The Happiness Formula: Part One

Peter's picture

Formulas are pretty common when dealing with concepts that tend to be expressed using numbers, such as in engineering or in finance. They aren't very common when dealing with less "measurable" concepts such as happiness. This is mostly because we can't easily add or subtract happiness and come up with a numerical total. However, even if we can't place actual numbers into a formula, it doesn't mean that the formula isn't useful.

I first encountered The Happiness Formula while reading The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt, but the formula itself was proposed by Martin Seligman, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ken Sheldon and David Schkade when doing their research on positive psychology. So they deserve the credit, not me! However, I do find this particular idea very interesting and practical to anyone interested in better understanding happiness.

Let's start things off by presenting The Happiness Formula and then we'll take a closer look at why I find it so interesting.

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.

Why A Formula?

Formulas (or formulae, if you like the Latin plural form) are really handy for solving a wide variety of problems. When I was studying electrical engineering in university, I was pretty much smothered in formulas. More recently, when dealing with personal finances, I've come across several other basic formulas, such as the formulas used to calculate net worth and cash flow. Using these basic financial formulas was can not only calculate our net worth and our cash flow, we can quickly see what to do to increase them. Want a higher net worth? Increase your assets or decrease your liabilities. Want better cash flow? Decrease your expenses or increase your income. Easy, right? So formulas can be pretty useful.

But I Already Know What Makes Me Happy ...

Well, it turns out you probably don't. Most people, myself included, tend to be fairly miserable at predicting what will and will not make them happy. We tend to greatly over-estimate how happy or unhappy we'll be after a particular event or experience. The primary reason for this is our ability as humans to adapt to new situations. After most significant events (lottery win, injury, etc) our emotional reaction is based on how our new situation compares with our previous one. As time passes, however, that contrast tends to fade and before long we're, emotionally, back to where we started.

It's for this reason that I find The Happiness Formula interesting. It limits the chances of me chasing the wrong goals. I don't want to spend all my efforts pursuing a goal to which I'll quickly adapt. I want to spend my time working towards things that will make me a happier person in the long run.

Using The Happiness Formula

So back to the formula itself. Since we aren't really interested in determining a numerical value for our happiness, we don't need to worry about putting numbers into The Happiness Formula. The actual numbers don't really matter -- so you can safely put your calculators away! Instead, we want to increase our happiness from its current level (whatever it might be) to one that is higher. We are going to focus on increasing our personal levels of S, C and V so that overall we end up with more H. In the next several articles, I'll be taking a closer look at S, C and V so we can get some ideas on how to improve our happiness without worrying about any actual numbers. Stay tuned!


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I and most people included

I and most people included are much happier when they choose activities that are physically challenging, such as exercise!

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