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Human Happiness Reset

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 maximising 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 (Seligman, 2011) shows us that there are seven universal drivers which we seek to satisfy in order to achieve happiness and wellbeing. The way this is manifested in our behaviour is influenced by the world around us.

The era of apocalypse

Not only did 2020 tie with 2016 for the warmest year on record (Nasa, 2021), we also experienced a series of extreme natural disasters like the bushfire crisis in Australia (Ho, 2020), flooding in China (, 2020) and locust swarms in Kenya (Tonnang, 2020). We witnessed a resurgence of protests against political suppression and social inequality around the globe (Mosley, 2020), on top of the global healthcare crisis (WorldEconomicForum, 2020).

Understanding the universal drivers of happiness in the evolving context of our world allows us to root consumer insights in real human needs, whilst staying firmly focused on the future. As such, we conducted a three-part proprietary study at the end of 2020, combining a macro-environmental analysis with qualitative exploration with leading-edge consumers around the world, resulting in the identification of 14 consumer trends. The term ‘trend’ here refers to a behaviour that consumers express when they navigate the world at one moment, in a particular cultural climate, in order to meet their underlying fundamental needs. A final stage of quantification amongst 15,000 consumers in 16 markets, allowed us to ‘score’ each trend based on consumers’ attitudes and behaviours, as well as ‘map’ the trends globally.

We could say that 2020 was the era of apocalypse; in Greek meaning ‘disaster’ and ‘revelation’. 2020 not only forced us to stay inside, it also fundamentally changed how we seek and attain happiness, fostering a ‘happiness reset’.

Defining the post-2020 consumer in Australia

According to our study and resulting 2021 Culture + Trends Report, half of the 14 trends map similarly in Australia compared to the global data, i.e. with only 1-3% difference in trend score. The remaining seven trends offer a broader gap between the local and global trend scores.

Wild & Weird scores 10% lower in Australia and Nurturing Nature scores 8% lower in Australia. Re-imagined Interactions, Fight for Immunity and Rebuilding Trust each score 6% lower in Australia.

On the flip side, Neighbourly Networks scores 6% higher in Australia and Unapologetic Activism scores 4% higher in Australia (McKnight & Van den Bergh, 2021).

One trend that resonates highly with Australian consumers is Neighbourly Networks. Accelerated by COVID-19, consumers are recognising the value of community ties to their social lifestyles, while new platforms are enabling local networks to tackle growing concerns of education gaps, loneliness and sustainability. This trend scores 79% amongst Australian consumers compared to 73% globally.

61% of Australians agree that they have “a responsibility to actively support the people and businesses in [their] local community” and 56% reported that they are “buying from brands that actively support the people and businesses in [their] local community”.

Consumers feel that brands in the Groceries, Retail & Leisure and Fashion sectors are relevant in this trend space. Many Australian brands are already tapping into Neighbourly Networks, including Nextdoor, Buy From the Bush and Coles Local.

Next to the value being placed on local communities, we also see Australian consumers highly attuned to the need to look after their health, encapsulated by the trend Fight for Immunity. Mass media coverage of medical experts from around the world has led consumers to become familiar with a range of biological terminology, driving deeper engagement and fascination with their personal biology.

In light of the pandemic having hit those with low immunity the hardest, two in three (67%) Australians agree that they “need to boost [their] body’s immunity”. Yet Australians are behind the global consumer in their Fight for Immunity, as this trend scores 78% amongst Australian consumers compared to 84% globally.

Brands in the Healthcare, Groceries and Beauty sectors should feel confident tapping into this trend, and we see many already doing so in Australia, including Vitable and Woolworths Macro.

The second trend that resonates higher with Australian consumers (76%) than their global peers (72%) is Unapologetic Activism. This trend has emerged from the exposure of consumers to visible systemic injustices, creating a spark to act and drive social reform.

67% of Australians feel that they have “a responsibility to call out injustice and discrimination”, yet fewer are acting upon the trend by purchasing from brands that tap into it. There is an opportunity here for brands that can positively impact a cause or call out deep-rooted discrimination in society.

Consumers feel that brands in the Media & Entertainment, Fashion and Finance & Insurance are most relevant in this trend space, yet with 41% of global consumers identifying no relevant sector, the field is open to all. Some Australian brands are already tapping into Unapologetic Activism, including Cricket Australia and The Aesop Foundation.

The time is now for brands to think about how they can act upon these accelerated consumer behaviours – or consumer trends. Unapologetic Activism, as an example is an emerging trend in this market, this means that it offers brands the opportunity of “first mover” opportunity. The attitude is there, and the behaviour will follow. All 14 trends identified offer brands the opportunity to help consumers achieve Happiness, whether they are nascent, emerging or expanding. Brands should consider where they see their opportunity to lift off these trends.

Erica van Lieven
Managing Director, InSites Consulting Australia

References, 2020. China floods: Over 140 dead as Yangtze River bursts banks. [Online]
Available at:, S., 2020. Australia Is Literally On Fire Because Of Climate Change. So Why Won’t More Governments Act?. [Online]
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McKnight, K. & Van den Bergh, J., 2021. 2021 Culture + Trends Report. [Online]
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Mosley, T., 2020. Mapping Black Lives Matter Protests Around The World. [Online]
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Nasa, 2021. 2020 Tied for Warmest Year on Record, NASA Analysis Shows. [Online]
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Seligman, M. E. P., 2011. Flourish: a new understanding of happiness and wellbeing – and how to achieve them. London: Nicholas Brealey Pub.
Tonnang, H., 2020. A new model shows where desert locusts will breed next in East Africa. [Online]
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WorldEconomicForum, 2020. The World Health Organisation has declared coronavirus a pandemic. [Online]
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Zhan, W., 2020. HK police arrest at least 86 people over illegal assemblies. [Online]
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This article also appears in the April-June 2021 edition of The Research Society publication, Research News – Human Insights. Check out the rest of the articles in this edition here.

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