Hispanic Cultural Perceptions of Happiness

11 Apr 2006|Felipe Korzenny

By Javier Rosado,
Doctoral Student,
Florida State University

Subjectivity is at the center of marketing and cultural subjectivity is at the core of cross-cultural marketing (Korzenny & Korzenny 2005). The importance of understanding subjective aspects of a culture can not be overstated when considering marketing strategies that are aimed at Hispanics. The purpose of identifying and understanding perceptions, beliefs, and actions specific to a group is to better establish and emotional connection with consumers. This can only be done through appropriate cultural understanding. One step towards better understanding a culture is the examination of archetypes, or ranges of dimensions that characterize a culture (Korzenny & Korzenny 2005). There are different dimensions of culture that form archetypes, for example, a culture’s perception of time, leadership, or gender. This paper will focus on cultural perceptions of happiness among Hispanics with the purpose of gaining insight that would allow marketers to better connect with Hispanic consumers.

Information for this paper was obtained through informal interviews and observation of Hispanic consumers while purchasing goods. Information presented here will help identify ways to better connect with the Hispanic consumer. I will begin by presenting a brief summary of my observations and interviews with four Hispanic consumers, followed by a summary of informal conversations I had with several other consumers outside of a store/retail settings. Lastly, insight from these observations and experiences will be presented.

Consumer # 1
After asking for permission, I followed a 27 year-old Hispanic female, and mother of two, around a local Target department store. She stated the purpose of her visit to the store was to purchase some slippers she wanted to use at work while sitting at her desk. However, the first department she visited was the children’s section. When asked why this became her first stop … after probing … she indicated making purchases for her children make her happy because if her children are doing well now, and have the things they need and the things that will make their lives better, they will be successful in the future. She defined happiness as “being able to provide for my kids and watching them grow, and also being around my friends; hanging out with them.” Furthermore, she stated happiness is a choice; one simply chooses to be happy or not. Even during difficult times you can be happy by praying, being strong spiritually. She also stated if you are going through something difficult it is because something good is on its way.
This individual ended up purchasing, in addition to her slippers, a Hello-Kitty pillow for a friend’s daughter. When asked why she made this purchase she stated it was because she knew the little girl would like it and that she will feel good because she knows that the purchase will make the child happy; she wanted to make the people that love her happy.

Consumer # 2
I also briefly spoke to a Mexican family (mother, daughter, son-in-law, and child) at a Wal-mart Super Center. In their basket were several “ethnic” products, such as tortillas and fruit juices. When asked about these products they stated they purchased those specifically for two main reasons. First, for their kids – because they like them; they agreed that making purchases for their children makes them happy – they enjoy seeing their children’s smiling faces when they get the product purchased for them. Secondly, they stated those specific products help them remember Mexico and their life there and those memories make them feel happy. In addition, the family agreed that happiness includes communication with God; it is a decision to be happy and through joy one can overcome problems. Overall, they defined happiness as unity in the home and gave the example of the entire family getting together for Sunday dinner.

Consumer # 3
I spoke with a 55 year-old Puerto Rican male, also at Wal-mart, who was browsing the toy section. He is a father of three adult children (who are out of the household) and was visiting the store to make a purchase for a small child from his church. When asked what was the purpose of the purchase/gift he stated that he felt the child needed a toy; he stated he feels better when helping others; there is joy/happiness in helping others in need. He indicated that when you see joy in someone else, you also have joy/happiness. He defined happiness has having the necessary things to live, such as a home, a job and opportunities to help others. He also agreed happiness is a choice; there are some things you are not in control of, but you deal with things as best you can and change what you are able to. He felt one can be happy in difficult situations by not focusing on the bad and thinking things will change (for the better) and not last for ever.

