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Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Cause for Genuine Delight

It's the mass consumption, er, holiday season again, which means that everywhere I turn, I'm bombarded with advertisements trying to sell me delight - men delighted by power tools, women delighted by diamonds, children's faces filled with the unbridled joy that can only be caused by [insert marketed product here].

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how society is manufacturing contempt via the commoditization of our stuff, our news and our communities. In this same vein, we're manufacturing and commoditizing delight, too. I'd argue that the manufacture of delight is really just the other side of the contempt coin. When we package delight into a commodity to be bought, marketed and sold, we degrade the dignity and authenticity of this really wonderful human emotion. This is a form of contempt, especially when we attach it to cheap, mass-produced products that are made with little regard for the health of humanity or the planet. And at no other time of year is the manufacture and commoditization of delight more apparent than it is right now.

Despite what marketers tell us, manufactured delight is a ruse, at best a poor substitute for genuine delight (the kind we don't need marketers to help us feel), and at worst another engine for manufacturing contempt. This kind of delight is:
  1. Shallow. Manufactured delight doesn't tap into anything bigger than itself, (unless you want to count company profits). It creates nothing of meaningful value, has no positive long-term impact, and feeds into our culture of consumerism and commoditization.
  2. Commoditized. Manufactured delight is the kind of delight you feel when you acquire something new. It revolves around buying and/or giving things, not building relationships. Like a fast food hamburger, this kind of delight is easy to give and easy to acquire, but it fades quickly and makes no contribution to your long-term health and happiness. If anything, it leaves you hungry for another fix.
  3. Unsustainable. Remember how you felt as a kid after you'd opened all your Christmas presents? Probably not as delighted as you did while you were unwrapping them. Manufactured delight fades almost immediately, leaving you with a gnawing sense of emptiness that can only be filled by acquiring more stuff. That in itself is unsustainable, but when that stuff is manufactured without regard for humans or the environment, you have a recipe for great harm.

This sad excuse for delight is what most companies are manufacturing. It's boring, fleeting and feeds into the contempt/commodity cycle that treats everything, right down to our precious human emotions, as a product to be bought and sold. But business doesn't have to work that way. Market dogma aside, our business models are not set in stone, nor do they operate according to an invisible set of immutable laws.

A company called Socks for Happy People has found a way to thrive that does not involve commoditizing and exploiting our emotions. They make sustainably sourced, genuinely delightful socks that are designed to "amaze, uplift and inspire". Quite wonderful on its own, but to see what really sets them apart, you have to read their mission statement:

"Socks for Happy People exists to inspire a deeper understanding of genuine happiness throughout the world, and be a shining example of how a business with the well-being of humanity and nature at its core can be inherently sustainable and abundantly profitable."

This is a company that makes socks for a living, and socks aren't even mentioned in their mission statement.

It's hard to imagine something more commoditized and ordinary than socks. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of sock manufacturers out there. Here's the difference between all of them and Socks for Happy People - making socks isn't their mission. Making socks is what enables them to accomplish their mission.

Socks for Happy People has transformed their socks into a platform for spreading genuine happiness, joy, love and yes, delight. And they inspire those feelings in us whether or not we buy their socks. If we do become a customer, the act of purchasing is about more than just giving them our money; it becomes a way to participate in their awesome mission, to experience ourselves as part of something bigger than ourselves (and I haven't even mentioned their Buy One Give One Free initiative to provide socks to street children in Mongolia). That is how profits and delight, not to mention all our other wonderfully human emotions, can co-exist to create enduring, meaningful value in the 21st century.

If Socks for Happy People can do it with socks, we can do it with just about anything. Who else is causing this kind of positive disruption? I'd love to hear your examples in the comments.

Robin Cangie is a writer, thinker and digital geek who loves to wonder about things. She writes on her blog about 21st-century business, sustainability and whatever is on her mind. She tweets as @robinoula.

-- Robin // 3:53 AM // 0 comments

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