I try to avoid providing a formula for happiness. Therefore, in this article I will NOT provide A formula for happiness; I will provide several. And they are literally formulas :). Obviously they are rough and to be taken with a grain of salt, but they all have quite a bit of truth to them.
1. Happiness = Reality – Expectation
Expectations are more controllable than Reality. What’s more, expectations can increase to fill reality. For instance, doubling incomes often leads to a more lavish lifestyle and an expectation of nicer foods, clothes, etc… Worse, in this case, Expectations can disporoportionately increase so that an improvement in Realtiy can make one unhappier!
2. Happiness = Evaluation(New,Old)
This is similar to #1, except that it focuses on a change from one state to another. Evaluation is more under our control than the states (New,Old). However, the take-home point of is that a view of happiness based on getting things may implicitly define happiness as a TRANSITION rather than a STATE. This by definition means that lasting happiness is impossible and one must get a never-ending stream of stuff to get those moments of happiness that live only in the transition.
3. Unhappiness = Event x Clinging
Events are less controllable than Clinging. Notice the multiplication: Bad things are made much, Much, MUCH worse by clinging.
4. Happiness = Genetics (50%) + Conditions (10%) + Actions (40%)
We can’t control genetics, have limited control over conditions (which have a small impact), but can control actions. First, how can I say conditions are minor? Studies showed that even lottery winners and new paraplegics returned to their previous levels of happiness after a short while! I can’t think of a change in conditions more pronounced than that. As for actions, they consist of little things like exercise, and not the “big ticket” items that we think will bring us lasting happiness.
A Unified Theory of Everything?
It’s tempting to bring all the above formulas together with a snippet of advice; in fact, maybe you have an idea of a way of doing so. If you do and it looks sound, try living it. Here’s my rough cut:
Abandon the idea of happiness based on getting or achieving things (#2). Instead focus on reducing expectations (#1) and clinging (#3) by letting go (#3). Focus more of your energies on “smaller” things like exercise, volunteering and interesting/immersive activities (#4).
The above is remarkable for its sheer banality. Words like underwhelming come to mind. Yet, maybe it is profound because it is cliched and utterly unoriginal? Maybe the profound part is that happiness has been solved, perhaps for thousands of years, and our challenge all along was to put it in practice rather than just read about it. Perhaps the real leap is in appreciating the difference between living a truth (and hence realizing it) and intellectually assenting to it? Maybe, the real paradigm shift lies in really accepting that happiness really is in the little things and to stop structuring our lives around goals?