As reported in The Atlantic, a team of British researchers came up with an equation that can accurately predict your short-term happiness:
Wow. Even for a former math nerd like me that’s a lot of variables.
At the core of this equation — and this study — is the relationship between your expectations and the actual outcomes. Perhaps not surprisingly, what it shows is that when you expect a reward or good experience you are less happy when you get it if you expect nothing at all. The conclusion then seems to be that it’s better to not anticipate good results, outcomes, or experiences to maximize how happy you feel when they actually happen.
At the same time, many studies have shown that the act of anticipating or planning good experiences — like a vacation — makes you happier. So in many ways, it’s a tradeoff between feeling happier as you anticipate or feeling happier if you don’t anticipate, but it happens.
My reaction to this study was echoed by the researchers themselves, who pointed out that it only looked at short-term happiness spikes vs. longer-term life satisfaction. There are many variables that determine our overall life-satisfaction and it’s not really about finding some perfect formula. Instead, it’s about adopting certain simple habits — like practicing gratitude, staying connected with people we care about, learning to savor small moments and joys, investing energy into learning new things and pursuing what you are interested in — and making them a regular part of our lives.
(It would be really cool if I could come up with a crazy-looking equation for what I just wrote – next time!)