Happiness: The Bulls**t Emotion – Probing for Understanding

We all will spend a majority of our lives trying to achieve and pursue happiness. We also know that the choices we make can affect how we feel about ourselves and our lives. But how do we define it? Is it something we can measure or quantify? Is it the actions we take on the trip to a better life or the feeling once we’ve arrived at our destination? Does it really make us feel like a room without a roof?

While my husband and I were rolling down the highway busting out minion-like dance moves to that oh-so-catchy tune “Happy,” he turns to me and asks “what do you think a room without a roof feels like?” At first I didn’t give this much thought, but after deciding to dig a bit deeper I found that Pharrell used this metaphor in the song to define “one’s space without limit…that is infinite and achievable by all.” This is quite thought-provoking and true, considering that there are many things that make us happy but all we get there in different ways. After looking at other songs I ran across many which explain happiness stemming from love, however, I came across an article detailing a few songs which capture different ideas of how we might pursue happiness like:

Being grateful for what you have — “Happy” by Natasha Bedingfield
Appreciating the simple things in life — “Alright” by Darius Rucker
Letting go of our troubles — “Don’t Worry Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin

The point is that we all can define what makes ourselves happy, but the trouble for researchers is finding a common path people take to achieve that happiness – being able to study this idea and understand it fully. This may beg the question, “But isn’t happiness subjective, which makes it impossible to study?” Happiness is actually subjective, however according to research psychologists, data is measurable due to a person’s ability to reliably and honestly self-report the ratio of happiness to unhappiness state they are in, therefore we can study happiness. This single idea of self-reporting is what allows Quester to build a framework for what emotions can really tell us about the effectiveness of products and services and how we can connect them to the appropriate audience. At Quester, we look for insights into the benefits, end-use benefits and the emotions of using products and services, ultimately explaining how the respondent gets to the point where our clients can really connect to them on a personal level.

I wanted to find out more about what happiness really means to people, and we here at Quester have come to the consensus that happiness is really a B.S. emotion. It doesn’t really tell us anything except that respondents don’t know how to tell us the true emotional end benefit of it all. Respondents can’t explain anything else about how using that product/service they are being asked about – other than they are happy that it works for them and their family. It’s really just a cop out for them to be finished with the survey but we want more insights! The hurdle that respondents have is not only explaining how and what helps create their happiness, but what that happiness truly achieves for them and what they can do because of it.

Quester’s approach of probing into respondents’ thought processes really exposes what they are truly telling us, allowing us to probe for understanding. Instead of obtaining the surface emotions like happy, feeling good, frustrated, etc., we are able to get the ‘why behind the why’ by making respondents feel comfortable with our online software-based moderator. They feel more like they’re having a casual conversation which allows them to open up and not only tell us basic emotions, but really tell us what benefits or drawbacks they see stemming from those emotions. Quester can really help gain understanding of where these emotions really derive from and what benefits consumers gain from them.

Here’s an example to demonstrate how we can help get the ‘why behind the why’ happiness:

Q: When thinking about the benefits of convenience during your shopping trip at X store, tell me about the way that makes you feel. Help me really understand the emotions or feelings you experienced at that moment.

A: I’m happy that it’s a one stop shop where I can get everything in one place. Everything is organized and in the right place so it saves me time in finding what I need.

Probed Question: I noticed you mentioned happiness. Tell me in greater detail how the benefits you mentioned make you feel happy and why it’s important for you personally, to feel that way.

A: I’m happy because I can get in and out fast, which saves me time. The time I save means that I get to check other items off my list, get other errands done and I get to spend more time with my family.

Here you can see how the respondent’s happiness saves them time, but the true insight that we want to pay attention to is the benefit of that time saved = more time with my family. The idea of spending more time with family elicits strong feelings of happiness for many people. By honing in on the true benefits of people’s emotions Quester can help companies build ideas around what their product or service can provide AND how and why to connect to them on a personal level. Emotions and the benefits that come from them can help us develop new and creative ways to connect to our audience. Why? Because people want to relate. They want experience those emotional benefits too. If they can see how that product/service may guide them on the path to achieve those emotions or feelings, they are more likely to be driven to make that purchase.

The phrase “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough” reigns true here. If you want to know more about these emotions, you might as well dig a bit deeper and let respondents self-report what their emotions really mean to them – and Quester can help.


  • Emily Schuttlefield

    In her work as a Research Analyst, Emily enjoys reading thoughts, experiences, opinions and analyzing consumer behavior to help tell captivating stories.Emily loves to travel and has seen all but 4 states in the US. Puns and lame jokes are amusing to her. She’s also a big fan of horror flicks, haunted houses, Cyclone football, and Fall weather.Emily loves the range in variety of projects we get to work on – one day she will be analyzing insights about cereal, the next day it could be an appliance or program inside an organization. Most of all, she loves the people, quirky company culture and flexibility to work 2½ hours away from the Des Moines area every day.

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