Using the 3 Stages of Happiness to Build Better Programs

girl sunshine craft happy experiences blog imageHappiness is a major life goal for most people, so it’s long been the targeted “feel” of all types of marketing campaigns. Recently, however, Mark Wilson at FastCompany pondered the idea of designers making happiness their starting goal when creating new technology.

At a SXSW event called “Designing Happiness,”1 Wilson and some of the most innovative minds in the fields of happiness, technology and marketing–Disney Imagineering, Lippincott, and SoulCycle–discussed the topic of crafting happy experiences.

The result was a creative dissection of happiness you can use to increase customer retention and loyalty.



Growing up taller than a dinosaur

Earl Pilcher, a character in the movie, “A Family Thing,” said that “Bein’ happy ain’t nothing more than having something to look forward to.” This is at least 1/3 true.

It’s a well-documented fact that our brains are hardwired to anticipate. You’ve probably experienced the phenomenon that planning and anxiously awaiting an event can be oddly more satisfying than the event itself. You’re not imagining it.

“Anticipating positive events sustains the output of dopamine into the brain’s chemical pathways,” says marketer Neil Patel.”2

In other words, it makes us feel happy!

So, when you’re planning a program or event for your customers, think about the weeks leading up to it. How can you interject some extra anticipation? Think social media polls, quizzes, or contests. Or email a picture from last year with a teaser about something fun that awaits them.

You can also do this with your physical space, creating what Disney calls the crossover. Disney and others recognize that a little fanfare helps participants’ mentally prepare for enjoyment. That’s why park visitors are welcomed through a tunnel – or portal – that opens into a whole new world and a sign that says: “Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy.”

This “crossover” moment is important, according to Bruce Vaughn, former chief creative exec with Disney Imagineering.

While it may make things a bit more hectic for you, timing one session’s start with another one’s end allows participants passing each other to affect each other in positive ways:

  • Newcomers get to see engagement already in action, building their anticipation
  • Leavers get to connect their experience with the incoming wave of anticipation, which helps them with #3 (below).


kids jumping in lake cropped

When it comes to your programs, this is most likely where you already focus the most energy and attention, so I’ll share just one important aspect the SXSW thinktank touched on that makes an experience memorable and positive:

The quality of the connections.

Personal connections during the experience usually tip the balance in favor of a positive or negative memory. That’s why Disney’s “cast members” (employees) are so thoroughly trained and empowered to always add to the delight.

Are you investing any effort into making sure instructors, teachers, child-care workers, receptionists represent your organization’s goals and add a little something extra?

Do you consider ways to set a stage for participants to connect with each other and build relationships?

puppy and boy.resizedHappiness quoteThe brain is a funny thing when it comes to memories. How we feel about an event during or immediately after impacts how it may end up being catalogued later – even more than what actually happened. In the retelling of a great experience, usually the unpleasant parts are forgotten, put into perspective or turned into a great story.

You can’t totally control how your participants frame an event, but you can leave them with a final warm-and-fuzzy to help seal the memory as “good”:

  • Grand Finale – Disney’s “kiss goodnight” is their amazing fireworks show. It’s just one more feature designed to leave you with warm fuzzies and recall of a great time.
  • When All Else Fails…Puppies – The Happiness conference at SXSW pulled out all the stops to make their point. They shamelessly released 10 puppies into the audience for the final kiss goodnight, which turned a lecture group into a puddle of excited mushiness.

Whatever you decide to do to make the last moments of any session delightful, take pictures and capture quotes. THOSE are the feelings you’ll try to reconnect participants with when it’s time to enroll next season.

See how that works!?


1How to Design Happiness

2The Psychology of Anticipation