Have you ever thought…
“Oh, I wish there was some sort of ‘happiness equation’ that would show me how to be happier!”
I have one I want to share with you.
It’s more philosophical one than a scientific, though.
Before I geek out on it, I want to point out that the goal of this article is to get you thinking, become more aware of how your thoughts play a role in your happiness, and maybe even change how you do certain things. If you’ll be tempted to comment with “But life is not that simple” or something along those lines, then you missed the point.
But if you walk away with “Huh! Interesting.”
Then the seed of change has been planted.
So here is…
The happiness equation (1.0)
Happiness = Reality – Expectation.
But what does that mean?
You see, our expectation and our attachment to it plays a massive role in how happy we are.
Remember a few instances when you’ve been unhappy.
When you think about it, unhappiness is usually a disappointment because things did not turn out the way we planned or expected them to turn out. It doesn’t have to be anything big.
A meal at the restaurant wasn’t as good as you hoped.
You wanted to start the week right but instead spilt the coffee in the morning and missed your train.
The expectation was greater than the reality turned out to be.
Happiness = Reality (the meal sucked 3/10) – Expectation (I thought it would be amazing 9/10)
Happiness = -6
When the reality is “smaller/worse” than the expectation, then you’re basically in negative figures/mood.
I know it may be strange to think about happiness in terms of numbers, but it’s just for the sake of demonstration.
Well, there are a few options for how you can work with this.
Expectations are powerful because they can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you expect to have a great day, you will probably be in a better mood (in comparison to expecting the day to be a disaster). Your happy mood will not only impact how you feel but also how you do things and interact with other people. You’re more likely to get more smiles back, and people treat you better. You are more likely to be more productive, which will, in return, make you feel better. In the long run, this can lead to much more meaningful gains such as promotion etc.
On the other hand, if you expect a party to be terrible, you may not put as much effort when you’re getting ready, or when interacting with others. It will then affect how others interact with you and consequently, the overall experience. In the long run, this may lead to you not being invited again, and so on.
So expectations can actually be of great help if you manage them well.
Where expectation can be dangerous is when you are attached to it as if it was supposed to turn out that way or “guaranteed”, because things don’t always turn out the way we expect them (if ever).
I personally frame expectations as: XYZ could potentially be like “this”, but let’s see.
Sometimes people also make the mistake of making their expectation so high that the likelihood of the reality ever matching it is almost 0. Then, they are always setting themselves up for disappointment.
(Check out my article: Life isn’t always amazing… and you wouldn’t even want it that way)
Have expectations/dreams, but don’t be attached to them.
Know they are just a possibility.
So maybe we need to update the equation a bit (2.0).
Happiness = Reality – (Expectation – Attachement)
People get often disappointed with the reality when it’s less than what they hoped it would be. Reality is what it is.
We established above that with less attachment to your expectations, it will be easier to be happier.
Just as we can be more mindful of our expectations, we have a degree of control over our reality. We can put in the effort to make the reality better.
But, there are limits to how much control we have and how much we can change it. This limit also plays an important role.
What has changed the way I feel about the reality and my results has been me factoring in whether I’ve done/tried my best to make it better.
If I have, then whatever the result turned out to be was probably the best I could have done.
A great example was me running the London Marathon in 2019. I set a goal to complete it in under 4 hours. I finished it in 4:02:04.
2 minutes 4 seconds slower than my goal. When I crossed the finish line and found out, I was pretty gutted. But just for a few moments. In my head, I started running through the course trying to identify where I could have run faster. And you know what? I don’t think I could. I left it all there. I was totally gassed at the end. That made me realise, I gave it my all. At that moment, the way I felt about my result has changed. I was totally content with it. It was the best I could have done.
Life and situations are not always what we want them to be, but we can do a lot to make them as good as they can be. When you keep that in mind, life becomes much happier.
The happiness Equation 3.0
Happiness = (Reality x Effort) – (Expectation x Attachement)
In plain English:
The more you try your best to make the most out of your situation and the less you’re attached to your expectations, the happier you’ll be.
This is what happens when geekiness meets personal development and philosophy. A somewhat unorthodox approach to looking at happiness, I admit, but this is what has worked for me.
Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below…
If you’d like to work on being happier, contact me, and let’s talk about what could be done. If you don’t change anything, nothing will change.