Thursday, December 11, 2014


Everyone wants to be “happy”.  But, what exactly is Happiness?

I remember seeing a wealthy woman who was eating a big steak in an expensive restaurant and complaining about how miserable she was. Whenever I think about happiness that image pops into my mind.

Decades ago, while I was still quite young and inexperienced, I was complaining about something and a wise friend said as we were driving past a local hospital, “There are plenty of people in that hospital there who would be happy to change places with you.” After that, whenever I complain, I remember that comment and quickly get a balanced perspective.

Not Happiness

Happiness is not just feeling good all the time. An even-keeled mood is more psychologically healthy than a mood that attains occasional heights of happiness. Research suggests that focusing too much on trying to feel good all the time will actually undermine the ability to feel good at all. (1) (2)

Happiness is not being rich. I have seen poor people in India and other third-world countries who radiate happiness. Living below the poverty line certainly makes it hard to be happy. But money does not buy happiness.

Bonus Expectations

Unexpected bonuses cause short-term happiness. I remember when the company I founded, Action Instruments, had record results one year and we decided to give all employees a 10% increase. Everyone was happy. But the gratification quickly dissipated when expectations changed to fit new budgets. 

The same problem occurred with the annual bonus: Everyone was happy when the annual bonus doubled from last year.  But, as the next bonus time approached, the calculations began, “Will my bonus double again? Or will the increase be smaller?” Some optimists spent the bonus before it arrived, only to be unhappy when it was less than expected. When results were poor and the bonus went down, there was a lot of unhappiness. 

Christmas Gift Giving

This reminds me of the 1989 movie, “Christmas Vacation”. Clark Griswold was planning to spend his annual bonus on a swimming pool. His family’s disappointment was palpable when the bonus turned out to be just a subscription to “Jelly of the Month Club”. Everyone, including the boss’s wife and the police SWAT team, thought that was despicable. (3)

This kind of transient happiness applies to new houses, cars, gadgets, and all the other material goods that people want. We teach our children to expect lots of Christmas gifts, from parents, friends and relative. And in turn, it imposes an obligation to reciprocate.

An episode in the TV program, “Big Bang Theory” resonated with me. Sheldon considers reciprocal gift giving an obligation to give something of equal value. That premise is perfect! When Penny states that she has a gift for him, he buys several gift baskets, with a plan is to open Penny's gift first, then bring out the appropriately valued basket (he’ll return the others later). Her gift turns out to be something Sheldon considers has huge value (Leonard Nimoy’s napkin). So, in an effort to reciprocate, he brings out all the gifts. (4)

Advertising Fuels Gift-giving

Advertising is ingrained in American culture and influences how people feel about themselves. Products are presented in the best light possible and images are often unrealistic and unattainable. This continues to maintain a dysfunctional society full of insecurities, paranoia, cynicism, jadedness and narcissism.  It develops false needs and fuels negative feelings like envy and jeolousy. It generates unhappiness. (5)

Immediately after Thanksgiving the hoopla and advertising for Christmas gift giving begins, stimulated by incessantly repeated advertising to fuel expectations and demand. It’s part of our business and our lives. It causes much unhappiness.

Gross National Happiness

Most countries measure growth with an economic indicator – gross domestic product (GDP).

Bhutan, a country in South Asia near the Himalayas, measures Gross National Happiness (GNH). This defines indicators to measure the quality of life or social progress in more holistic and psychological terms. They have a Gross National Happiness Commission charged with reviewing policy decisions and allocation of resources dedicated to the well being of people within Bhutan. (6)

According to the official Bhutanese website, “GNH is a holistic and sustainable approach to development which balances between material and non-material values with the conviction that humans want to search for happiness. The objective of GNH is to achieve a balanced development in all facets of life that is essential to our happiness.”

By contrast, progress in America and much of the world is measured only by Growth. If this is achieved, all the other indicators are expected to follow. But an increased disparity between rich and poor generates significantly decreased GNH. (7)

Happiness Defined & Measured

Defining happiness IS as elusive as achieving it. Can happiness really be defined, studied and measured? Psychology researchers study strengths, positive emotions, resilience, and happiness to learn new ways to prevent disorders, and even learn to become happier.

Psychologist Ed Diener, co-author of “Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealthdescribes what psychologists call “subjective well-being” as a combination of life satisfaction and having more positive emotions than negative emotions. (8) The book purports to use sophisticated methodology and three decades of research to challenge present thinking of the causes and consequences of happiness. 

Another book on this subject is, “The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work”. (9) Author Shawn Anchor, spent over a decade living, researching, and lecturing at Harvard University. He draws on his own research – including one of the largest studies of happiness and potential at Harvard and at other companies. 

Happiness Formulas

After 40 years of research, psychologists attribute happiness to three major sources: genes, events and values. With a few simple rules, we can improve our lives and the lives of those around us. We can even construct a system that empowers everyone to pursue happiness.

Researchers from University College London came up with a formula that they published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The essence of the formula is this: Happiness spikes when we win and our expectations are low; but it gradually fades over time. (10)

Here’s the formula. Other than academics or math-geeks, who can comprehend?

 Here’s another simpler Happiness formula (11):

H = ((A + P) x R) + F

Happiness equals Attitude plus Presence, times Resilience, plus Faith.

Several years ago, I found a formula that has helped me to be happy:

H = R/E

H is happiness, R is Reality and E is expectations.

This applies to everyone – rich and poor alike. Whatever the Reality, if Expectations are low, then Happiness goes up.

