How can we even measure the billions of dollars spent on the “happiness industry” in the United States? By that I mean the myriad of ways in which we are sold products and experiences and services which are guaranteed(!) to make us happy.

You could arguably date the beginning of the happiness industry to the post-WWII growth of our consumer goods-based economy, and the American advertising industry that grew equally fast to sell us those goods (see, Mad Men, Season 1).

Coca-Cola is the archetypal happiness product. As Deann Chun points out in AdBuzz,

Coca-Cola ads generally express a tone of joy, which associates the feeling with the product. The company intentionally seeks to create this type of correlation. By using “happy moments,” viewers unconsciously observe Coca-Cola as something that is connected with these idealistic scenes.

Have a Coke and a smile! Or we can buy new clothes, or a new weight loss product, or a new book on the keys to a happy life, or a new car, or a new yoga studio pass, or a vacation to some exotic location.

The pursuit of happiness doesn’t seem to be working out so well for us, however. No matter how much we have, it never seems to be enough. Meanwhile, more and more Americans report being depressed and anxious. The U.S. ranking in the World Happiness Index has been falling since 2007, and the recession isn’t the primary reason why.

Researchers have found these six factors account for 75% of the variance in happiness from one country to another: income; healthy life expectancy; having someone to count on in times of trouble; generosity; freedom; and trust, as measured by the level of corruption in business and government.

Emily Esfahani Smith, an instructor, author, and speaker who has a master’s degree in applied positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, has a take on the pursuit of happiness that is grounded in ancient philosophy and religious thought: it’s finding meaning in our lives that brings us happiness.

But she goes further:

Psychologists have started to look more closely at how seeking happiness affects people, and unearthed some unsettling trends. The pursuit of happiness, it turns out, negatively affects our well-being.

In other words, chasing happiness is actually depressing us.

I haven’t read her book yet, but here’s a great video interview with her in which she explains the basic concept.

ICF-model coaching is grounded in tying thoughts, goals, and actions to values, and exploring what might be blocking someone from acting on their values. This is why her new book attracts me; I suspect there’s something there for me personally and for my practice.