Everyone is chasing the feeling of happiness.
, head of planning at
, reveals where to find it and how to integrate it into your marketing
Neuroscientists are getting closer to understanding more fully what and where the feeling of happiness is. Kent Berridge, University of Michigan has found that we appear to have two distinct areas in our brain that give rise to a sense of well-being, but they are not equal. The neural pathways that lead to the centres where we sense the liking are far larger than those centres themselves. Thus, our capacity to enjoy the journey to the centre of liking is actually greater than our enjoyment of the destination itself: we seem wired to love the pursuit more than the delectation of our hearts’ desire. Of course, we like to get what we want, but it explains why we so often set off on a new objective almost as soon as the current one has been achieved.
A musical journey
Structurally, songwriters have known and used this for centuries. We love to listen and re-listen to our favourite tunes. They function as emotional loops in which we can experience and re-experience our associated emotions and get lost in that moment.
In 1930s New York, George Gershwin was one of many songwriters cranking out melodies for publishers in Tin Pan Alley. Gershwin, although unusually gifted in his ability to find a melody we love, complied to a rule that all songwriting of the time followed and is prevalent in some Western genres. The so-called 2-5-1 chord progression.
The 2-5-1 is a song structure that creates a sense of well-being, and one that is familiar to us. As we listen, the melody unfolds and we quickly comprehend its pattern. Our innate sense of what sounds right – with no musical understanding required – allows us to appreciate its form. We like the verse and love the refrain. We can feel the chorus arriving. Essentially, what is happening is that the second chord is leading us to the fifth. When we hear that fifth, it creates a dissonance to our ear that can only be addressed by resolving to the first chord of the scale. In terms of musical strategy, the songwriter is trying to create anticipation designed to deepen that resolution and your sense of relief. This is your feeling of pleasure. It’s as if you can’t experience one without the other: one note is nothing without other notes near it. The creation of that magical feeling before the melody resolves into the first chord is used time and again by Gershwin and many other great songwriters.
Happiness is in the chase
This all has ramifications for the way we design marketing and advertising. Certainly, the rules about advertising haven’t changed since so-called modern advertising emerged in the early twentieth century. But perhaps the rationales and our understanding have. Of course, you need to show moments of gratification: the driving sensation, the taste of the ice cream, the smell of success. But perhaps you can slow down the reveal, or make the tease last a little longer in the knowledge that, as Aristotle said: “It is of the nature of desire not to be satisfied and most men only live for the gratification of it.”