This Is Literally the Formula for Happiness

Simple, right?

National Journal
Brian Resnick
Aug. 5, 2014, 11:44 a.m.

What is an in­stance of hap­pi­ness? 

That’s a squishy ques­tion philo­soph­ers have dis­cussed for mil­len­nia. Ac­cord­ing to Spark­notes, Ar­is­totle said hap­pi­ness is an end to it­self. The poet Kah­lil Gibran wrote that hap­pi­ness “is your sor­row un­masked,” whatever that means.

Rhet­or­ic aside, re­search­ers at the Uni­versity Col­lege Lon­don say hap­pi­ness (or at least a dis­crete mo­ment of it) is rep­res­en­ted by the for­mula above, re­cently pub­lished in the Pro­ceed­ings of the Na­tion­al Academy of Sci­ences. The gist of that for­mula is this: Hap­pi­ness spikes when we win and our ex­pect­a­tions are low — but that hap­pi­ness gradu­ally fades over time.

To be clear, the sci­ent­ists wer­en’t study­ing over­all life sat­is­fac­tion, but rather the mo­ment­ary joy that comes from win­ning a re­ward.

With MRI ma­chines, the re­search­ers peered in­to the minds of 26 sub­jects who were play­ing a gambling game. Throughout the game, the com­puter asked par­ti­cipants to rate how happy they were on a 1-to-10 scale. The re­search­ers then not-so-simply com­bined brain-activ­ity data with the re­por­ted level of hap­pi­ness, and the par­ti­cipant’s his­tory of suc­cess in the game, and craf­ted the above equa­tion.

What they found was that it wasn’t the over­all amount of money won in the game that gave the par­ti­cipants the greatest hap­pi­ness. The for­mula in­cor­por­ates a “for­get­ting factor” — which pre­dicts that the hap­pi­ness ob­tained from a pre­vi­ous win de­grades over time. Ten more tri­als after a win, the ori­gin­al win “es­sen­tially has no in­flu­ence on cur­rent hap­pi­ness.”

Ac­cord­ing to the for­mula, hap­pi­ness spikes when things go bet­ter than ex­pec­ted. “For ex­ample,” the study con­cludes, “a £0 prize de­creases hap­pi­ness if the al­tern­at­ive was win­ning £2, but in­creases hap­pi­ness if the al­tern­at­ive was los­ing £2.”

Which makes per­fect sense: It’s bet­ter to win when that win avoids a big­ger loss. But what’s sur­pris­ing about this study is that the re­search­ers were then able to use that for­mula to pre­dict the gen­er­al pat­tern of hap­pi­ness in more than 18,000 people play­ing a sim­il­ar game on a smart­phone.

“Con­sist­ent with our pre­vi­ous res­ults,” the study’s au­thors write, “earn­ings in­creased over time but hap­pi­ness did not.” By study­ing the brains of 26 people, the re­search­ers could roughly pre­dict the be­ha­vi­ors of 18,000. 

Nor­mally, the best tool psy­cho­lo­gists have to meas­ure hap­pi­ness in a pa­tient is a ques­tion­naire, which is ex­tremely sub­ject­ive. But this re­search sug­gests there might be a way to peer in­to the mind and quanti­fy joy, which can make for more pre­cise sci­ence in dia­gnos­ing and treat­ing men­tal dis­orders.

Cor­rec­tion: This post ori­gin­ally mis­spelled Kah­lil Gibran.

What We're Following See More »
PEAK CONFIDENCE
Clinton No Longer Running Primary Ads
1 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-ex­pec­ted primary battle be­hind her, former Sec­ret­ary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton (D) is no longer go­ing on the air in up­com­ing primary states. “Team Clin­ton hasn’t spent a single cent in … Cali­for­nia, In­di­ana, Ken­tucky, Ore­gon and West Vir­gin­ia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “cam­paign has spent a little more than $1 mil­lion in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone back­er in the Sen­ate, said the can­did­ate should end his pres­id­en­tial cam­paign if he’s los­ing to Hil­lary Clin­ton after the primary sea­son con­cludes in June, break­ing sharply with the can­did­ate who is vow­ing to take his in­sur­gent bid to the party con­ven­tion in Phil­adelphia.”

Source:
CITIZENS UNITED PT. 2?
Movie Based on ‘Clinton Cash’ to Debut at Cannes
2 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."

Source:
INFLUENTIAL APPROPRIATOR
Former Sen. Conrad Burns Dies in Montana
3 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Conrad Burns, the colorful livestock auctioneer and radio executive from Montana who served three terms as a senator, died on Thursday at age 81. Burns "was ousted from office in 2006 under the specter of scandal after developing close ties to "super-lobbyist" Jack Abramoff," although no charges were ever filed.

Source:
BETTING ON CARS
Biden Goes Max Biden at the Vatican
3 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

In an exchange not ripped from the page of The Onion, Vice President Biden revealed to a Vatican cardinal that he's been betting reporters on which cars are faster. After meeting privately with Pope Francis, Biden met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State. Within moments of greeting one another, Biden said that he'd met with the pope and, gesturing to the press pool, "I've met with these guys too." Singling out reporter Gardiner Harris, who recounted the exchange, he said, "I had to pay this man $10. He's from the New York Times. We had a bet: which is the faster car, the newer Cadillac or the new [Tesla]. ... The Tesla's two tenths of a second faster. But I lost. I paid my $10." He joked that he's "seeking absolution."

17 ARRESTED
Trump’s First California Rally Turns Ugly
5 hours ago
THE LATEST

Donald Trump held his first rally in California Thursday night, and things were chaotic: "Hundreds of demonstrators filled the street outside the Orange County amphitheater where ... stomping on cars, hurling rocks at motorists and forcefully declaring their opposition to the Republican presidential candidate. Traffic came to a halt as a boisterous crowd walked in the roadway, some waving American and Mexican flags. Protesters smashed a window on at least one police cruiser, punctured the tires of a police sport utility vehicle, and at one point tried to flip a police car."

Source:
×