Wednesday 1 April 2020

Happiness Quotient: An Emotional Equation

How do you know you are feeling happiness in any given moment? Do you understand the emotional process that goes on internally, leading to happiness or sadness?

Actually, some would argue that more important question is: do you understand what is happiness?

Walt Disney famously said: “Happiness is a state of mind. It's just according to the way you look at things.” Another definition of happiness, available online says: happiness is the state of being happy.

When I look at these two thoughts together, I realise happiness is a “state”, i.e. it is transient and likely to change due to external pressures exerted on us. Much like liquid is a state for water, which can change from liquid state to solid or gas provided liquid water is subjected to different external pressures.

Following water’s example, using it as a metaphor for our happiness, there is another question that we face: does our happiness totally depend on external sources? Or, is our happiness not under our control at all? It is my attempt to answer some of these questions, basis my own observations and experiences.

It has been my experience that our happiness is not entirely out of our control. We can even measure it, and I call this emotional measure Happiness Quotient (H.Q.). I propose the following emotional equation for H.Q.:

Happiness Quotient* (H.Q.) = What** we have received – what** we expected to receive

*H.Q. is not to be thought of or used as a numerical measure, although it could have numerical components involved. This is purely an emotional measure.
** What or how much.

'What you have received minus what your expectations were', is really the simplest form of understanding how we are feeling in any given situation, whether a moment or a day or our entire lifetime. I am neither referring to finding fulfilment in life (work + home) nor suggesting this is a route for becoming happy. Instead, this is an equation that helps us understand our state of being happy (happiness) in any given moment – whether we are judging something that happened just a moment before, or way back in past … or even if it is on-going.

There are two components that contribute to our happiness: what we have received and what our expectations were to receive.

The former component of the equation: "what we have received", is not in your matter how hard we work, how smart we are, how lucky we were up to that point in time...nothing we can do that can bring this component of the equation entirely under our control. Yes, we can influence by being prepared, by being present, by doing good...but we still cannot control what the outcome would be (i.e. what we receive).

However, the latter component of the equation: "what we expected to receive", is directly under our control. Managing our expectations is definitely that part of the equation of our happiness, which is under our direct control.

To understand this better, let’s look at two different scenarios of the same hypothetical example - taking GMAT:

Scenario 1: You prepare for the test but aren’t able to prepare as well as you would have liked. All your mock test scores have been less than 600. You are not confident going in to take the test, don’t expect to score 600…but, you end up with 650.

Scenario 2: The same GMAT case. This time let’s say you were well prepared and had been scoring upwards of 700 in all mock tests. You go in for the test confident…but, you come back with a 650 score.

In both scenarios – the part of the H.Q. equation, what you have received, is same – GMAT score = 650. However, your happiness levels are likely to vary vastly between the two scenarios. What happens to your H.Q. if the result is that of Scenario 1 – does it not shoot high? You would be super-proud for doing better than expected. But if the result is that of Scenario 2, it would bring you down – you could feel a combination of following emotions sadness, anger, worry, fear and the likes.

Now we see that the real challenge is not managing what we receive (outcome), but really what we expected to receive. The former is not entirely in our control; however, the latter is totally in our control.

The next obvious question is: Does it mean we lower our expectations or, if possible, become expectation-less?

Theoretically, yes, we can live without expecting things from others and from ourselves...which may make our lives simpler (theoretically!). Practically, no! Expecting (and anticipating) the bad has been important for early Human survival, thus today we are wired in a manner to expect (both, good and bad).

In this article, I have attempted to put forth an idea that there are two components that work together towards our happiness - one of these two is not in our control and the other is in our control. By managing our expectations, recalibrating our expectations and learning to deal with our expectations not being met are some steps we can take to maintain a positive H.Q.

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