Math and happiness; what do these two things have in common? Before I answer that, let me pose another question.
Is there a key to happiness? I sometimes ask this question on those days when I’m feeling a little down or when I feel like everything is a struggle. And unfortunately, as much as I’d like one simple, definitive answer, it really depends on whom you ask. Some people will say it’s the status quo: family, career, love, and all that stuff. But what about the smaller things that make up daily life? It seems to me that the little moments that make up life should be given far more weight when we’re talking about overall happiness.
I believe happiness is largely tied to expectations and anticipation.
For example, if I’m on the phone with my friend and we decide to get together for dinner a few days later, it makes me happy. The anticipation that comes from the action of making the plan makes me feel good directly after it’s made. Surely I don’t know what will happen between now and when we meet, or even if we’ll have a good time, but the act of making the plan gives me something to look forward to and boosts my mood.
Having said that, I try to manage my expectations. I try not to get overly excited about my plans because if my expectations are too high, I could ultimately risk disappointment. Therefore, another key to happiness is to set lower expectations, thus setting yourself up to have them exceeded. It may make me seem like a Negative Nancy, but if I allow myself to think that the experience and the meal won’t be anything special, I set myself up for a great time when these expectations are exceeded—and quite often they are!
However, my “steps to happiness” seemed rather inadequate when I came across what a team of researchers at University College London (UCL) came up with. They developed a mathematical equation to help determine and predict happiness. How? They had 26 subjects complete a series of decision-making exercises that led to monetary gains and losses while they were asked how they felt at various points. Their brain activity was monitored, too, and the results were used to create a program that related self-reported happiness to rewards and expectation.
Then, as all things seem to be nowadays, the program was turned into an app called “How Happy Am I?” (created only for the experiment). Through this app, the program was tested on more than 18,000 participants. The results showed that the equation the researchers had developed worked in predicting happiness, even when players were only rewarded with points, not currency. In fact, throughout their research they learned money had virtually no impact on a person’s level of happiness.
This shows us that happiness can be created and tracked almost instantly through decision-making and expectations. Based on the decisions people made, the app could track the happiness tied to anticipation and the momentary boost in a person’s mood by merely making the decision that would possibly reward them with points. Just the potential of a reward was enough to spike happiness.
Improving happiness is something that is beneficial to everybody, and it’s important to know that it’s not just big things like family and career that contribute to your overall happiness. Sure, they can play an important role, but the anticipation and happiness experienced when those big decisions are made—like saying “I do” or having a family—aren’t all that different from the smaller decisions after all, like ice cream after you’ve finished a long, productive day at work. This is what adds to daily happiness.
Source for Today’s Article:
Rutledge, R., et al., “A computational and neural model of momentary subjective well-being,” PNAS 2014: doi: 10.1073/pnas.1407535111.