ifindkarma. elegance is refusal.

June 7, 2010

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

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — ifindkarma @ 6:36 pm

This is why the way to happiness is a choice.

Tony Hsieh of Zappos has a new 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.

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.

I applaud Tony Hsieh’s emphasis on happiness in corporate culture, and like Tony I believe that happy employees lead to happy customers.

There’s a good reason why Happiness is the #1 book on Amazon right now.




  1. From the New York Times article about Daniel Gilbert:"If Daniel Gilbert is right, then you are wrong. That is to say, if Daniel Gilbert is right, then you are wrong to believe that a new car will make you as happy as you imagine. You are wrong to believe that a new kitchen will make you happy for as long as you imagine. You are wrong to think that you will be more unhappy with a big single setback (a broken wrist, a broken heart) than with a lesser chronic one (a trick knee, a tense marriage). You are wrong to assume that job failure will be crushing. You are wrong to expect that a death in the family will leave you bereft for year upon year, forever and ever. You are even wrong to reckon that a cheeseburger you order in a restaurant — this week, next week, a year from now, it doesn’t really matter when — will definitely hit the spot. That’s because when it comes to predicting exactly how you will feel in the future, you are most likely wrong."Read more:http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/07/magazine/the-futile-pursuit-of-happiness.html

    Comment by Anonymous — June 7, 2010 @ 10:15 pm

  2. As we get olders, we get happier.http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/01/health/research/01happy.html

    Comment by Anonymous — June 7, 2010 @ 10:24 pm

  3. In predicting your likings, even someone else???s direct experience trumps mental hypotheses???which is why surrogation works. But to be helpful, the surrogate???s experience must be recent. ???People are very poor at remembering how happy they were,??? Gilbert says. ???So it???s not very useful to ask, ???How much did you like something you experienced last year???? People get most questions about happiness wrong. But there is one question they get right: how happy are you right now????Source:http://harvardmagazine.com/2010/03/pleasure-by-proxyThank you, Jennifer Aaker:http://twitter.com/aaker/status/9982009448

    Comment by Anonymous — June 8, 2010 @ 8:13 pm

  4. Most people think wealth will make them happy.It turns out most people are very bad at predicting what will make them happy.It also turns out that once the average American passes about $75k/year, more wealth does not increase happiness. See: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/07/the-price-of-happiness-75_n_707721.htmlThings that increase happiness include earning respect from people whose opinions matter to you, working on a mission you are passionate about, feeling in control of your life, perception of having free time when you want it, and the live of friends and family who will be there for you through the good times and the bad.Source: http://www.quora.com/How-common-is-it-to-feel-that-wealth-is-a-limiting-factor-on-happiness

    Comment by Anonymous — October 22, 2010 @ 5:43 am

  5. See also: http://www.quora.com/Adam-Rifkin/Happiness/answers

    Comment by Anonymous — October 22, 2010 @ 5:44 am

  6. This is an excellent presentation on happiness by Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman. In it, he draws an insightful distinction: there may be two very different types of happiness. The first is being happy in your life. It is happiness that we experience immediately and in the moment.The second is being happy about your life. It is the happiness that exists in memory when we talk about the past and the big picture.We can enjoy nine-tenths of something blissfully in the moment, yet a lousy ending can bias us and ruin the memory forever.http://www.bakadesuyo.com/are-there-two-types-of-happiness

    Comment by Anonymous — August 9, 2011 @ 5:27 pm

  7. There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.http://ifindkarma.posterous.com/there-is-no-way-to-happiness-happiness-is-the

    Comment by Anonymous — August 9, 2011 @ 5:28 pm

  8. That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet.http://ifindkarma.posterous.com/omar-ahmad-i-miss-you

    Comment by Anonymous — August 12, 2011 @ 2:02 am

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