The Happiness Equation

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Last year, I attended a webinar by Mo Gawdat. Mo is the Chief Business Officer for Google and he wrote a book called “solve for Happy”. This was a very moving one as Mo’s engagement in the pursuit of happiness came from his son’s death.

Mo couldn’t relate to the usual books about happiness so he decided to take an engineering approach to this difficult topic. Having myself an engineering background, his approach resonated quite well with me and I thought I would share my 2 main takeaways from this webinar.

  1. Happiness is the absence of unhappiness

Wait, what? isn’t that obvious? Not really. Isn’t it true that we are constantly looking for more?  Well, Mo says that happiness is our default mode when we were born (just think about all these cute baby smiles). Then, just like we add weird apps on our phones to perform more and more functions, we add more and more things to achieve in our lives, for personal reasons, for social reasons. We add more and more distractions too. We create so many expectations and so many illusions. All this drains our energy and takes us away from our default mode. Just like the apps decrease our phone’s batterie and sometimes prevent it from working normally.

So, we won’t reach happiness by adding more apps but by resetting.

Note: this is consistent with all the mindfulness movements and other meditative practice.

  1. The Happiness Equation

My take away is the following equation for Happiness:

Solve-For-Happy-1

We are happy when life gives us what we expect or more.

But actually, it is our thoughts that make us unhappy. Mo give the following example:

While you are buying something, your car gets hit by a truck.

  • Scenario 1: Someone you love waits in the car and gets out of it safe: you feel happy and grateful because the person is safe.
  • Scenario 2: the person you love is also away from the car buying something else: then you’re unhappy because the car got crushed.

Same result in both scenarios: the person you love is safe and the car is broke. But the end result emotion and sense of happiness are not the same, the only difference comes from your thoughts and your perspective of the situation. So his equation becomes:

Solve-For-Happy-2Basic mathematics: If we want to increase our happiness, we need to increase the positive perception of the events in our lives. And it requires practice…

I also see another way to use his equation: if we want to increase our happiness, we can also lower our expectations (basic math again). Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t mean lowering our ambition, our motivation, our inspiration, it means lowering our expectations of how things should happen.

In my business, there are times I know I need to lower my expectations because I have other things to focus on and therefore less time to work on it, and if I don’t, I get frustrated and unhappy.

And if you don’t expect the weather to be wonderful during your next hike and lower your expectations to “only” be in nature, with family or friends, you won’t get as frustrated if the clouds show up.

As the saying goes, the richest person is not the one who has most but the one who needs less.

So what are your expectations?

How do you perceive events in your life, in your work?

How can you play with this equation for more happiness?

Take care,

Evan

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