Here’s a simple psychological rationale for why people voted for Brexit and to leave the European Union.  People strive for happiness, which according to a well-researched influential model in psychology – self-determination theory – is driven by three things: the ARC of happiness – a sense of Autonomy, a sense of Relatedness, and a sense of Competence.

  • Does the EU foster a sense of individual autonomy – or should we take back control?
  • Does the EU enhance our sense of personal relatedness with other EU citizens – or is EU migration a problem?
  • Does the EU improve a sense of competence in how our affairs (and our money) are run – or are EU institutions wasteful?

With this psychological lens, we can understand how people’s emotional reaction to the EU is not happiness. And since we may tend reject those things that do not make us happy, the United Kingdom has gone ahead and ditched the European Union. This is not a political point, it is a point of insight (For the record, I am a committed European internationalist and profoundly concerned about the consequences of leaving the EU – including the potential loss of the 1/3 of startup investment deals in the EU that went to the UK.  So why did the UK leave the EU? The EU did not deliver on the ARC of happiness.

Now it’s easy to provide post-hoc rationalisations for why things happen after the fact, but the smart thing to do is to learn from them – spot a pattern and then profit from it.  So the big opportunity for business, branding and innovation is to realise that the ARC of happiness matters, and now act on it. Do you foster a sense of Autonomy, Relatedness and Competence for your customers? If you do, you may flourish and grow; if you don’t, your customers may desert you – just as the British have deserted the EU.


From CB Insights