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There are many different factors that can influence our psychology and psychologists are constantly trying to put their finger on precisely what these things are, as are the rest of us. Thus we have many different ideas of what describes happiness and many different formulas.

One example is the often-quoted:

Happiness = Reality / Expectation

The idea here is that no matter how happy you should be, you are still always going to compare your current situation to your idealized version of how life should be and this can actually result in you being unhappy.

We here this saying repeated regularly but the question is: is it really accurate?

How it Works

Theoretically, this happiness formula does make a lot of sense. After all, if you get a bonus but it’s not as high as you thought it was going to be, then it can be very hard not to be disappointed by it. On the other hand, if your expectations are low and you get paid a much bigger bonus then there’s a good chance you’ll be thrilled by that.

It also makes sense when you consider it alongside ‘social comparison theory’. This states that our happiness is based on the perceived happiness of others and how we compare ourselves to them. If you’re more successful than all your friends, you’ll be happy; even if you still aren’t very successful objectively.

In fact, if you’re going to get philosophical then you can say that everything boils down to comparison. This is essentially the underlying principle of the theory of relativity…

Flaws in the Theory

But this theory is not perfect either and it’s certainly not always ‘useful’ in a practical sense.

For instance, even if your expectations are incredibly low, you still aren’t going to be happy if you’re living on the streets. Furthermore, you won’t be happy if you’re unfortunate enough to have a neurological disorder that results in depression. If your neurochemistry is happy then you won’t be, regardless of your situation.

At the same time, this saying appears to suggest that we should ‘set our aims low’ so that we aren’t disappointed by the outcome. Is this really a good way to go about living life? Should we not be entitled to have high expectations?

It’s not that we shouldn’t have high expectations then but rather that we should learn to appreciate our current situation as well. Fortunately there are ways you can accomplish this too – such as by using gratitude exercises.

But keep those expectations sky high.

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