Trend Report 2021: Happiness Reset

Marking the beginning of a new decade, 2020 has resulted in a re-evaluation of our lives, our futures and the world we live in. At the center of this stood the global COVID-19 pandemic, but it was by no means the only causal factor. Also, a string of wildfires, crop-eating locust swarms, a global resurgence of civil rights protests and continued political polarization marked the world in the shadow of the healthcare crisis.

The pandemic has acted as a catalyst for behavioral change, accelerating slow-moving macro trends as well as creating entirely new ones. While the impact on human behavior can easily be exaggerated, it is undeniable that we are going through a dramatic alteration that will be looked back on as culturally pivotal. We could label 2020 as the new apocalypse, as, in the face of disaster, we also witnessed a revelation. Because for many people, the confinement of life in lockdown opened the door to new attitudes, behaviors and values.

Understanding human motivation

There have been many attempts throughout history to explain human motivation. Since ancient times, philosophers like Aristotle have argued that people seek to attain a happy and tranquil life, with the aim of maximizing their wellbeing. People are on a continuous quest to achieve happiness, and every action we take is an attempt to make us happy.

Building on centuries of philosophical observation and decades of scientific exploration, Positive Psychology shows us that there are seven universal drivers which we seek to satisfy in order to achieve happiness and wellbeing: Meaning, Relationships, Achievement, Engagement, Positive Emotions, Health, and Security. While their core remains unchanged, the way this is manifested in our behavior is influenced by the world around us.

With the events of 2020 as our backdrop, we aimed to capture how people seek happiness and wellbeing today; we also studied how this is driving new behavior and expectations towards brands. Our approach combined a mix of methodologies to produce a unique view of the post-2020 consumer.

Happiness reset

Our research started with an exploration of the macro forces which, combined with human psychology, cause changes in consumer behavior. The engine of our approach is our unique Human Drivers model, which encompasses the seven universal drivers mentioned above. So we appealed to our proprietary Illume Network of leading-edge consumers; we captured the attitudes, needs and behaviors that are changing in order for people to achieve happiness according to these drivers.


From this first stage of analysis, it became clear that 2020 has fundamentally changed how people seek and attain happiness through the seven drivers, fostering a ‘happiness reset’.

  • Meaning; our reason for being. The 2020 ‘apocalypse’ moment led to a re-evaluation of our perspectives and roles. The lockdown thus gave people a moment to reflect on what to do next; it created a ‘crisis of meaning’.
  • Relationships; our connection to others. Fueled by lockdown measures, our immediate relationships have intensified, while others have been pushed away. This has triggered a re-focusing on the family and close ties as an essential source of belonging, connection and comfort.
  • Achievement; our drive to accomplish. The pandemic has served as a period of reflection, with people exploring different ways to structure their routines in order to get done what they need, avoid unnecessary anxiety, and feel good about their accomplishments in the process.
  • Engagement; our access flow. Because the great pause of 2020 made it okay to slow down, pay attention to our environment and engage in low-key activities; it also highlighted the limitations of digital for delivering truly engaging experiences.
  • Positive Emotions; our expression of pleasure. The world being physically and morally restricted has raised levels of anxiety and depression. Blocking out negativity and letting off steam are essential for our overall health.
  • Health; our pursuit of improvement. The global COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the stark health vulnerabilities in our society. Health has become the number-one priority.
  • Security; our sense of safety. Due to the cracks in our financial, political, social and health systems, worry has become part of daily life. So, with fake news on the rise, trust is at an all-time low.

Defining the post-2020 consumer and the role of brands

We combined our Human Drivers framework with the Illume Network analysis; this led to the identification of 14 ‘trends’ or new and visible consumer behaviors. In partnership with Dynata, these trends have been quantified by 15,000 consumers in 16 markets (the US, Brazil, the UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, South Africa, Singapore, Indonesia, South Korea, China, Hong Kong SAR, the Philippines, Thailand and Australia). This provided invaluable insights into the post-2020 consumer.

In a series of articles for Research World we deep dive into how these trends are manifesting in Asia, Europe and the US, studying the extent to which consumers have a positive attitude and/or behavior towards each trend:

As published in Research World – February 2021.

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