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by Vault Education Editors | February 28, 2011


We have a little bit of an obsession in this country with this thing called Happiness. A few lucky souls can find it, but it tends to disappear with a blink. The rest are left to plow through self-help rubbish in search of some secret formula. Is it in our genes? Does it involve personal freedom?  Meditation? Money? Maybe it’s found in the little things, like adorable cat videos or a Coca-Cola vending machine. What we do know is that we need a daily dose of it, at work, especially, to make our experiences meaningful. So why don’t our business schools teach our managers how to make happy companies?

Stanford does. A popular class at Stanford GSB, taught by marketing professor Jennifer Aaker, is starting to draw attention from the corporate world, according to Fast Company.

She has worked with AOL, Adobe, and Facebook, among other companies, helping them figure out how to use happiness to increase employees' productivity and woo customers. If her hypotheses are correct, marketing happiness could be one of the few ways businesses can still appeal to people in a manner that feels authentic. "The idea of brands enabling happiness and providing greater meaning in the world is powerful," Aaker says. "People have an aversion to anything that feels overly manufactured."

Students who take Aaker’s “Designing Happiness” class are tasked with creating a happy company. From the course syllabus:

How do you create a happy company? What does it look like? Your project is to design an organization that creates the greatest happiness for your team members (employees, coworkers, partners, suppliers) as well as for customers. Use principles, ideas, theories and findings from class to architect a company culture, brand and customer offering that maximizes happiness and yet still remains a viable business or, even better, makes the organization even more impactful. You could (but are not limited to) explore how you would shape HR policies, internal processes, rituals, new products/services, brand messaging and customer expierences. This organization could be real (existing) or fictional (if you do well enough, you may want to make it a reality!).

In one assignment, Aaker asked students to snap a photo of a happy moment each day for 30 days, and rating each photo on a 1-to-10 scale using a custom smartphone app. Once the data was collected, they discovered some patterns about happiness.  

They learned that the anticipation of a pleasurable experience feels as good as finishing an onerous task (like a marathon or an exam). They discovered that a meaningful experience (acquiring a new skill, volunteering, or spending time with family) often makes people happier than moments of pure pleasure. And they learned that happiness shifts with age. Younger people feel happiest when they are excited, while older people equate happiness with peacefulness.

Useful insights about human behavior, I think, which the Stanford students will, presumably, apply in their post-MBA careers toward fostering a work environment that cultivates the long-lasting and meaningful happiness we all look for. Or maybe they’ll just take what they’ve learned to create viral marketing stunts involving puckish vending machines. I guess, sometimes, a glimpse, a taste, even a pale imitation will do.


[Fast Company]

["Designing Happiness" Syllabus]


Filed Under: Education|Grad School