Selling Happiness

Sara Drawwater
29 May 2010
Photo © Michael Mistretta (on Flickr)

Photo © Michael Mistretta (on Flickr)

The psychology professor was teaching our study group how to generate problem-solving ideas through brainstorming. He wanted us to come up with as many ideas as we could within 10 minutes in answer to the following question: “What abundant and sustainable product or service other than Copper can Zambia sell to the outside world?” I was the first to respond. I confidently shouted out, “A smile!” To my amazement, my contribution sent everyone into laughter. The professor instantly came to my rescue.

“During the first stage of brainstorming,” he said, “you don’t evaluate or dismiss any idea, however ridiculous or meaningless it might sound. The evaluation of ideas comes at a later stage. It is the seemingly absurd ideas that usually present unique solutions to life’s problems.” The professor continued, “All right, just as a learning point, I will tell you a true story to demonstrate the value of Benja’s answer.” The professor then told us about a line of shops in the township where he once lived as a young man. One of the shops was managed by a sales lady with the most charming smile. Everyone seemed to prefer to buy from her even though the other shops offered the same products. The interesting thing was that even when she did not have what the customers wanted, they would ask her to sell them anything else.

One day, one of her loyal customers, a local tycoon, was surprised to find the shop empty with no item to sell. She told him that the business had run out of money and that she had nothing more to sell. In fact the shop was up for sale, she told him. The man inquired what the asking price was and offered to buy it. Six weeks later the man asked her to marry him and volunteered to pay a generous dowry to her parents. Soon after, when the man was asked by a close friend why he had paid so much money as dowry, the man answered, “I paid for happiness! Her smile radiates so much warmth and joy.”

When the professor finished telling the story, he told us that the moral of the story was that ultimately people don’t want to buy goods or things; their aim is to buy happiness. He concluded by saying, “Perhaps that is what we as Zambians need to learn in order to successfully sell our tourism. Instead of seeing ourselves as sellers of elephants, lions and crocodiles, we need to see ourselves as being in the business of selling happiness. There is no better way of doing that than giving service with a smile.”

Posted by guest blogger Benja H Keto