What is happiness?
Happiness is something everyone wants to have. You may be rich and enjoy a luxurious life, but without happiness, it’s a waste. According to the Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary, happiness is:
- A state of well-being and contentment
- A pleasurable or satisfying experience.
Scientists have been trying to find the exact definition of joy and happiness, how people come to experience them, and how to add a bit more of them into their lives. Here is what they’ve found:
Studies show that happiness is infectious, so we are more likely to be happy if we have a good and happy friend around.
You can’t buy happiness with money. We need money to live and to buy some luxury items, but not to make us happy.
Research conducted by the journal Psychological Science points out that money spent on doing, rather than on acquiring things, brings more happiness. Going on holidays, for example, makes us happier than a good shopping spree.
Many attempts have been made to evaluate the happiness level of a given country. According to the World Happiness Report 2015, Australia is the 10th happiest country in the world. Thi ranking is based on different metrics, such as people’s freedom to make choices, life expectancy, social support, and the kindness of the general population.
There are a few indexes developed to measure happiness in the world, including the Happy Planet Index, UN’s Human Development Index, the Ga llup/Healthways Well-Being Index, and the Legatum Prosperity Index.
Robb Rutledge and his colleagues conducted a study on the relationship between rewards and happiness. They brought people into their lab and asked them about their happiness as they chose between safe and risky monetary options. They found that happiness depends not on how well things are going, but whether they are going better or worse than expected. They developed the mathematical equation below:
Happiness depends on safe choices (certain rewards, CR), expectations associated with risky choices (expected value, EV), and whether the outcomes of risky choices were better or worse than expected. This final variable is called a reward prediction error (RPE), the difference between the experienced outcome and the expectation.
According to Rutledge:
- Happiness increases when you make a plan to meet a friend
- Happiness increases when you get a last-minute reservation in a top restaurant
- Happiness decreases when the meal is good, but not as expected
- The positive expectations about major life decisions (getting married, getting a job) will increase happiness.
From this conclusion, you can see how important expectations are to your happiness level. It’s also worth mentioning that having low expectations will make us happy.