The Key to Happiness: Don’t Go to Bed Mad.

(Lessons on How to Avoid Customer Churn)

Supposedly, a few seconds is all it takes for our brains to store a moment. I say supposedly, because our brains are such complicated things. You never really know what the brain is going to do next. Most headaches are caused by the brain saying to itself “You’re giving me a headache.”

Because we store so many moments in our lives, we get overload headaches. The people who suffer the worst tend to have full email boxes and cluttered garages. Most migraines are caused by cluttered garages.

Despite all these memories, though, it seems we can still separate them out. One psychologist, John Gottman, now grades them by intensity, each falling into one of four categories: positive, negative, neutral and really stupid.

If you have, say, a 5:1 ratio of pleasant memories to really stupid ones, you stand a really good chance of being happy. Reverse that order and you probably won’t live past your thirties.

Now, admittedly, into everyone’s life “a little rain must fall” but, as Gottman points out, it’s how we deal with memories that determines our Gottman Ratio.

Take the case of the couple who’ve been married for 60 years. What keeps them together is a higher ratio of pleasant memories to stupid ones. How is this accomplished? Love, devotion, compromise? Sure, these all play a part. But successful long-term relationships are a conscious effort. Like my uncle telling me the secret to his 50-year marriage: “Never go to bed mad.”

In other words, happy doesn’t just happen. You have to work at it and understand how important the Gottman Ratio is in your life. It’s the secret to longevity in everything from our relationships to our businesses.

Now, how can this be applied to business? Again, according to Gottman, the collection of happy memories makes your product more memorable.

Take, for example, how we promote these days. Everywhere you see a constant barrage of messaging, each offering us something. But how many represent negative or stupid memories? These can include slow load times, bugs, unintuitive flow, unwanted ads or crappy content.

If we follow the Gottman Ratio, this isn’t making us happy. We’re aggravated, upset and generally pissed. The result is more overload headaches.

Let’s look at McDonald’s as an example. Their “I’m Lovin’ It” campaign has been running for quite a while now. Because of the heavy media buy, it probably seems like a few centuries. We see people doing the same thing, showing the same smiles — and eating. They’re always eating.

Somehow we’re supposed to attach all those smiles to eating, only we’re not. We’re getting heartburn and overload headaches. By the time the commercial concludes with “I’m Lovin’ It” we’re in the washroom lovin’ antacids.

They did one commercial where a man whispers his order at the drive-through window, circles, then whispers the same thing again. It takes ten seconds before we realize he doesn’t want to wake his baby in the backseat. Why he keeps circling is never clear. By his fourth pass, we’re screaming, “Stop your friggin’ car, you idiot!” We’re upset with this guy, but more upset with McDonald’s.

Supposedly we have a greater recall of unpleasant memories than positive ones. If that’s the case, McDonald’s is fighting a losing battle. Here they are trying to make a happy moment. Are we happy? No, our Gottman Ratio is so out of whack, McDonald’s would do better shooting puppies.

If we go back to that couple married for 60 years. Their relationship was nothing but repetition. Yet they made those years together happy. They didn’t “go to bed mad.” This may be the best advice for marketers today.

Do people see your commercials and go to bed mad? If we’re lovin’ antacids more than your advertising, then, sure, we’re going to bed mad. We’re probably waking up mad, too.

So I’ll leave you with what I asked my uncle when he said “Don’t go to bed mad.” How do you avoid it? “I don’t make your aunt mad in the first place,” he replied.

Something to consider the next time you decide to have a guy circling the drive-through window at a McDonald’s.

What do you think? Is your advertising making people happy? Or are they lovin’ antacids? Let me know at:

Robert Cormack is a freelance copywriter, novelist and blogger. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)” is available online and at most major bookstores. Check out Yucca Publishing or Skyhorse Press for more details (you can also buy the book from them).

I did a poor imitation of Don Draper for 40 years before writing my first novel. I'm currently in the final stages of a children's book. Lucky me.

I did a poor imitation of Don Draper for 40 years before writing my first novel. I'm currently in the final stages of a children's book. Lucky me.