What is happiness? It’s the eternal question – but researchers claim to have developed a formula to represent exactly what it means to be happy.
Recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the research from University College London looked into the meaning of happiness, but rather than focus on overall satisfaction, they established happiness as momentary joy which comes from being rewarding or winning something.
In essence, the formula is this: Our happiness increases when we are successful at something after having low expectations, but this happiness tends to fade as time goes on.
Or, as the researchers put it: “Emotional reactivity in the form of momentary happiness in response to outcomes of a probabilistic reward task is explained not by current task earnings, but by the combined influence of recent reward expectations and prediction errors arising from those expectations.”
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To come up with their formula, researchers used MRI machines to report on the brain activity of 26 subjects while playing a gambling game to find the level of happiness.
They discovered it wasn’t the amount of money they won overall which gave the subjects a feeling of happiness, but the momentary happiness achieved from one win. As time goes on, the happiness from that win degrades and “essentially has no influence on current happiness”.
The amount of happiness from this win is highest when things go better than expected.
“For example, a £0 prize decreases happiness if the alternative was winning £2, but increases happiness if the alternative was losing £2.”
Essentially, as earnings increase over time, happiness does not necessarily follow the same spike.
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