The Earth Institute at Columbia University recently released its World Happiness Report [PDF], a grand survey commissioned by the United Nations Conference on Happiness to assess the state of world happiness.
We’re doing okay. We could do better.
Some of the report’s conclusions suggest that we need to shift some of our focus away from material gain, especially in developed countries, and invest more in fostering social inclusion, emotional well being and environmental stability, which have a strong impact on the long-term health of our species.
Money, of course, plays a role in happiness, but not the main role. Wealthy people tend to be happier than poor people, but only to a certain extent. Some places with a steadily rising standard of living, like the United States, have simultaneously recorded flat happiness levels. And for the unemployed, loss of self-esteem and workplace socializing play a larger role in unhappiness than loss of income.
Here’s an excerpt from the World Happiness Report’s introduction, written by Earth Institute director Jeffrey Sachs:
"We live in an age of stark contradictions. The world enjoys technologies of unimaginable sophistication; yet has at least one billion people without enough to eat each day. The world economy is propelled to soaring new heights of productivity through ongoing technological and organizational advance; yet is relentlessly destroying the natural environment in the process. Countries achieve great progress in economic development as conventionally measured; yet along the way succumb to new crises of obesity, smoking, diabetes, depression, and other ills of modern life."
Supplement makers can pat themselves on the back for addressing the latter ills in this paragraph. As the healthcare crisis deepens, supplements show promise to alleviate or prevent common chronic illnesses and curb endless spending. But there’s a larger conversation here surrounding sustainability and human happiness that the supplement world has left largely unaddressed.
Supplement makers: You need to take part in this conversation.
For so long, macro trends of rising healthcare costs and a focus on self-care, prevention and distrust of pharmaceuticals have buoyed the supplement market to consistent mid-single-digit growth. But it’s a dull conversation.
It would behoove the supplement industry to jump on the happiness bandwagon, and not just from a product messaging standpoint. Certainly stress relief, insomnia, sports and weight loss supplements can be integral in fostering good cheer, health and self-confidence. But you can further position your company as a steward of happiness through a focus on transparency, sustainable supply chain management, employee retention and environmental initiatives. Transparent and responsible supply chains ensure well-employed workers and growers along the line. Environmental stewardship alleviates worry. Happy employees are the best employees.
This may be a tough sell for established businessmen. There’s no immediate top or bottom line impact, and such measures are difficult to communicate. Ideologies of happiness, environmental stewardship and sustainability tend to run counter to the cold-blooded prose of the dealbook. (Such is the paradox faced by the natural products business writer—wrangling the twin snakes of mercantile profit-making and bright-eyed philanthropy.)
But some companies in the supplement space have established themselves as leaders here. Standard Process comes to mind—this practitioner supplement company has invested wholeheartedly in employee wellness and responsible sourcing, and can boast of a people-first mission both upstream, downstream and internally. NOW Foods puts a strong emphasis on employee retention. Herbalife is a champion of responsible supply chain management, as it moves gradually closer to vertical integration.
There must be others. How are you fostering happiness?