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Isentia - Keeping ahead of the curve

Research First The secret to happiness … isn’t so secret

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Keeping ahead of the curve

The news cycle as we’ve known it no longer exists. Issues take off and change course within a matter of minutes. For New Zealand’s leading communicators this creates just as many opportunities as challenges.

It has been exhilarating to see the events that have raced away over the past 12 months in New Zealand media, since I arrived as Isentia’s NZ Country Manager. Among many, we’ve seen a rollercoaster election, the Prime Minister welcomes a baby, and supermarkets ban single-use plastic bags.

But what have these stories meant for New Zealand and each of us who live here? What impact have they had on the organisations and political institutions who were part of every twist and turn?

These are questions that Isentia are uniquely able to answer. It is this front-row seat to the ever-changing and wildly entertaining media show coupled with our passion for helping clients that make Isentia such an amazing place to work.

It has been constantly gratifying to see how New Zealand organisations are leading the way in their approach to media intelligence.

The culture in New Zealand is innovative and forward-thinking. Organisations embrace the new technology that allows them to navigate modern media challenges. They also have a passion for understanding the insights that media data can tell them.

Being a part of the conversation

Organisations need to make and implement important decisions quicker than ever before. Looking back to the plastic bag issue, it’s been less than a year since Countdown led the way as they announced their single-use plastic bag phase-out.

Now we see the Ardern government is already working towards removing them across the nation. It’s crucial that companies stay on top of the media trends, so they can maintain authority in their given field, to leverage opportunities as Countdown did so well, or prevent issues from escalating into crises.

A trusted advisor

Across the past 12 months, it has been a major highlight to see the relationships we have continued to develop with our New Zealand clients. Our approach is to understand our client’s strategies and work hand-in-hand with them to help achieve their objectives via our tailored solutions.

Clients trust Isentia to be an extra set of eyes and ears for them. If an incident occurs, we have a plan of action ready to go. As technology continues to evolve, we are optimising our ability to connect the most important pieces of media intelligence for our clients in the shortest time possible.

Speed versus accuracy

Accuracy has traditionally been more important to our clients than speed. However we’re finding the speed of the current media cycle is changing that equation. Accuracy is still key, but speed is just as important now. The stakes are higher, and we are up for the challenge.

To answer these current and future needs of our clients, some of the most exciting work at Isentia continues to be in the area of artificial intelligence. We have transformed from the company that told you what happened yesterday to what is happening right now, and we are becoming the company that helps you to predict what will happen next.

There has never been a more exciting time in my 12 years at Isentia. Originally published on M+AD! here.

Russ Horell
Country Manager, NZ

Research First

The secret to happiness … isn’t so secret

It’s not often you find a social scientist who is unequivocal about what their research means. Instead, what most of us do is line up our disclaimers (‘this study suggests…’) and talk about the limitations of our work (‘more research is clearly needed’).

This happens so often that Harry Truman famously asked for a one-handed economist because he was tired of his economic advisors qualifying their recommendations with “on the other hand…”.

Truman would have liked Richard Waldinger. Waldinger is the current director of The Harvard Study of Development, and a man who has no time for equivocation. He writes “the clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period”.

The previous director of the study, George Valliant, was even more succinct. He was adamant the results of the study could be captured in five words: “Happiness is love, full stop”. Elsewhere he gave himself the luxury of using fourteen-words, noting “the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people”.

“the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people” – George Valliant, The Harvard Study of Development

Sure, what goes on inside your head matters (as you’d expect a psychologist to say) but you are much more than what Errol Morris called the “buzzings in the ball of electric jelly inside [your] skull”. Your brain exists inside a physical body, which then lives in a social world. You were born to move and, as part of a social species, born to connect.

Of course, it makes no sense to separate these dimensions in this way. We arrived at being human through the interplay of those three things. We have the brains we have because our bodies move the way they do and because we are part of a social species. Still, being able to shift between these three perspectives will help you better understand why you make worse decisions when you’re hungry or feeling lonely, and why having stronger social ties will keep you healthier and help you live longer.

You may have already worked out where this going: The evidence from the social sciences couldn’t be clearer: To find more fulfillment in your life, keep learning; remain active; and stay connected.

The evidence from the social sciences couldn’t be clearer: To find more fulfillment in your life, keep learning; remain active; and stay connected.



The Truman quote is all over the internet but I can’t find any published evidence that he ever actually said it. The closest I can find is the reference “As quoted in: To provide for amendment of the Bretton Woods agreements act, U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1976” from

The Harvard Study of Development’s might be the longest continuous study of adult life ever. It has tracked over 720 men from Boston since 1939 and is still collecting data from the surviving participants. Its website is There are many publications on that site worth reading, and the Study even has its own Wikipedia page (

The Waldinger quote comes from the TEDx talk he gave in 2015 ( and you can see a transcript of that talk at

The five word summary by George Vaillant comes from Scott Stossel’s “What Makes Us Happy: Revisited”, The Atlantic, May 2013.

The fourteen word version comes from Joshua Shenk’s What Makes Us Happy”, The Atlantic, June 2009.

To be fair, the idea that close relationships are the key to a happy life is well-known in social psychology, as is the link to better health outcomes. For instance, have a look at David Myers (1999) “Close Relationships and Quality of Life” in Well-Being: Foundations of Hedonic Psychology, edited by Daniel Kahneman et al., Russell Sage Foundation.

The Errol Morris quote is from his “is there such a thing as truth” in The Boston Review, April 30 2018


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