Your happiness can be predicted according to a mathematical equation with the results showing moment-to-moment happiness reflects not just how well things are going, but whether things are going better than expected.
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday.
Researchers from the University College in London (UCL), England, investigated the relationship between happiness and reward.
They found moment-to-moment happiness depended on the recent history of rewards and expectations which depended on whether the available options could lead to good or bad outcomes, among other things.
Twenty-six participants were asked to complete a decision-making task in which their choice led to monetary gains and losses, and they were continuously asked to say how happy they were right then.
Their neural activity was measured using functional MRI and from this scientists built a computational model that predicted the happiness.
This model was then tested on over 18 000 participants in the game ‘What makes me happy?’. The game formed part of a mobile app called ‘The Great Brain Experiment’ created by UCL.
Researchers found the same equation could be used to predict these participants’ happiness while they played the game.
“We expected to see that recent rewards would affect moment-to-moment happiness but were surprised to find just how important expectations are in determining happiness.
In real-world situations, the rewards associated with life decisions such as starting a new job or getting married are often not realised for a long time, and our results suggest expectations related to these decisions, good and bad, have a big effect on happiness,” said the study’s lead author, Doctor Robb Rutledge
“It’s great that the data from the large and varied population using The Great Brain Experiment smartphone app shows that the same happiness equation applies to thousands people worldwide playing our game, as with our much smaller laboratory-based experiments which demonstrate the tremendous value of this approach for studying human well-being on a large scale.”