HAPPINESS IS MOSTLY THE ANTICIPATION OF AN EVENT AND MEMORY OF IT”Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so,” said the philosopher John Stuart Mill. It’s a paradox at the heart of happiness. We are hardwired to enjoy the anticipation of a joyous event, and savor the memory. But in that actual moment of an experience? It can be hard to tell.
So at the creative consultancy Lippincott, designers have a theory called the Happiness Halo—and it’s built upon reconstructing happiness as a three-act structure of anticipation, experience, and memory.
“First it’s about creating anticipation,” Stone explains. “That’s really strong—both from a psychological standpoint but also the anticipation of the experience is sometime greater [than experience]. It goes back to our primitive skills of releasing dopamine. It’s our hunting skills. If we didn’t have this sense of anticipation, we would have starved to death a long time ago.”
Anticipation is so powerful that being excited about a big event, like running a marathon, can give you as much joy as actually completing it.
“The experience itself is really important,” Stone continues, “but an experience is never perfect, and you don’t weigh an experience by adding it up over time. It’s not like you add four and five and get a score that equals happiness. You actually remember the high moment and the end moment, and the most important thing is the memory.”
The end moment is particularly profound—and it’s something every good waiter already knows. One study found that waiters who gave mints at the end of the meal received 3% higher tips, while those who presented the mints with just a bit more effort, asking the question “would anyone like mints at the end of their meal?” received 14% higher tips. It shows that we’re biased to remember endings by nature (remember that when penning your next novel).
SURPRISE IS REALLY THE KEY TO DELIGHT, AND IT’S MUNDANELY EASY TO SURPRISE PEOPLE
These happiness interventions, staged by employees, are the perfect opportunity to inject an important element into happy experiences: surprise. Much like beginnings and endings, we’re cognitively predisposed to remember surprises, too. And when you have employees primed to surprise customers, it’s far easier to pull off the feat.
“At SoulCycle, we have a program that’s actually called ‘surprise and delight’ where everyone of our managers and key holders has a budget to be able to surprise and delight our riders—whoever they want,” Cohen says. “And that’s at any level. Whether that’s putting a gift in their locker, taking them out to coffee, putting a cupcake on their bike for their birthday, or if a kid just went off to college, and they send them a T-shirt . . . it can be any number of things, because relationships matter.”
Surprise is a tool that’s actually more effective at dealing with angry customers than catharsis. Complaining verbally actually makes people more upset by reinforcing their negative sentiments. But empowering an employee gives the company a chance to recover—to leave a surprisingly positive signpost in customers’ memories of an evening.
And truth be told, it’s also not that hard to surprise people, if you put just a little bit of thought into it.
“It’s about making the mundane memorable,” Stone says. “You can take the most mundane moment of any experience interaction or process and bring it to life.” His example is when checking into the Park Hyatt of Chicago, you’re offered a series of five or so pens. They’re not just Bics. Instead, they might be brass or tortoiseshell or any sort of pen you’d see used by a pen lover.
“They put the box in front of you and for that moment, you sit there and ponder, which pen is the most beautiful? Which reflects my personality?” Stone says. “You ask the person checking in next to you, ‘Which pen are you going to pick?’ And suddenly the most mundane moment becomes one of delight because you’re signing the Magna Carta with this pen. It’s no longer a plastic pen; it’s a ceremony.”
LEAVE YOUR CUSTOMER WITH A KISS GOODNIGHT
But as I mentioned earlier, endings are important. At Disney, they call it a “kiss goodnight,” the perfectly timed element that can turn even a mediocre experience into a fantastic memory