The Happiness Equation

happiness equation - image of shadow of a figure on a swing with blues and whites in background appearing to be clouds

Years ago, I attended a talk that led to one of the biggest epiphanies of my life. The speaker took the complicated world of emotions and distilled it down into a simple equation with only two variables: reality and expectations. After I took this information in, my mind began to race through all the past events that brought me emotional pain and suffering. They all fit the equation that I’m about to share with you today. Get ready to PREP your self for….THE HAPPINESS EQUATION

The Happiness Equation

[Perceived Reality] – [Expectation or Preference]  = Emotional State

  • If your perceived reality (PR) is > than your expectation or preference (EP) you will have a positive emotional reaction
  • If your perceived reality (PR) is < than your expectation or preference (EP) you will have a negative emotional reaction

Note:  This is more of a philosophical equation. PR and EP are subjective terms and not easily quantifiable.

Examples of the Happiness Equation in Action:


Expectation or Preference: Get a perfect score on your exam.

Perceived Reality: You got a B+.

Emotional State: Disappointment

PR (B+) < EP (A+) = negative emotional reactions

On the flip side, if Sophia’s expectation is to get a B on the exam and her perceived reality is a B+ she will feel proud and happy.  PR (B+) > EP (B) = positive emotional reactions


Expectation or Preference: Follow your meal plan perfectly all week without engaging in any eating disorder behaviors

Perceived Reality: You binge Friday night, restrict Saturday and binge Sunday.

Emotional State: Upset, demotivated, unworthy

PR (binging and restricting) < EP (perfect compliance to meal plan) = negative emotions


Expectation or Preference: Cute guy that you gave your number to will call and ask you out.

Perceived Reality: He hasn’t called.

Emotional State: Let down, insecure, unworthy

PR (no phone call) < EP (phone call) = negative emotions

This equation seems so simple, right?  It is, that is the beauty!  What you expect versus what happens plays a super important role in your emotional state and its intensity.  You don’t have to abandon all expectations in order to live a happy life, but it is important to be aware of them especially when they lead to pain and suffering.

Have you had an emotionally charged event in your life that fits well with this equation?  Can you see this equation operating in areas of your life right now?  If so, is there any way to adjust your expectations? Let me know in the comments below.

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  1. says: Madi

    I generally try to “do my best” without really putting any quantitative numbers or scores attached to it. It helps me to be kinder and more compassionate to myself and even others.

    As far as dealing with E.D. behaviors I do get discouraged at times when I engage in behaviors. Ideally I could resist all temptations….but guess what… we are imperfect humans! It helps for me to think of it as “practicing” recovery until I get better and better at it. I then can celebrate the little positive steps in the process as well as the end goal.

    Overall I have learned that we can make progress more rapidly and more happily along the way when we are less critical and more compassionate with ourselves. So always do your “best” and don’t expect your “best” to be perfection. Hope this makes sense and thanks for “Happiness Equation” post.

  2. says: Nandji

    Very interesting!!! Happiness as the positive range of emotions that we feel when we are content or full of joy.

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