleasant feeling ("Happiness is related to your heart")

+Happiness can partly be influenced

Happiness can be influenced by external and internal factors

Analyzing the discussion we found different ways to categorize the concept happiness:

+by the different qualities of happiness like joy, satisfaction etc.

+by the means that help us to achieve happiness: one can experience happiness under social conditions (leisure time, relationship, family, friends, peer groups) and under individual conditions (consumption, special events). Material as well as immaterial means can trigger off emotions like happiness.





The participants identified different intrinsic variables (e.g. personality) and extrinsic variables (e.g. situations) as determinants of happiness. The attribution theory (c.f. Kelley 1967) seems to be appropriate to explain these factors. Attribution theory as a cognitive approach describes how people relate or attribute their experiences to causes. This theory tries to explain when which types of attribution emerge and how the attribution of certain causes influences the behavior of the person. The following example shows the relation to attribution theory. People usually tend to attribute positive feelings of passing an exam, solving a difficult problem or handling an unpleasant situation to themselves. Thus, it is one’s own efforts and skills that give a reason for positive feelings. In the case of attribution of success to a certain situation (for instance if the questions of the examination were quite easy), it is coincidence that is described as the main determinant for the experience of happiness.

The evaluation of the focus group with respect to the topics consumption and happiness suggests the following insights. The participants experienced happiness above all by going shopping since they considered it as a willful and conscious experience. On the one hand, positive feelings are related to the experience of "shopping" as a whole. On the other hand, participants experienced happiness by making unplanned purchases, especially bargains (for instance, when someone finds a high-quality brand product with an unexpectedly reduced price or when somebody finds a product that means a lot to this person).

We also tried to find a definition of happiness that is appropriate to marketing theory by analyzing the individual statements of the participants as well as the theoretical considerations described in chapter 2. People don’t experience happiness as trait when they buy something but rather as a feeling restricted to a situation. That corresponds exactly to the concept of happiness as state. Thus, it can be assumed that the state-trait-concept has relevance even to marketing theory. All relevant elements of the state-trait-concept could be identified. With regard to marketing theory, the relevance of the separate units that serve to derive useful conclusions for marketing practices seems to be more interesting. The elements of the state-trait-concept (cf. figure 1) can be ordered into two categories: a subjective category and a situation restricted category. However, neither subjective experience of happiness nor the restriction to a situation can be fully detected by analyzing only focus group or individual depth interviews. Thus, participants have to be briefed more intensively. Mentioning merely the main topic is not enough. In order to approach the relevant categories we tested a new, innovative method based on ZMET analysis. This method provides a check of the first insights of the focus group with concrete experiences. ZMET is described in the following section.

3.2 Main survey

3.2.1 Methodological principles of ZMET

The Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique (ZMET) is based on theoretical ideas about mental models. Mental models steer human behavior and thinking by using constructs and metaphors. The method provides deeper insights into latent as well as active wants or expectations concerning the occurrence of positive events for the consumer (Zaltman 1997; Zaltman/Coulter 1995). Basic assumptions of ZMET are: most human communication is non-verbal communication, thoughts are mainly based on images and metaphors are the basics of emotions and cognition. ZMET uses visual and other sensorial objects, e.g. photos or drawings, and obtains thereby those metaphors.

We have modified the ZMET by selecting and combining basic steps of the method that seemed appropriate to our research question. The selected steps were story-telling, missed aspects and images, and sorting of objects. We added a diary method. This method is the so-called Collective Note Book Method (CNBM), that is also used in the context of creative techniques (cf. Salcher 1978: 209). Using CNBM, we were able to register concrete situations that are related to happiness more consciously for they were noted down independent of the time of their occurrence.



3.2.2 Implementation of the main survey

There were fifteen students and employees of the Free University, Berlin randomly sampled who took part in our study. We gave a written instruction to the participants. They were given the task to collect ideas and thoughts about happiness in everyday-life and especially during purchase. Participants were to collect pictures, photographs, objects etc. that symbolize happiness to them and/or that represent situations, memories and experiences in which they had experienced a feeling of happiness. Thus, it was possible to record multi-sensorial impressions. Additionally, participants had to keep a diary about moments of subjective happiness they experienced in everyday-life on any day of the week. Seven to ten days later, participants were invited to unstructured individual interviews. The course of the interview was mainly determined by the individual solutions of the task. First, the diaries were discussed in order to find relevant situations in which participants had experienced happiness. After that we analyzed the collected objects (bearers of glad tidings, talismans, photographs, journals, products and other objects) by using storytelling, missed aspects and images. Finally the persons sorted both, the results of the diary method and of the modified steps of ZMET. The following analysis of the data is reduced to the experience of happiness in the context of purchase and consumption as well as marketing.

