Leveraging Happiness
> 3/22/2006 10:14:09 AM

Saturday's Wall Street Journal contained an interesting article titled "Happiness Inc." In this piece, writer Jeffrey Zaslow looked at the research that has been done in the last decade or so towards the question, "What makes us happy?" The answer, it turns out is pretty complicated.

Numerous researchers from various universities and institutions have developed and utilized new methods for measuring happiness and calculating its value. (See below for a graphic of some of the exciting research.) As Zaslow points out, the implications of their results are more impressive than the results themselves. The economic or commercial realm looks to be most influenced as companies will be able to more accurately assess consumers' responses to new products and variations on old products. One example that may surprise some was in the area of spray paint. Zaslow writes:

Sherwin-Williams used Sensory Logic to help assess a new spray paint in development. People were asked to try the paint and then talk about their experiences. Some said they liked the new spray paint, "but their facial expressions said they had no interest whatsoever," says Mark Ksiezyk, senior product manager for Krylon, a division of Sherwin-Williams. On the other hand, one subject said he was very happy when using the product, and asked, "Where has this been all my life?" His "true smile," using muscles around the eyes, gave indications that he meant it.

Zaslow also discusses how commercial areas as diverse as washing machines and bridal gowns have been effected by this new research. Sadly, the implications of this research won't be very helpful in addressing many of the larger issues in mental health. The happiness that is being looked at in most of these studies is a purely cosmetic or superficial happiness. Using facial recognition technology and motion capture photography, researchers have been able to evaluate the implications of a smile, but that hasn't brought us any closer to discovering the underlying mechanisms of depression. What we can hope for though, is that this push by the economic sector toward greater understanding of the brain and human emotion will continue to drive innovation and creativity in research that could, down the road, lead to great discovery.

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