Erica Kastner · April 21, 2008

A book I still have to read is [ed. I think it was called] The Science of Happiness whose author was interviewed recently on NPR.  The interviewers discussed the emerging branch of psychology that is studying happiness.  It got me thinking about how perceived happiness is a major market factor and how people now days are more willing to pony up extra cash and make an effort to buy your product or service if it causes them some happiness beyond the satisfaction of having a need met.  

There are so many examples of this:

Apple is the most obvious candidate.  Sure, you can buy and build a computer using the same parts Apple does for half the cost.  You can install Linux for free or pay for Windows and get your work done.  Why are people paying more for Macs?  The Mac OS and Apple’s software suites offer a more user-friendly and, ultimately, satisfying experience.  Apple’s users (like me) are happier.  

37 Signals recently posted about Zingerman’s deli in Ann Arbor and the philosophies they follow that make them a great company.  Yes, you pay $20 for a reuben and a root beer, but the experience of going to the deli outshines many other casual eating experiences.  Customers are showered with free samples of exotic foods and the staff are very personable.  The selection of products is also far beyond what you’d find in many other places.

This also brings to mind Ruby on Rails.  There are plenty of other MVC frameworks out there that do the same exact thing as Rails.  But there are so many positive externalities that Rails offers that put it above the rest: the community, the Ruby language itself, and the way agile development is baked into the framework and its related plugins.  It really makes for a pleasant development experience.

The bottom line is that Americans are becoming more willing to pay for products that make them feel better.  This has positive repercussions where a product can benefit the natural environment or society as a whole.  The challenge is to build a brand that offers that extra bit of happiness and (ideally) really does change the world for the better.