Let’s talk about that age-old question: What is happiness?
Ben Franklin said it’s wine (or beer, in the more well-known version of the quote). Peanuts creator Charles Schultz said it’s a warm puppy; his brainchild Charlie Brown, in a not-so-subtle slight to Snoopy, said it’s actually learning to whistle. Pharrell Williams, weirdly, said it’s a room without a roof. Research has said it’s ordinary experiences, or having kids, or maybe just genetics. The U.S. founding fathers didn’t specify, but they promised we’d all have the right to go after it. We used to think it’s something money can’t buy, though even that has been cast into doubt.
Clearly, there’s still some confusion.
Now researchers think they’ve found another answer, at least for the short term: Happiness is the management of expectations. In a study published earlier this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of British neuroscientists created an equation that they say accurately predicted the short-term happiness of more than 18,000 people by comparing their expectations of an event to its real-life outcomes.
Here’s what that looks like:
Happiness “doesn’t depend on how things are going,” says lead study author Robb Rutledge of University College London. “It depends on whether things are going better or worse than you had expected they would.”