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The happiness equation

BBC News     |      17 August 2014

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It has long been known that happiness depends on many different life circumstances. Now scientists have developed a mathematical equation that can predict momentary delight.

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They found that participants were happiest when they performed better than expected during a risk-reward task.

Brain scans also revealed that happiness scores correlated with areas known to be important for well-being.

The team says the equation, published in PNAS Journal, could be used to look at mood disorders and happiness on a mass scale. It could also help the UK government analyse statistics on well-being, which they have collected since 2010.

Happiness equation

The equation looks at expectations, rewards and past outcomes

“We can look at past decisions and outcomes and predict exactly how happy you will say you are at any point in time,” said lead author Dr Robb Rutledge from University College London.

“The brain is trying to figure out what you should be doing in the world to get rewards, so all the decisions, expectations and the outcomes are information it’s using to make sure you make good decisions in the future. All of the recent expectations and rewards combine to determine your current state of happiness.

Meanwhile, The Conversation reports that survey data shows there’s a surprisingly weak relationship between money and happiness. As national incomes rise, happiness does not increase.

Consider this: happiness in the United States has been stable for the past 50 years, although at the same time living standards have doubled. The same holds true for the United Kingdom and Japan.

Money does make a difference to happiness in poorer countries though. If you don’t have enough for some degree of reasonable comfort, you can expect to be pretty stressed and unhappy.

But once people reach a certain threshold (once they don’t have to worry about a roof over their heads or having enough to eat), extra money makes very little difference. (Of course, even in wealthy countries, there are some people who don’t have these basics.)

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