The Mathematical Formula for Happiness

Mo Gawdat, former Chief Business Officer of Google X, speaks on stage at the Boma France Festival. Credit:  Boma France

Mo Gawdat, former Chief Business Officer of Google X, speaks on stage at the Boma France Festival. Credit: Boma France

We tell young people that, if they want to succeed in life, they need to work hard, go to college, and get a good job. We tell them that they need to invest in their careers and properly invest in stocks. We don’t tell young people that they need to invest in their happiness, which may explain why so many people are unhappy.

According to the United Nations’ 2018 World Happiness Report, although income in the United States has more than doubled since 1972, happiness levels continue to decline. Today, experts estimate that more than 16 million Americans are living with depression. And unfortunately, this problem isn’t uniquely American. The World Health Organization notes that, globally, more than 300 million people experience depression, and these numbers are steadily increasing.

Solving for happy

Happiness is a path that Mo Gawdat has been traveling for some time. He is the former Chief Business Officer of Google X and author of Solve for Happy, and his work truly began when his son, Ali, died unexpectedly during a routine appendectomy. After this tragedy, rather than working hard to make himself happy, Gawdat, an engineer to the core, decided to solve for happiness — to find the mathematical equation to secure joy.

Gawdat explains that, in order to assist others who experience tragedy, his intention was to discover the formula for happiness and share it with the world. His personal goal? To make 10 million people happier as a tribute to his son (that has since been updated to one billion).

In his book. which is part memoir and part self-help, Gawdat outlines the equation that he ultimately developed. It is a formula that describes how the brain works to deliver both happiness and unhappiness. And as it turns out, this equation is rather simple. Gawdat boils it down, stating that “your happiness is equal to or greater than the difference between the events of your life and your expectations of how life should behave.”

In other words, it’s not things that make us unhappy but our unrealized expectations — we’re unhappy when life turns out to be different than we wanted or thought it would be.For example, rain doesn’t make us sad. Rather, we become sad if we expected to go to the beach and it rains. But Gawdat says that things don’t have to be this way.

By altering our thoughts to fit within the happiness equation, by tempering our expectations of the future and focusing more on the present, Gawdat states that it is possible “to reach a stage of near-uninterrupted happiness, regardless of the events in our lives. “

In the below video, which was recorded at the Boma France Festival, Gawdat explains this formula, how individuals can apply it to their own lives, and the impact that technological progress is having on human happiness.