Find it Here: Four Equations for Happiness
In the spring of 2020, Atlantic Magazine launched a column on happiness. It is called, “How to Build a Life.” Columns appear weekly all written by Arthur Brooks, PhD. Prior to writing this column, Brooks was a columnist for The Washington Post and a “Contributing Opinion Writer” for The New York Times. He also teaches a class at the Harvard Business School on the topic of happiness. (!!!!) As I explore the how-to’s of happiness, I turn to Brooks and to one other expert in the field – my newly-nine-year-old grandson, Dylan. While Dylan’s credentials aren’t quite as impressive as Brooks’ yet, his recent birthday wish list is a brilliant recipe for happiness worthy of sharing. Let’s see what these guys have to teach us…
In his introduction to the new column, Brooks says that the study of happiness has exploded over the last three decades. As examples, he tells us the University of Pennsylvania has a graduate degree program in positive psychology. He also mentions a peer-reviewed academic journal that has existed since 2000. Prestigious in scholarly circles, it’s called The Journal of Happiness Studies. And recognizing fully that it’s surprising to hear Harvard Business School students study happiness, he wows us with some typical topics: “Affect and the Limbic System,” “The Neurobiology of Body Language,” “Oxytocin and Love,” and “The Hedonic Treadmill.”
In Brooks’ opening column for the magazine, he shares three equations for well-being all backed up with loads of research:
- Subjective Well-Being = Genes + Circumstances + Habits
- Habits = Faith + Family + Friends + Work
- Satisfaction = What you have ÷ What you want
Brooks recognizes that we have no control over our genes and sometimes no control over our circumstances while emphasizing that we do indeed control our habits. Thus, they are important. He breaks them down into four key elements. He knows that it may be shocking to include “work,” but says, “One of the most robust findings in the happiness literature is the centrality of productive human endeavor in creating a sense of purpose in life.” And finally, in the satisfaction equation, he says, “Don’t obsess about your haves; manage your wants, instead…The fewer wants there are screaming inside your brain and dividing your attention, the more peace and satisfaction will be left for what you already have.”
When I get a birthday wish list from one of my younger grandchildren, I pretty much expect it to be a list of toys with links to Amazon. But that’s not at all what I got from Dylan. His list was a jumble of twenty items, but when I organized them, I found six categories all of which paint a picture of what is a perfect day for this sweet boy. As I share some of the specifics with you, please know this kid is great at spelling, but that he finds joy in saying things and spelling things in his own inimitable style.
Here is a summary of his list categorized and organized by me with explanations in parenthesis when needed. Please note that the items I am placing first are to me the most significant as they are statements of “I AM,” telling us exactly who this boy is.
- 3 items: No annoyances on his b-day, cheeeeel time (chill time), peace and quiet
- 5 items: Video game, video game, video game, video game, and video game controllers
- 2 items: 200 bags o’ BAKED cheeps potato cheeps (Baked Lays,) and 200 MORE bags o’ NORMAL cheeps potato cheeps
- 3 items: At least one cozy thing, stuffies (stuffed toys), another Linkey (a favorite stuffed toy)
- 4 items: camera film (for his Polaroid), drawing supplies, graphic novels and any other books, and finally, books, books and more books
- 2 items: Uncle Noah, and something sewn specifically for him by his brother and Grandma Sue
Dylan’s list tells us that for happiness we need to know who we are. We need to remember that play is the work of childhood (and adulthood). We need to remember that comfort foods are comforting. We need to know what self care items work best for ourselves. We need to have hobbies. And we need to have significant others in our lives.
Please note that if you do the math on this list, you will see that there are only nineteen items when I promised twenty. That’s because he scratched one off the list thereby teaching us that if we think about things a bit longer, we don’t necessarily want all the things we want.
That said, Dylan’s equation becomes this: Well-being = Self Awareness + Playtime + Comfort Foods + Self Care + Hobbies + Loved Ones
Let’s hope Dylan remembers to live by his wise words. If so, he will have no need to consult someone like Dr. Brooks in the future. He will be living in homebody heaven, playing video games, and munching away on his cheeps potato cheeps as he lives happily ever after.
Two smart guys, four equations for happiness, lots of food for thought…
There is no one-size-fits all perfect path to happiness. We must all find our unique way, but that’s why I love Dylan’s equation. It starts with a dose of self-awareness. Here’s what I learned specifically: I’ll be a happier person the day I allow myself to be a homebody like Dylan and stop beating myself up for NOT WANTING TO GO to all the lectures, museums, and boat shows of life.
Self-awareness as a route to happiness…I like it!
Click HERE to see Dylan’s list.
And here is Dylan: