Expectations & Happiness: A Math Equation For Happiness (Finally!)

This mathematical equation for happiness was invented by the researchers at the University College of London. They said it could predict moment-to-moment happiness. This is based on the rewards people receive in relation to their expectations.

Originally introduced in 2014, the Happiness Equation was updated and published in the journal Nature Communication in June 2016.

Before you can work successfully on something, you need a tool. You should see happiness as a tool and stop pursuing it as a goal. Click To Tweet
Happiness Equation

How Do Expectations Affect Happiness?

The key to being happy is lowering our expectations – but not to the point of being miserable. We may enjoy ourselves more if we don’t expect everything to go flawlessly. Researchers discovered that regulating our expectations to a realistic level, so that they are not too high or too low, increases happiness.

Life is full of expectations. You will be happier if your expectations are lower. Click To Tweet

Can A Math Equation Predict Happiness?

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Aug 2014.

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In the first study, 26 subjects were asked to complete a decision-making task in which their choices would lead to outcomes involving financial gain or loss. During the task, their neural activity was continuously measured using fMRI, while repeatedly being asked how happy they were. The results were used to form a mathematical equation for happiness that takes into account expectations during decision-making tasks.

Afterward, Dr. Robb Rutledge et al of the UCL Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging and the new Max Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing designed a game called “What makes me happy?” accessible by means of the app to put their equation to the test. The equation quite reliably predicted the moment-to-moment happiness of the participants, although awards were merely game points.

Happiness Equation

“We expected to see that recent rewards would affect moment-to-moment happiness but were surprised to find just how important expectations are in determining happiness,” says Rutledge. “In real-world situations, the rewards associated with life decisions such as starting a new job or getting married are often not realized for a long time, and our results suggest expectations related to these decisions, good and bad, have a big effect on happiness.”

“Life is full of expectations,” says Rutledge. “It is often said that you will be happier if your expectations are lower. We find that there is some truth to this.”

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“If you have plans to meet a friend at your favorite restaurant, those positive expectations may increase your happiness as soon as you make the plan,” he says. “The new equation captures these different effects of expectations and allows happiness to be predicted based on the combined effects of many past events.”

“On average we are less happy if others get more or less than us, but this varies a lot from person to person. Interestingly, the equation allows us to predict how generous an individual will be in a separate scenario when they are asked how they would like to split a small amount of money with another person. Based on exactly how inequality affects their happiness, we can predict which individuals will be altruistic,” Rutledge further said.

Final Words

Researchers hope that a deeper understanding of mood disorders and their better treatments will be guided by this Happiness Equation.

• Read the update by Max Planck Gesellschaft here: A new equation shows how our happiness depends not only on what happens to us but also on how this compares to other people.

Related Book

Being happier is the biggest challenge you face every single day at work. —  Neil Pasricha

In the book The Happiness Equation, Neil Pasricha illustrates how to want nothing, do anything, and have everything. It’s a book that will change how you think about everything—your time, your career, your relationships, your family, and, ultimately, of course, your happiness.

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Did you know that Positive Psychology also has a formula for happiness?

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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes popular science articles on happiness, positive psychology, and related topics.

• Our story: Happiness Project

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