Consumer # 4
A 68 year-old Hispanic woman, of Puerto Rican decent defined happiness as being with God. Furthermore, she stated happiness comes in small spurts, problems come for a while and one finds things difficult, but then happiness is right around the corner. However, she felt one is nervy fully happy until with God – then is one fulfilled. She views happiness as hard to get because everything in life has a price; sometimes you are about to reach happiness and “se escapa” (it gets away). She identified, vacationing with family, family in general, eating and newborns as sources of happiness. She concluded the conversation by stating that the most beautiful thing is if you show others you are happy.

Assorted Customers
A handful of individuals with whom I had informal conversations regarding this topic also identified happiness as it being related to God and spirituality. Another reoccurring theme was the concept that happiness comes and goes. Although most individuals agreed happiness is a choice and one can be happy through bad times, they also stated no-one is truly always happy. Happiness appears to be something that you must work for, it requires effort. A reoccurring theme included children, and their satisfaction and success as sources happiness. Furthermore, meeting the needs of others and bringing or seeing joy in others was also identified as a source of happiness. Lastly, several respondents spoke of the idea that by being happy one can avoid evil and bad.


All respondents agreed happiness is important and that all people should be happy. A fundamental implication here is that happiness is an important emotion for marketers to consider in attempting to make an emotional connection with the Hispanic consumer. Happiness is important in life for Hispanics; they work for and strive to be happy, and more importantly to make others happy.

The majority of respondents indicated no single product or purchase can truly make one happy. Many indicated happiness can not come from any external factor; it must come from the inside. However, several respondents indicated being happy when they know they are able to work in order to purchase the things they and, more importantly, their families need (and possibly want). A potential implication for marketers who want to connect with consumers through happiness could be to steer away from presenting their product as a source of happiness. Hispanics may not relate to or agree that a product can bring joy. However, Hispanics do find joy in the fact they have been able to work in order to make the purchase. Marketers could tap into the happiness that comes from not necessarily buying a product, but from the ability to buy the product because one worked for it. For example, a slogan such as “You can be happy because you worked for it,” may appeal to Hispanic consumers. Here marketers are tapping into happiness in a culturally relevant way.

In contrast to the above, although respondents indicated not feeling happy after purchasing a specific product, most respondents did, however, state they felt happy when they are able to make purchases that met a need. The only exception, or instances when this ideal was presented more leniently, was in respect to their children. Hispanic consumers feel happy when buying things for their children; this may explain why Hispanic consumers tend to spend more on their children than other groups (Synovate 2004). Not all products are intended for children and many companies are interested in selling products that do not necessarily meet a need. However, some implications for marketing that may help in the sales of a variety of products could be to 1) present the product as a tool to bring success to their children (this is the more obvious implication or 2) simply pair the product with a similar stimulus (of bringing joy to a child) – this may be just as effective. Take for example a marketer interested in selling jewelry to Hispanics. Purchasing jewelry will not meet any prominent need, nor make a child’s future more successful; however, the marketer could pair the purchase of jewelry with a child’s smile (i.e. a commercial could feature an individual showing his jewelry to a child who becomes delighted, happy and smiles after getting a glimpse of the jewelry). Here, you are tapping into Happiness, a valued emotion among Hispanics, and pairing it with jewelry; once this association is established, the purchase of jewelry may also become valued. The point here is not such much the simple jewelry example, but rather the potential for successful marketing strategies that find innovative ways to couple happiness with the purchase of an item.

There may be other implications to gain from these brief interactions with several Hispanic consumers. The two implications discussed above were selected as they appear to be some of the “less obvious” and overlap the least with previous findings regarding the Hispanic market, such as happiness related to thoughts of one’s country of origin, the importance of religion, and collectivism. My aim here was to discover dimensions and archetypes that have not been overused. More in-depth interviews with a larger number of consumers would yield additional, valuable, data.


Hispanic Marketing: A Cultural Perspective by Korzenny and Korzenny (2005), published by Butterworth-Heinemann/Elsevier.

2004 US Hispanic Market book published by Synovate

* I would like to express my appreciation to those individuals who participated in interviews – despite the awkwardness of being unexpectedly approached by a stranger whiled shopping!

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