The Business of Wellbeing

A new Marshall undergraduate marketing course explores personal and professional wellness strategies

July 07, 2020

The special topics undergraduate course, “Happiness & Wellbeing in the Marketplace” is officially about understanding the happiness and wellbeing of consumers. But according to course designer and teacher Arianna Uhalde, an equally important goal of the class is to help students understand the impact of marketing messages on their own happiness and wellbeing.

Assistant Professor of Clinical Marketing at Marshall, Uhalde also earned her doctorate at Marshall in 2017. While still a student, she helped found Marshall Panels on Women’s Experiences in Research (MPOWER), an organization designed to support female Ph.D. students both personally and professionally.

After she finished her degree, one of Uhalde’s first projects was with Marshall’s Performance Science Institute (PSI). In partnership with USC Athletics, Uhalde’s team conducted research and developed programming “to help people find a purpose-based identity,” she said. “We wanted to help people understand wellbeing, help people find a happier life.”

With this background, it’s no surprise that in early 2019, Uhalde created a happiness and wellbeing class at Marshall. As a longtime student of consumer psychology and behavior, she said, “Consumer happiness has always been part of the discussion—a product should make people happy. But now attention to wellness has evolved.”

"I would argue that in a business school, we should absolutely be discussing how marketing messages and products impact happiness and wellbeing."—Arianna Uhalde, Assistant Professor of Clinical Marketing

Today, firms are beginning to recognize that happiness means more than customer satisfaction; it’s an important consideration for employees as well. Positive feelings and an optimistic outlook alleviate burnout, which leads to longevity in a career.

“This is practical,” said Uhalde. “When we develop psychological skills, we also develop business skills. People who can analyze themselves and situations bring an invaluable skillset to work. I think of emotion regulation and resilience as skills to be learned and practiced, like others may think of data analysis or graphic design. Figuring out how to cultivate happiness and wellbeing has positive downstream effects.”

MKT 499: Happiness and Wellbeing in the Marketplace

The 21 students in Uhalde’s spring 2020 class got a rare opportunity to personally measure the impact of their studies on stress when the coronavirus sent them home in March, and they were asked to finish the semester online.

“Things were fresh and unfolding in real time,” Uhalde said of those days. “The class provides resources and skills students can leverage during tough times, so when all of this happened, it just became more relevant. I could see the students using what we’d discussed in their thinking about the pandemic.”

Uhalde organizes the class around classroom discussions, in-class exercises and outside assignments. Topics can range from “Defining Happiness and Wellbeing,” to “Performance-Based Identity,” to “Happiness Online.”

This spring, in addition to these and other concepts, the class spent time discussing ways to foster gratitude and optimism amid Covid-19, how regulations meant to increase safety impacted happiness and wellbeing, and how various organizations adapted their marketing in light of the pandemic to enhance consumers’ wellbeing.

“My role is facilitating conversations,” Uhalde explained. “The class involves critical thinking and deep discussion about everything from the impact of a pandemic to social media platforms to inspiring ads to controversial products. All of these aspects of the marketplace impact our happiness and wellbeing in complex ways. My hope is that my students gain practical knowledge and tools that they use while enrolled in class and after.”

The Big Picture

When Uhalde was asked to design an upper division business elective for Marshall, “Happiness and Wellbeing in the Marketplace” came to mind naturally. With a specialty in consumer psychology and behavior, expert knowledge of how marketing messages impact individuals, and heightened awareness of the statistics on mental health challenges for college students, Uhalde saw an opportunity to underscore the importance of wellbeing in a class.

“Some people might think discussions of mental health don’t belong in a business school,” Uhalde said. “But I would argue that in a business school, we should absolutely be discussing how marketing messages and products impact happiness and wellbeing. Not only is the self-improvement industry estimated to be worth $10 - $12 billion, we should be discussing how challenging it can be to balance profit maximization and consumer health. Those discussions are hard, but I believe we can, and should, be having them. I believe it’s possible to leverage corporate marketing strategies for individual wellbeing and societal welfare.”

That’s a fact Uhalde is eager to share. She hopes to be able to open her class to graduate students in the future, and she had planned to present her curriculum at the Marketing Educators’ Association conference in April until the pandemic cancelled the event.

“I would love to see more classes related to wellness,” she said. “A combination of business and non-business students in these classes would be great. I’ve had a mix of Marshall and non-Marshall students, and the diversity in the classroom really helps bring different perspectives to light. Now, without the conference, I’m trying to think of different ways to encourage professors– particularly those with backgrounds in psychology, sociology, and organizational development–to teach similar courses, but from their own perspective and with their own expertise.”

Uhalde said her motivation is simple. “I really want to impact students’ lives beyond the classroom. I’m focused on how I can reach more people moving forward.”