Can you revel in happy moments now, to soak them in and store them up to help you through future sadness? New research from Maryland Smith’s Ali Faraji-Rad finds that many people actively try to bank their happiness so they can draw on it later to cope with a sad event.
In research in the Journal of Consumer Research, Faraji-Rad and co-author Leonard Lee of the National University of Singapore looked at what people do to prepare when they know they’ll have to endure something sad in the future.
“It’s well documented in marketing and consumer behavior research that when people are sad they try to do things to make themselves happier – whether it’s shopping, eating, watching comedies,” Faraji-Rad says. “Do people have this belief that they can do things to offset the sadness or be able to withstand the sadness when it comes?”
Faraji-Rad says his sister helped to spark the research. As a huge fan of the television phenomena Game of Thrones, he says before watching the show she would do things like binge on chocolate to withstand the sad scenes she knew were inevitable in the show, which was notorious for killing off main characters without warning.
“That was kind of the backdrop that started it for me – thinking that banking happiness could be a thing,” says Faraji-Rad.
He and Lee ran a series of experiments to test whether knowing something sad was coming up would increase the likelihood that, when given a choice, participants would go for a happy option – in the studies, songs and movie clips. In some studies, they also tested whether people would draw on positive memories when faced with upcoming sadness. They also tested whether consumers would draw on banked happiness or just try to manage their mood in reaction to a sad event when it actually occurred.
“What we show is that many people do have this lay belief that you can actually bank happiness,” Faraji-Rad says.
They also looked at people’s tendency to be future-oriented or live more in the present, finding that those future-looking consumers are more likely to bank happiness.
So why do people have these beliefs?
“We already know that happy memories are helpful when you have sadness,” Faraji-Rad says. “People want to create this resource of happy memories that they can tap into. Whenever they are feeling sad, drawing on those memories and that nostalgia can make people feel better.”
Positive moods also can be a buffer, he says – but just in the short-term. So if you are feeling good now, it helps while you are feeling sad. But usually that mood quickly dissipates and that’s when memories kick in.
“People who believed in banking happiness were generally more likely to choose happy stuff, whether or not they were told that sadness was coming or not,” says Faraji-Rad. “And if they are told that a sad thing is coming up and then they are given a happy thing to consume now, they actually will consume it with more engagement. It’s because of the motivation to become happy – they really want to get the most out of the happy thing.”
The main contribution of the research is confirmation that people do in fact bank happiness to make themselves feel better when something sad happens in the future. But it stops short of determining how well it actually works.
“At this stage, we don’t have enough research to say whether it’s good to do this,” Faraji-Rad says. “We’re explaining that banking happiness can happen so consumers can be aware of their own behavior and what’s driving it.”
Read the research, “Banking Happiness,” in the Journal of Consumer Research.
Media Relations Manager