3.2.3 Results of the main survey

Both methods, CNBM and the steps of the modified ZMET delivered different results corresponding to the proposed situational and subjective categories: results from the CNBM stressed mainly a temporal or situational dimension by indicating situations where the participants experienced happiness. By analyzing objects with personal relevance that are not restricted to a situation or special time, storytelling, missed aspects and images delivered above all results of the subjective category. Figure 4 shows the main results of the survey in a summary ordered by the two categories. The subjective category is either related to a product or an event. Results related to products (point 1 to 3) were above all derived from storytelling, results related to events (point 3 and 4) were also derived from missed aspects and images. As mentioned before we focus on the product related consumption experience of happiness. The situational category is characterized either by an unexpected prize of the product or an unexpected amount of the product. Obviously the product related experience of happiness comprises a moment of surprise. DerbaixiVandamme (2000) define surprise mainly as a short-lived experience that is often followed by a feeling that colors it either positively (surprise and joy) or negatively (surprise and anger). Thus, happiness as described before can be understood as a case of surprise including a positive judged feeling. These feelings depend upon the special meaning or impact of the objects to the consumer. Thus, the intensity of the experience of happiness depends on surprise as well as the impact of an object. Surprise is indicated by the improbability of the occurrence of a situation, whereas impact stands for the personal meaning of the relevant object. Thus the intensity of the moment of happiness (value of happiness) can be described with the following components [Rescher describes a similar formula (1995: 211). Besides, probability theory has been concerned with the options to calculate happiness for instance in relation to games of chance for more than 300 years. Here luck means the same as chance.]:

Ht+1=Ht0 +Sis x Iio


H = value of happiness experienced by a person before (Ht0 and after (Ht+1) the consumption situation

Sis = individual degree of surprise in a situation, measured by 1 - p (the improbability (i) of the occurrence of a situation (s) or event)

Iio = impact of the object (o) to a person (i), bandwidth of measure from -1 for highest negative impact to +1 for highest positive impact

The application of this hypothetical formula is restricted to the product related experience of happiness that depends on both components, surprise and impact. However, event related experiences of happiness, e.g. shopping, is not necessarily dependable on surprise. Besides, the formula is limited to happiness as state and not applicable to happiness as trait. Happiness as trait can certainly be generated by another means than those mentioned here.


In the following section we present potential links to the integration of our results into existing marketing theories and concepts. These links are to be found at every stage of the consumer decision process.

Regarding different kinds of consumer decision processes, the surprise effects suggest that we deal with unplanned purchases (cf. Assael 1995:155). This is also indicated by the examples of purchases mentioned by the participants of the surveys. However, our study deals only with two of the four categories of unplanned purchases detected by Assael. These two categories are: the "memory effect" and "impulsive purchases". Nowadays, it is well-known that unplanned purchases play an important role within consumer behavior. The link of happiness to unplanned purchases gave us the idea to derive first implications for the arrangements of the point of sale and also for product presentation.

In the first phase of the decision process, consumers gather and process information. The construct "happiness" seems to have relevance for the models of product choice and especially for the model "by chance" that is used in consumer behavior research (cf. McFadden 1981: 198ff). In this model, the judgment of uses and the following choice of a product are influenced by many factors. These factors are instable in time, are hard to measure or are completely unknown. Therefore, it is obvious that consumers' decision-making is considered as a probabilistic process underlying the concept and methodological principles of uses of chance. The use that an object has for the consumer consists of a deterministic and a stochastic component. The first component describes the systematic influence of product qualities perceived by the consumer and his personal qualities. That corresponds to the mentioned component "impact". The second component describes all influences "chance" has on the individual judgment of the uses of a product, which corresponds to the surprise effect.

Product-choice-models deal with the external information acquisition, whereas the theory of semantic networks explains internal information processing. Within this theory, associations are differentiated according to their quality and intensity (cf. Klix 1988). Especially, the intensity of an association that stands for the proximity of two concepts corresponds to the inverted relation to the surprise effect. Therefore, only weakly associated concepts, like brand and cheap price can lead to a strong surprise effect. At the same time, we can use the theory of semantic networks to explain the subjective component of happiness (see also figure 1). The abstract and ideal ideas of a product saved as mental schemata represent latent or conscious wants of consumers that correspond also to the expectations of the occurrence of positive events.

Another point that is relevant after consumers make a purchase decision is the concept of consumer satisfaction. Consumer satisfaction is defined as the difference between expectations before purchasing and experiences made after the purchase. Recent studies point out that customers not only need to be satisfied but also delighted (Oliver et al. 1997; Vanharnme et al. 2000). Customer delight is considered as an extreme level of satisfaction. This fact corresponds to our categorization of different kinds of happiness (as joy, delight, satisfaction, cf. Mayring 1991: 69ff.). It is especially the broad concept of happiness that can explain the cognitive aspect of consumer satisfaction as well as its emotional aspect. With our proposed concept of product or service related happiness there seems to be a mean to generate consumer delight in addition to consumer satisfaction.


The purpose of the presented study was to provide a definition and categorization of happiness that is appropriate to marketing and consumer behavior theory. We defined happiness using the statetrait-concept. A focus group indicated that - in marketing - we deal above all with happiness as state. For this category of happiness it is necessary to differentiate between a subjective and a situational category. Both categories could be identified within the main survey. As a result, we developed a formula that determined happiness in a concrete purchase situation. We have also pointed out possible approaches to integrate the concept of happiness into existing theories of consumer behavior research. Further research should focus on the measuring of the construct of happiness, its determinants and consequences and should be aware of the interaction between emotion and cognition. Besides there should be consideration of the broad concept of happiness and the impact of different kinds of happiness (especially happiness as state and trait) and their interaction. We also regard CNBM and ZMET as a interesting and innovative method to generate preliminary results on this kind of topic. Nevertheless there is need for more validation like e. g. the use of the experience sampling method (cf. Csikszentmihalyi 1990).


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Pakize Schuchert-Guler, Freie Universitat Berlin, Germany
Martin Eisend, Freie Universitat Berlin, Germany
Holger Lutters, Freie Universitat Berlin, Germany


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5 | 2001

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