An Equation for Happiness

Happiness is an elusive term, but it is generally characterized by a positive well-being, contentment, long-lasting enjoyment, and freedom from suffering. Many have tried (and continue to try) to decipher the mysteries of happiness. What makes us happy? How can we be happier? How can we make others happy? How do we know if we are truly happy? Scientists are coming closer to possibly predicting happiness, with a mathematical formula.

According to a new study, researchers at the University College of London were able to predict the happiness of over 18,000 people using the equation below:
happiness equation

Based on an examination of expectations, rewards and past outcomes from 26 subjects through surveys and brain scans, researchers built a computational model that related self-reported happiness to recent rewards and expectations. They then applied the equation to over 18,000 people who played a risk-reward game on their smartphones. The app is called “The Great Brain Experiment.” The equation was able to accurately predict how happy the subjects were when they played the game.

The study showed that happiness depended on the size of the gap between expectation and what you actually achieve. Having lower expectations helped, as the subject were happiest when they performed better than they expected in the game. Also, having positive expectations can play a role in developing our happiness. Specifically, moment-to-moment happiness is largely dependent on a recent history of rewards and expectations rather than overall wealth accumulation. Thus, perhaps happiness is relative; we as humans are creatures of comparisons after all.

Past studies have also tried to simplify happiness into something tangible or at least, something practical and achievable by following a formula. One such study produced the “Feel-Good Formula.” Led by Dr. Todd Kashdan of George Mason University, their well-being studies produced the following equation:
(Mx16 +Cx1 + Lx2) + (Tx5 + Nx2 +Bx33)
Each variable in the formula stands for an action and the numbers represent the amount of time on that activity:
M= living in the moment, with an average for 16 hours
C= being curious, at least once a day
L = doing something you love, twice a day
T =thinking of others first, five times a day
N= nurture relationships, twice a day
B= taking care of your body, with healthy food three times a day and 30 minutes of exercise each day

Practicing all of these tasks each day will make for a happy and healthy life, according to the study.

Given the ambiguity and complexity of happiness, one may wonder why it matters to even quantify happiness. However, relating happiness to a mathematical model can serve several purposes. For one, it can help us understand how mood relates to life events and how that may differ from those suffering mood disorders. Secondly, it can help governments develop wellbeing policies. Finally, it at least brings us a little bit closer to grasping the ever elusive human emotion of being happy.

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