The Happiness Equation
“Dad, how is work?”
“Are you happy?”
“I think so for the most part.”
I froze for a second. I was expecting a follow-up. I prayed he wouldn’t ask: “Dad. What should I do to be happy when I grow up?”
I didn’t have a good answer.
He didn’t ask. We walked out of the store and got distracted.
It’s something that has been on my mind lately. Perhaps it’s to do with my age — 41. I’ve spent the better part of the last 10 years in business trying to be successful. To prove to myself I can do it which will make me happy.
The trouble is that “happiness” and “success” are moving targets.
For starters, happiness is temporary. When something makes us have a happy,our brains release the chemicals and we feel the elevated mood — being happy. But the brain metabolizes the hormones quickly and then we go back to our brain’s natural state. We need a constant stream of the good stuff to keep us happy.
Success can be defined by something during one period of our life (now), and then change (later). It’s impossible to say: “I will do this for the next 15 years, be successful and then I will be happy”.
We can only do what brings us the (temporary) happiness now and integrate those things into our lives as much as possible. Leverage the current resources that make our brains sparkle.
However, it’s so easy to get lopsided unintentionally. We are out building businesses or careers, and neglecting our marriages and commitments to raising decent human beings. Of being the youth baseball coach we intended to be — the promise we made to ourselves when the little guy was born. But we don’t because of a duty to our career that steadily eats up more of our time.
Or we start a business and can’t seem to get it going because we want to be with the kids so much. The startup never starts up and then we get depressed about not succeeding like Kevin next door who shines at everything he touches — except finding someone to love.
We get fat and pre-diabetic in our 30s. We barely exercise because we don’t have time (correction: won’t negotiate the time). We aren’t outdoors enough playing with our primal side.
If we’re not in shape, not happy with our professional lives, are mentally drained, emotionally disengaged, then forget about spirituality. We don’t have the capacity to have gratitude for all that is abundant in our lives when everything is falling apart around us.
But what if we had a clear idea of what happiness looks like, so we can measure ourselves against it? Then we can steadily feel successful about our progress along the way.
It turns out there is.
I had the privilege of sitting in on a private Q&A with Deepak Chopra recently.
Someone asked about happiness and he said there was an scientifically backed equation: H = S + C + V
100% Happiness = approx. 40–50% brain’s Set point + approx. 12% Condition of living + approx. 40% Voluntary choices.
Set point — this is our brain’s natural attitude about how we view issues — whether they are problems or opportunities. If we see the world through an optimistic lens and life is full of discovery and wonder despite the inevitable obstacles, then we are off to a great start. Or if we see the world kicking our asses all the time and we are defeatists, then life will always be a struggle. It’s our default outlook on the relative nanosecond we are all here together on earth. Practice celebrating the wonder and being grateful for all we have.
Condition of living — the finances. Money definitely contributes to happiness but is a small part. Put it this way, if we win the lottery tomorrow, we’ll be elated for a few months while we buy the houses and cars, and then return to our previous level of happiness. Once we reach a threshold where our essential living expenses are paid, then the ROI of more money is a diminishing return. Pay the bills and then focus on…
Voluntary choices — unhealthy food, alcohol, promiscuity and such are entertainment. The trouble with entertainment is that is exhausts itself or becomes a cycle of addictive, destructive behavior. The key is to make permanent choices that align with a sense of fulfillment and purpose. We must take the time to figure out our life purpose, and make choices congruent with that purpose. Then make a difference in the world by helping as many people as we can. It may be manufacturing a revolutionary product. Or a consulting business. Perhaps making 1,000s of people have the time of their lives every year. It’s a huge part of the equation. We better get this piece right if we want our brain pumping out those happy chemicals constantly.
“Dad. What should I do to be happy when I grow up?”
“Son, always be thankful for the abundance in your life. Money is important, but don’t get tied up chasing it. Spend your time discovering the work you love, and figure out how you can positively impact the most people. Then you’ll be happy.”