Happiness is a hot topic these days. Scholars have recently noted some non-intuitive dynamics as to what makes people happy, and, of course, Americans are always in the pursuit of happiness.

Marketers rarely, if ever, talk about happiness directly, but in designing digital offerings that promise an "experience," or when focused on building customer relationships, the covert subtext of most advertising should be the creation of the feeling of happiness.

Must-Have vs. Want

A complication usually arises, though, when advertising creative meets the CMO's meat-grinder that tends to delimit brand into tomorrow's sales' numbers. Perhaps one way out of this dilemma is for marketers to note the difference - emotionally, experientially and cognitively - between consumers' must-ing and wanting.

When a person is on the prowl for a specific item they must have - say, a classic black dress, a box of tampons or their brand of after-shave - the consummation of a "must" produces the feeling of relief.

A very different emotional experience derives from something you want but meet up with unexpectedly. This buying situation gives rise to satisfaction.

Relief (minimizing loss) and satisfaction (maximizing gain) are experienced differently and are, in fact, represented by different neurological activity patterns.

If I like a product and buy it because its attributes meet my interests, I can be relieved to have it. If I feel a product reflects my identity and expands its latent expressions of self, a certain relationship develops with that product. It is that relationship that makes me happy.

People feel happy not when a product or a store demonstrates an understanding of the consumer as a purchasing process, but when it authentically displays it understands who the consumer is as a person.

Understanding of a person as an identity is different than explaining them as a consumer. At best the former generates "liking" while the latter establishes "attachment." I can like a transaction but I am happiest in a relationship.