The Happiness Equation

I toyed with many manifesto ideas for this week’s writing challenge. ‘Why Everybody Should Read Harry Potter’ was considered, alongside the rather obvious ‘Wake Up Your Luck’, although it turns out I haven’t quite figured out how to do that myself yet. However, many of the ideas involved in ‘waking up’ luck – being grateful, working hard, being bold, embracing change – are tied up with the concept of how to be happy.


Some people believe they have found solutions to the complicated equation of happiness. According to this study, if something exceeds our expectations, we are happier than when it merely reaches them; however, having consistently low expectations has a negative effect on our happiness. Expectation and context are further examined in this study.

Then there is the good old formula H = S + C + V (happiness is a combination of our predisposition to it, plus our circumstances, plus things over which we have voluntary control). How much each factor is worth is the subject of much debate, and is examined well in this article.

An equation for happiness, as with all things, is just not that simple. This is because tips and advice on how to be happy – and actually being so – are full of contradictions and clichés:

Say yes! However, also say no. Don’t be afraid to try new things. However, if you do not say no on occasion then you will do an awful lot of things that you don’t want to do, and end up burnt out.

Be selfish. Be selfless. Put yourself first. However, helping others makes you feel good.

Short-term pain, long-term gain. Sometimes it’s necessary to do something unappealing in the meantime to achieve something great in the long-term.

Don’t live in the future or dwell on the past. Then again, the occasional trip down memory lane can bring us a boost, and looking forward to events can raise our happiness levels.

Don’t be afraid to go it alone! However, know when to accept help. Be independent! It will raise your self-esteem and means you don’t have to miss anything that only you want to do. However, it is OK to need other people – a problem shared is a problem halved. Career-wise, be cheeky and use any contacts you have!

Wake up your luck, but accept what you cannot change. Some people say we make our own luck; others say there is no such thing as luck. We can try our best to be in the right place at the right time, but if we are not lucky enough to find ourselves doing something we love for the majority of our time, we have to introduce it in other ways.

Let’s simplify. Forget equations – these are my happiness sums, inspired by the Advice for Humans chapter in The Humans:

1 is a small number. However, 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + a million 1s makes a large number indeed. The little things add up – count them.

Similarly, 1 + 1 makes the number greater than itself. Enjoy time spent with others.

Sometimes things don’t add up.

Don’t take away from other people.

The average doesn’t apply to everyone.

Cost, price and value can be completely different things.

2 holidays a year would be amazing. 2 big chocolate bars a day is too much. Sometimes ‘a lot’ is great and sometimes ‘a lot’ is bad. It’s all relative.

Trigonometry and algorithms are good skills that 60% of people will never use after completing Higher Maths. It is far better to practise the basics – adding, subtracting, multiplication, division. At least be able to split the bill in a restaurant and work out percentages. (Yes, genuinely talking about maths for a second.)

You are like a prime number. Other people cannot split you into little parts, which is at once infuriating and fascinating to them.

Be that whole number. You might work as part of a team or as part of a partnership, but don’t be a fraction!

Some things are hard to work out. You can give up if you want. You can keep trying, and perhaps circumstances will never let you work it out. The choice, though, is yours.

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