The Happiness Formula

Can Happiness be attributed to fleeting pleasures, attainment of goals, or something else?

How can we be more happy in our day to day lives?

Jonathan Haidt, in his book The Happiness Hypothesis, attempts to answer these questions and more using ideas from psychology, neurology, and ancient wisdom.

One particularly valuable idea is The Happiness Formula.


H = S + C + V OR Happiness (H) = Set Point (S) + Conditions (C) + Voluntary Activities (V)

The Happiness Formula came from a group of psychologists brought together in the 1990s by Martin Seligman, who created a new branch of psychology called “positive psychology.” The group comprised Seligman and three other psychologists, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ken Sheldon, and David Schkade.


The set point is a genetically determined baseline level of happiness.

One finding of the positive psychology research is the importance of genetics in determining baseline happiness.

Haidt delves deeper into the genetic limitations of happiness throughout the book, but you can think of the set point as a level where you naturally revert to.

How you see this glass of water may impact your Happiness Formula
Do you see the glass as Half Empty of Half Full?

If you win the lottery, a few months later the novelty wears off and you will revert back to your baseline. Likewise, if you experience a disabling accident, a few months after becoming acclimated to your new body you will return to your baseline levels.

Does this mean that it’s impossible to change your happiness levels?

Fortunately, that’s not the case.

For that we must look into Conditions and Voluntary Activities.


Conditions are external factors in your life that remain constant over a defined period of time.

They can either be controllable (i.e. wealth, where you live) or uncontrollable (i.e. age, height, sex).

The key to understanding Conditions is knowing that your body and mind will acclimate to them. As humans, we’ve evolved to acclimate to our environment. Therefore, MOST Conditions may improve short term happiness but over the long term, they lose their potency.

However, there are a few Conditions that research has shown markedly improve (or inversely hurt) our long term happiness.

These factors include:

  • Random and uncontrollable noise (you’ll never get used to living above police sirens and honking car horns)
  • Commute (a long commute causes increased stress levels for as long as it lasts)
  • Lack of control (studies giving nursing home patients a choice in the weekly movie and flowers for decoration markedly improved happiness and well-being)
  • Shame (Many plastic surgery recipients report higher quality of life)
  • Close relationships with people you care about (maybe the most important of all)


Think of Voluntary Activities as those things you CHOOSE to do.

A few examples are meditation, lifting weights at the gym, going for a long walk, reading, writing, learning, or taking a vacation. The key to voluntary activities: you CHOOSE them and you do not get used to them.

Voluntary Activities are what you should focus on in order to increase your daily happiness.

The key to Voluntary activities is FLOW.

You enter FLOW when you are completely focused on an activity that challenges you but isn’t impossible. FLOW is that elusive state when you lose yourself into what you’re doing and time seems to fly (or FLOW) by.

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