Over the past decade, a growing number of economists and psychologists have been examining the drivers of happiness, or at least "subjective well-being". They generally converge around the idea that, beyond a certain threshold, consuming more does not make one happier. To this endogenous limit of the promises of the consumer society is added, with increasing evidence, the ecological impasse to which the logic of more and more leads. Does this mean that we should reject consumption altogether and promote frugality?
Out it would be to neglect the role of consumption in the economic circuit, the radicality of such a posture peaches by its lack of nuance. Not all consumption is equal, both in terms of its contribution to individual well-being and its environmental and societal impact. On this second point, eco-design, organic or "reasoned" agriculture, short circuits, the circular economy, the economy of functionality ... are all avenues that show the way to good consumption. On the capacity of consumption to contribute to individual well-being, the pioneering work of the economist Tibor Scitovsky suggests that if certain forms of consumption fail to produce a lasting increase in subjective well-being, others can contribute to the development of individuals.
Recent research increasingly emphasizes the distinction between two approaches to happiness. On the one hand, there would be "hedonic" happiness, which is the maximization of pleasure and the minimization of pain. This is the one that seems doomed to saturation (which pushes people to run away) as soon as a certain standard of living has already been reached. Eudaimonic" happiness, on the other hand, would pass through the discovery and development by each person of his "daimon", that is to say, of his deep nature, his dispositions, his talents, his tastes. In other words, a happiness that passes through personal fulfilment. This humanistic approach to happiness - which does not exclude hedonic pleasure - opens up interesting perspectives for drawing the contours of "good consumption".
Brands and retailers operating in consumer markets are increasingly aware of the limits of a promise based primarily on "having". The success of "experiential" and "service-based" approaches reflects a growing awareness of the value of shifting the centre of gravity of the market relationship from "having" to "being". In other words, not just "making the sale", but caring about making the customer live - through the goods and/or services sold to him/her - an "experience", i.e. a valued, sometimes memorable moment that contributes to transforming the person. This concern for experience should not be limited - as is unfortunately too often the case - to the buying experience. It must extend to the consumption experience, i.e. the moments when the customer is striving to enjoy the potentially useful effects contained in his or her purchase. Much remains to be done in this direction, particularly by focusing the commercial relationship on co-producing solutions to targeted problems with the customer. This perspective is all the more attractive since, by focusing on the end purpose of consumption rather than on the material means of achieving it, we can see business models in which profitability depends on saving natural resources.
But this dynamic of "having" to "being" can also lead to an interest in "doing". Eudaimonic happiness largely involves engaging in activities that mobilise the person's skills and talents; the person then derives both the satisfaction of exploiting his or her potential and the development of skills through use.
The psychologist M. Csikszentmihalyi is at the origin of a vast body of studies which have sought to define the characteristics of activities likely to produce a state of "flow", i.e. a mental state marked by an absorption of the individual in the activity which generates a feeling of fullness. The experience of flow and the benefits on the structuring of the self can be lived in the exercise of the professional activity. It is often the product of leisure activities.
How not to be struck by the growing enthusiasm of the populations of rich countries for activities that involve "doing": To the already long-standing boom in sports and the arts has more recently been added the craze for DIY, gardening, cooking, sewing, creative leisure activities... As if individuals, disoriented by a confused world, were seeking in "doing" a form of consolidation of their identity, a feeling of autonomy, a response to their search for meaning and, very often, opportunities for genuine social ties based on shared interests.
However, not all leisure activities have this ability to contribute to self-realization. It is the territory of leisure activities that presuppose a form of commitment, the mobilization of skills, which involve a minimum of challenges, what specialists call the serious leasures. These are therefore usually activities that require a certain amount of effort, and very often learning basic skills can be thankless. Elements that prove to be at odds with the consumerist values of easy and immediate hedonistic pleasure.
There are therefore obstacles that need to be removed in order to fully reveal the potential of this "good consumption" oriented towards "doing", which involve public policies but also corporate strategies. For "doing" is associated with significant market potential (equipment, supplies, services, etc.) and offers companies the opportunity to establish a deep and lasting customer relationship that goes far beyond a simple market transaction. It is therefore in their interest to participate in the promotion of "doing". In particular by helping people to take the first steps, to make the initial effort, by designing products that make the task easier, by committing themselves alongside customers in building skills.
It is in order to participate in raising awareness of the economic and social stakes attached to "doing", to make brands and companies aware of the potential benefits associated with a thoughtful and resolute commitment in this direction that the ObSoCo wanted to set up a Doing Observatory. This Observatory, which will map the commitment of the French to a wide range of active leisure activities, will seek to establish a link between this commitment and the subjective feeling of well-being, to assess the economic potential of "doing" and to highlight the latent expectations of consumers.
Philippe Moati, Associate Professor of Economics at Paris-Diderot University - Scientific Director of ObSoCo