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Is There a Real Equation for Happiness?

Is There a Real Equation for HappinessIn the last few weeks I’ve noticed and increase in the number of articles centered around the idea that there’s a mathematical formula for happiness.

Initially I made an assumption which turned out – as many assumptions do – to be totally wrong.

My assumption was that there had been either a refinement of the “happiness formula,” created by the gurus of happiness Diener, Lyubomirsky and Seligman, or someone else had cracked the code and come up with an actual mathematical equation to the age old mystery of “what is the secret to happiness.”

My first mistaken assumption was that there was one new equation; as it turns out there are a number of offerings which run the gambit from somewhat complicated and complex (Mx16 + Cx1 + Lx2) + (Tx5 + Nx2 + Bx33) to the sublimely simple H=R/N given to us by M.K. Gandhi. My second mistaken assumption was that someone could come up with an actual mathematical equation.

For example, in Gandhi’s equation, H=R/N, the H stands for happiness/contentment, R for resources at your command and N for your needs, all the factors are subjective. I like much better Gandhi’s reply to a western journalist, who had challenged him to reveal the secret of his happiness in just three words, his answer, “Renounce and enjoy.”

Since 1998 and the birth of positive psychology there has been an effort to discover a formula for happiness; to try and discover, if possible, a way to measure and quantify the components or elements that make up a happy life.

However, defining happiness isn’t an easy task and the formulas and equations are instant reminders that math is not what makes most of us happy (my apologies to Physics professors, mathematician and statisticians-a perfect example of subjectivity.)

But bear with me, because there are reasons and answers, and to get to both of them we to examine the formulas.

The Equations and Formulas

Here are the most recent equations for unlocking the secrets of happiness:

1. The “happiness formula” created by Diener, Lyubomirsky and Seligman, concludes that what determines happiness can be found in three specific elements which make up a simple equation:

H=S+C+V or Happiness =Set Point + Conditions of Living + Voluntary Actions

In this equation, “S” is your biological disposition toward being happy, known as your “happiness set point.” “C” represents the conditions in which you live, some of which are fixed, like your sex and age, and some of them you can change. Finally, “V” stands for the voluntary activities that you engage in, for example work, vacations, meditation, and exercise.

2. In a study co-written by Pete Cohen, a life coach, a formula was worked out by a team of psychologist after interviewing over 1000 people.

Happiness = P + (5xE) + (3xH) 

P stands for Personal Characteristics, including outlook on life, adaptability and resilience. H represents Higher Order needs, and covers self-esteem, expectations, ambitions and sense of humor.  E stands for Existence and relates to health, financial stability and friendships.

3. This next equation was worked out by Mary Leveen Sher, the “Chief Noticing Officer” of the “The Did Ya Notice? Project.

Her formula reads:

N = H + M= P + S

Where N = Noticing
Noticing leads to H (happiness) + M (mindfulness)
And happiness and mindfulness lead to P (productivity) + S (smiles).

Read more here:

4. According to its creator, Jimmy DeMesa MD MBA, the next equation can “help anyone be happier.”

On his Blog, behappy101.com, Dr. DeMesa says, “you can live a happier life – a much happier life – if you know this formula, understand it, and use it.” Here it is:

H = (G + DH + C + 3R) ÷ 6

Happiness (“H”) is equal to your level of Gratitude (“G”) … plus the degree to which you are living consistent with your own personal Definition of Happiness (“DH”) … plus how much you Contribute to others (“C”) … plus your success in what I call the 3 R’s of happiness (“3R”) … all divided by 6.

5. Dr. Cliff Arnall, a seasonal disorder specialist, devised a formula for measuring good moods:

Happiness Formula or H= O+(NxS)+Cpm/T+He 

Put simply, a value for being outdoors (O) was added to nature (N) multiplied by social interaction (S), added to childhood summer memories (Cpm) divided by temperature (T), and added to holiday excitement (He).

6. Research led by Dr. Todd Kashdan the mathematical formula for a healthy and happy life has been determined and the “Feel-Good Formula” combines “the key factors for emotional and physical wellbeing to give us daily happiness guidelines to get into our everyday routines.” Here it is:

H= (Mx16 + Cx1 + Lx2) + (Tx5 + Nx2 + Bx33)

Here’s how it works:

Live in the moment (M): Attempt to appreciate moment-to-moment the sights, sounds, smells throughout your awaking experience (average= 16 hours).

Be curious (C): At least once a day, be spontaneous enough to explore the unknown aspects of your life.

Do something you love (L): At leasttwice a day participate in an activity that gives you pleasure or excites you.

Think of others first (T): While it is important to care for yourself, there is great value in spreading love to others. Share your appreciation and practice random acts of kindness with people around you five times a day.

Nurture relationships (N):  Twice a day, devote some quality time to a family member, relative, friend or partner, because research has shown that the happiest people in the world have nourishing relationships.

Take care of your body (B): This doesn’t necessarily mean intense exercising or rigorous dieting. Nourishing your body is about balance and eating healthy food three times a day and incorporating a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise a day.

What do They All Mean?

One of the greatest challenges of creating a “mathematical” equation for happiness, from my perspective, is arriving at an objective equation (that is one which is measurable and quantifiable) from what is inherently a subjective (personal) experience.

In his book, “Flourish,” Martin E.P. Seligman the “father of positive psychology,” addressed this question with a whole new theory, one that is greater than “happiness” itself, he calls “Well-Being Theory.”

The concept is that “well-being is just like “weather” or “freedom” in its structure: no single measure defines it exhaustively, but several things contribute to it; these are the elements of well-being, and each element is a measurable thing.” Life satisfaction (the measure of happiness) is a single thing that can be measure and contributes to the whole of well-being in the same way that wind-chill contributes to “weather.”

It is this “enumerating” of all of these elements that has led, I believe, to the proliferation of the “mathematical” equations for happiness.

Why Bother?

The goal of all of these “mathematical” equations for happiness is to increase the amount of happiness in our own lives and on the planet, or more accurately as Seligman offers, to “increase the amount of flourishing in own lives and on the planet.

Applying any one of these formulas can help us “flourish” or at least become a happier person. The real value, from my perspective, is the on-going evolution in the “science of happiness;” to discover what makes life worth living and how we can each experience it.

Bonus happiness Equation Video:

 Martin Seligman,  the guru of the “positive psychology” movement, abandons his previous emphasis on happiness, which he now views as simplistic, to examine how individuals might achieve a richer, multilayered goal: a life of well-being. If you have a desire to understand positive psychology and the formula for well-being then this is the place to start.

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