The Happiness Formula: Part Five

Peter's picture

The Happiness Formula allows us to take the otherwise complex concept of happiness and break it down into smaller more manageable parts. By tackling each of the three parts separately, we make it a lot easier for ourselves to come up with practical steps we can take to improve our overall happiness. Today I'll be reviewing what we've learned from our study of The Happiness Formula while suggesting some ways in which we can use the formula to improve our happiness.

Putting It All Together

Let's start by taking another look at The Happiness Formula in its entirety:

The Happiness Formula: By knowing what factors affect it, we can take steps to try to improve our overall level of happiness.The Happiness Formula: By knowing what factors affect it, we can take steps to try to improve our overall level of happiness.

A Three Pronged Approach

As we can see from the illustration, there are three variables in The Happiness Formula: S, C and V. Below, I've summarized the main points relating to these three variables. Beside each item, I've included some possible actions you could take to work on these points in your own life. You can use this as a sort of quick reference when planning your goals for improving your happiness. You can refer back to the original article on each of the three factors for more specific background information by following the links below.

S, Biological Set Point:

Our happiness partially comes from within. Our minds have a natural tendency to interpret the world in either a more positive or more negative way which is determined by our own biological make-up. There are a few ways we can use to try to improve our outlook and make the most of the genes we've got:

  • Meditation: Learn about meditation techniques by getting a book on the subject from your local library or by signing up for a beginner's course.
  • Cognitive Therapy: Work on becoming aware of negative thoughts and writing them down so that these thoughts can later be considered in a more logical manner.
  • Prozac: In more severe cases, if meditation and cognitive therapy don't work, maybe this would. I plan to stick with just the previous two items and take a pass on the Prozac.

C, Life Conditions:

Happiness comes from 'without' as well. Although we can adapt to most conditions in our lives, there are several external factors that have been shown to have a lasting effect on our well-being. Here are some of the things we can try to incorporate as conditions in our lives to boost our happiness:

  • Relationships: Work on building more interpersonal relationships and on strengthening existing ones.
  • Money: Get basic needs met through investment income so that you can afford to invest your time working on some of the other items listed here.
  • Noise: Reduce sources of unwanted noise from your life.
  • Commute: Work as close to home as possible or ensure that any commuting is free of heavy traffic.
  • Control: Be in control of as many aspects of daily routine as possible.
  • Shame: Take care of sources of shame or self-consciousness in your life by either correcting the issue directly or working on accepting yourself for who you are.

V, Voluntary Activities:

The things we choose to do on a daily basis also affect how happy we end up being overall. By adjusting our daily routines to include a range of happiness promoting activities, we can end up being a lot happier.

  • Pleasures: Include several pleasures in your daily routine. Make these varied and space them out over the whole day.
  • Gratifications: Include some time in your daily routine to spend on activities that exercise your strengths and abilities.


It would be a bit naive of me to think that happiness can be completely expressed by a formula. Happiness is a complex animal and is different for every person. However, The Happiness Formula touches on a lot of the heavy hitters affecting our emotional well-being. It likely misses several important factors but it does provide us with a very good starting point for identifying areas of our lives that we can work on to boost our happiness.

So, next time you revisit your personal goals, you can try setting a few that directly tackle some of the variables covered in this series on The Happiness Formula and hopefully you'll end up a little bit happier as a result.

Sources: Most of the research for this series was done using the following two books:

  • The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt
  • Happiness: Lessons Learned from a New Science by Richard Layard

If you are interested in better understanding happiness, I'd recommend both of these books, although I personally enjoyed Jonathan Haidt's book the most. You can request them from your local library.


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This series has been very

This series has been very interesting. In particular I was struck by your paragraphs on adaptation. When I think back to my younger years as a poor broke student I remember eating bread, ramen noodles and water for days at a time. Fast forward 15 years to my diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, cheese, and quality cuts of meat and you'd think I'd be giddy everyday. Well I'm not and it all comes back to what you said about adaptation. Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful that I can afford my diverse and tasty diet but I don't find myself savouring every bite and laughing with joy when I see my well stocked cupboards. Perhaps I should be more mindful of my good fortune (I guess this is what Thanksgiving reminds us of every year).

I'm surprised that health wasn't mentioned much. Maybe that would fall under Life Conditions. Like money, health is one of those things that affects your happiness in a negative way when you don't have basic good health. In some cases (like a terminal illness) there isn't much you can do to improve your health. However I find in myself that when I exercise regularly, get a good night's sleep and eat nutritious food my health improves and that definately makes me happier.

Peter's picture

Health was one of the areas

Health was one of the areas that I felt was missing as well. The thing is, I found a few pieces of information that suggested that we might be able to adapt to poor health. One interesting example was a study done on paraplegics which found that, even though they were faced with a loss of virtually all their hopes and dreams, paraplegics tended to return to their pre-injury levels of happiness within several months. I'm not sure about other health conditions. The hypothesis is that when faced with a severe health issue, such as a loss of function of both legs, we start to get a lot more happiness from small things that we used to take for granted. Our expectations get adjusted and we end up being about as happy as we were before. Of course, this is just one study. I personally feel I'd be happier as a healthy person than as an unhealthy one, but I'm not sure how much I'm just underestimating my ability to adapt.

I do think that good health is very important though. It stands to reason that being happy and living until you are 60 years old is less desirable than being happy and living until you are 90. The 90 year old gets an additional 30 years of happiness. In that sense, health definitely matters!

Any other aspects of happiness that The Happiness Formula misses?

That is an interesting study

That is an interesting study done on paraplegics. Have you seen The Diving Bell and the Butterfly? Considering the extreme level of "unhealth" Mr. Bauby is in he does seem to adapt and find some happiness - far more than I think I would be able to, but then maybe I'm underestimating my ability to adapt.

Other aspects of happiness that the formula misses? I'll have to think on that some more but my initial thought is a luck variable. For example, I was born to 2 loving, understanding parents and because of that I think my overall happiness is higher than someone who had mean or negligent parents. Perhaps that falls under Relationships but as a baby you can't choose your parents - that's luck. Another example of luck - I'm a woman living in the US and I was born at a time and place when women have more freedoms and opportunity in society. I think living here, now (as opposed to 100 years ago or in a third world country) means I have enjoyed more overall happiness. Again, it is lucky for me that it turned out that way.

(Same anon as above)

Peter's picture

Well, luck would play a part

Well, luck would play a part in determining our genetic make-up, some of our life conditions (where we were born, etc) and to a certain extent the things that happen to us each day. So in a way it affects every part of our lives on some level or another. Luck is one of those things that really depends on your perception of the world too. So how lucky or unlucky you view yourself might be directly linked with S in The Happiness Formula. For example, you view your birth to your parents as lucky, while someone else might view it as unlucky because they would have preferred to have been born into a much more wealthy family. It depends on your outlook.

One thing I've noticed since starting to write this series is that I've actually felt happier as a result. I'm not sure exactly why, but I suspect it might be due to an increased feeling of control over my happiness. Instead of happiness 'just happening' I feel as if I can actually control it to a certain extent. So maybe learning about happiness makes you happier? Interesting idea.

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