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The Happiness Equation


What if there was a simple equation you could apply to your life to make sure you were maximizing your happiness potential?

Seems silly, I know, but according to Jonathan Haidt of “The Happiness Hypothesis”, there is.

Let me say right up front that I am no fan of the self-help movement. I think, like most things, there are probably a few gems out there but most of it is just a way to try to make money off of the fact that everyone has something they would like to improve.

“The Happiness Hypothesis” is not a self help book. It takes a neuro-scientific, cultural, historical and philosophical view of happiness and tries to break down the learnings into what actually leads to happiness and surprise, surprise, it’s no one thing.

There is an actual equation that is proposed that makes a lot of sense to me and I hope it does for you, too. What I like most about this multi-dimensional approach is that it is a reminder that simply saying “I just want to be more happy” is like saying “I just want to be rich or thin or successful.’ Just?

In the U.S., our Declaration of Independence references “the PURSUIT of happiness”. It is a journey and it takes work, and above all, there is no GUARANTEE of happiness.

However, there is a formula and I’m going to “Marc-ify” it which is a tacky way of saying “dumb it down for me.”


H= Happiness (I’m guessing you probably figured that one out)

S= Set point: each of us is born with a certain “set point”, basically the fact that someone’s natural state of happiness may be higher or lower than someone else. The book goes through great lengths to identify how one can impact this set point, particularly for the better, through meditation, CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and/or SSRIs (Prozac etc), all of which impact seratonin and dopamine, important in regulation.

C=Conditions, both those that are unchangeable (your race, gender, etc.) and those that are changeable (living conditions, marital status, economic) and can have an impact on stress levels and level of happiness.

V=Voluntary Activities, of which there are two types: 1) those that give pleasure (sex, food) and are sensory in nature but are short-lived and if overdone (insert sex jokes here), can be the opposite of pleasurable, and 2) those that give gratification or activities that make you feel good about yourself and are aligned with learning new skills, building new connections and relationships.

It is the gratification part of the equation that I think so many of us neglect. It gets harder to change our conditions (even those that are “changeable”) but small, incremental steps toward things and people that provide growing and lasting gratification can have enormous impact – that first run, a music lesson, lunch with a friend, learning a new language or in my case, writing, music and comedy.

The equation makes sense and if nothing else, it is a good temperature check to see where I am. So, to be perfectly transparent, this is what my happiness equation looks like: S = meditation 4 to 5 times/week helps me try to remain focus on what really matters and clear my head. I give myself a B- as I have a long way to go.

C=white, healthy, male with a good job and place to live and parents who encouraged me to get an education. I think I won in that respect, no thanks to anything other than luck. (And when I say “I won”, I just mean that I still think society subtly or not-so-subtlly provides advantages for white males, at least in this country, which is, thankfully, changing.)

On the conditions in which I could change, well, let’s just say some of those are changing in “real time”. So an A for the first, a C for the second…that’s an average of a B.

V= Let’s start with pleasure. Well, there is food. Let’s give me a C on that one for now (how’s that for optimism?). As for gratification, A all the way. I love my kids, friends and really enjoy both the work and “extra” activities I try to squeeze in. So, I guess that averages a B, as well.

Overall, my happiness seems to be better than I would have guessed. It’s not “Honor Society” happiness but it’s not “remedial school”, either.

How about you?

Until next time, Marc

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