Americans are more compassionate than we realize, says Brodeur Partners research


BOSTON – Though stressed out by our overstuffed personal agendas, Americans are more compassionate, happier and more optimistic than one might think. At least Americans would like to think of themselves as compassionate, happy and optimistic.

These are among many findings detailed today in a new white paper on “The Compassionate, Happy American.” The white paper is the first product of Brodeur Partners’ new research project on “American Relevance” an in-depth look at our interests, values and self-perceptions.

(Download the “Compassionate, Happy American” white paper)

Optimism in the face of conflict

Turn on the TV and you see politicians, celebrities and reality show figures at each other’s throats. Fortunately, in real life we’re mellower – or aspire to be – with more than two-thirds of respondents to a Brodeur Partners survey (68 percent) embracing the compassionate label.[1] And despite gloomy economic news, the majority of us say we’re happy (58 percent). Half of us say the term optimistic strongly applies to who we are.

“Americans see themselves as generous, upbeat and caring, despite the bitter tone of our politics and the economic stresses of our day,” said Jerry Johnson, Brodeur executive vice president of strategic planning. “Brands, products and causes that can tap into and connect with that overall upbeat and generous temperament are those that will be most relevant in the marketplace of ideas and affections.”

At the same time, Americans appear to have weak ties to notions of spirituality and idealism.   Just over one-third of Americans said that spiritual (38 percent) or idealistic (39 percent) labels strongly applied to them.

Gender, age, income and marriage gaps

Women lead the way in compassion, happiness and optimism. And happiness generally rises with age, with nearly seven in 10 persons 65 and older saying they’re happy. Supporting a Princeton University study that suggested a $75,000 salary as the “magic number” happiness, the Brodeur study found that upper middle income earners ($75,000 to $100,000) were the most likely to identify with compassionate, happy and optimistic labels. In fact, compassion, happiness and optimism appear to “peak” at this income level and drop considerably once one gets into the much higher income brackets.

Perhaps the biggest factor associated with these labels, however, is marriage. A much greater percentage of married people say they’re happy (65 percent) compared to those who are single (45 percent). The same goes for optimism, which broke 50 percent to 35 percent in marriage’s favor.

Gen X is living well

Self-identification with compassion, happiness and optimism labels also varies by generation. The most interesting group was neither the Boomers nor the much-written about Gen Y, or Millennial, crowd. Rather it was the 30-44 Gen Xers who were, in the aggregate, the most likely to embrace the combination of compassionate, happy and optimistic labels. This cohort was also most likely to see themselves as leaders, ambitious and risk-takers. They turn out to be the one group that balances ambition and leadership (competitive qualities) with the kinder, gentler labels of compassion, happiness and optimism.

“It was so interesting to see, amid today’s marketing trend toward micro segmentation, how ‘macro’ compassion, happiness and optimism are, regardless of age,” said Andy Coville, Brodeur CEO. “It’s also intriguing to look at the relationship of compassion to other attributes that we might perceive as more significant, like American individualism, because of the mythology around them. These are fascinating findings by themselves, but they also have profound implications for every kind of communications strategy–from fashion to healthcare.”

The American Relevance research and the white paper series analyzing it are part of Brodeur’s core creative platform, which is the continuing exploration of the social science behind relevance and the behavioral change that it can trigger. In coming weeks, Brodeur will explore how stressed Americans feel, the importance of the middle class, devotion to family, and the deep concern Americans feel for their health. Brodeur will discuss the findings in news releases, white papers and blog posts.


The online survey, conducted in August 2012, garnered 1,007 respondents from a national double opt-in panel with results weighted to reflect the national population. The margin of error was +/- 3 percent at the 95-percent confidence level. Sections of the survey employed the innovative “MaximumDifference Scaling (MaxDiff)” research methodology to enhance the accuracy of the findings. Rather than simple multiple choice, MaxDiff presents respondents with a series of choices that are presented multiple times against different competition in each instance, creating 60,000 data points in a 15-variable survey.

The American Relevance research builds on Brodeur research into relevance over the past two years, which found is America’s most relevant retailer; shoppers of different ages are separated by a practicality divide; and high relevance scores often correlate with superior growth and performance even when a company is dwarfed by industry giants.

Brodeur defines relevance as the full experience of an idea, product, brand, candidate or cause – one that not only changes minds, but also changes behavior. Although logic is part of it, relevance is also a function of values, sensory experiences and community impulses. Brodeur helps clients improve their relevance through quantitative and qualitative research on these relevance components, and through controlled trials of various communications approaches.

About Brodeur Partners

Brodeur Partners is a strategic communications company that helps organizations become and remain relevant in a complicated world. Headquartered in Boston, the company has five U.S. offices and operates in 33 countries globally. It is differentiated by its focus on relevance, behavioral change and ability to bring a discipline-agnostic approach to its non-profit, consumer and business-to-business clients.