Happiness is Not A Destination

Working towards Happiness does not help one to “arrive” there. Unless you are one of the few who won the genetic lottery and are naturally happy, happiness takes regular effort to maintain.

Most life events that make us happy in the short-term – like being promoted, falling in love, or getting married – fade over time as we adapt to them. Most established techniques for becoming happier – keeping a gratitude journal, for example – are habits, not one-shot events.  

Happiness is a combination of satisfaction with life and feeling good day by day. Life changes and mood fluctuations affect happiness. With consistent effort, bad changes can be offset. (12)

Happiness is a Frame of Mind

Think of it happiness you think about your weight: if you eat how you want to and are as active as you want to be, your body will settle at a certain weight. But if you eat less than you'd like or exercise more, your weight will adjust accordingly. If that new diet or exercise regimen becomes part of your everyday life, then you'll stay at this new weight. If you go back to eating and exercising the way you used to, your weight will return to where it started. This also applies to happiness.

In other words, you have the ability to control how you feel. With consistent practice, you can form life-long habits for a more satisfying and fulfilling life. 

Here are the lyrics of a song you may remember. Play it with the Youtube link (13).

Don't worry be happy
In every life we have some trouble
When you worry you make it double
Don't worry, be happy


1.     PBS – What is happiness?
2.     Roundtable –What is Happiness, Anyway?
3.     Christmas Vacation Bonus Check Scene:
4.     Big Bang Theory – Sheldon on Gift Giving:
5.     Advertising has bad effects on all of society:
6.     Bhutan – What is Gross National Happiness?
7.     Poverty & Wealth in America:
8.     Book – Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth:
9.     Book – The Happiness Advantage:
10.  NY Times – A Formula for Happiness:
11.  Happiness – Simple Equation for Creating Bliss:
12.  Why Happiness Is A State Of Mind:
13.  Bobby McFerrin – Don't worry Be happy:

Jim Pinto
11 December 2014


  1. If you spend a lot of time trying to figure out what happiness is, you are not happy. It is effortless.

    1. Good point. Happiness should come naturally. But I have found that it does help to think about the causes.

  2. Jim; Good selection of material for the upcoming Christmas season. Thanks for the education; I had never heard of Bhutan before.

    1. Visit Bhutan's website - makes good reading. I know someone who has visited and would like to live there.

  3. Happiness depends greatly on your outlook in life. Obligatory cartoon:

    And the outlook should be toward a realistic optimism. Oddly enough, deep down, Polyanna types are probably miserable. Happiness comes from community and people you appreciate and love. It comes from knowing what you mean to the community. It's not about climbing the ladder or achieving great things. Those are a means to an end. And the end is a life well lived, serving others.

  4. Dan Gilbert has a very powerful talk on Happiness on TED. You can see it here.

  5. Jim, we just watched the PBS special.
    It was good. I also equate connection, meaning and a sense of finding beauty with happiness. When I sort out possessions , I ask: Is it meaningful, useful, or beautiful? If yes to any of those I keep it. Same with the people and activities in my life

  6. Happiness is: having a new granddaughter born on Dec 11, the day of your post... and looking forward to help her grow to be a happy girl. I'll do that by helping her understand expectations and realizations.

    1. Congratulations on the new granddaughter. It's wonderful to relate to a grandchild and help them to be happy - multiplies your own happiness!

  7. "Happiness" says The Bhagvat Gita in Mahabharatha "is to GIVE something away without expecting anything in Return"

    If one expects something in Return, then it is not really Giving at all but it is just a matter of shop keeping.

  8. Love & kisses to you and yours! Thank you for sharing your wonderful,heartful, intelligent, newsletters with us all. You make a good difference. <3

    1. I appreciate your feedback - it makes me happy.

  9. Jim, there are many in the United States that strongly believe we need to find our roots back to the right for "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"

    I have always equated happiness with "wanting what you have, not getting what you want" Which somewhat summarizes H=R/E

    Good article and thought provoking

    1. Bruce, thanks for the feedback. I like the phrase, "pursuit of happiness" that the founding fathers included in our constitution.

  10. Try this site:
    When I forced myself to rethink my complaining it made me even happier. Happiness is inversely proportional to complaining.

    1. Good point - complaining makes no one happy - the complainer or the once receiving the complaint. Feedback to improve is helpful, and makes both sides happy if it's done positively.

  11. Your comments of Christmas Gift Giving reminded me of one of my favorite stories - The Gift of the Magi by O'Henry. It is a classic story of giving.

    1. Thanks for the reminder about O Henry's story. Here is a link to a beautifully formatted pdf file:

  12. Your line: "We all have the ability to control how we feel. With consistent practice, one can form life-long habits for a more satisfying and fulfilling life."

    This is true, but... somehow we do need others' chemistry to make this practice easier.
    Happiness as well as laughter is contagious (as it is sadness); thus when we are with happy people, we tend to be happy. We then carry this with us and makes our consistent practice easier. Every so often, we do need that personal face to face contact with people and/or things (i.e: music, a good book, etc) that make us happy.

    1. Thank you for this wonderful point - Happiness is contagious. There are "Laughter Clubs" all over the world. It is considered Yoga and good for health and disposition. Here's the link:

  13. A terrific article Jim. I wonder what prodded you to write it? Is it because we are in the same quest?
    I loved the comment above from an an regarding the birth of the grand daughter. I can see happiness the that transcends the transient. To be blessed so is a previous gift.
    Reading this article and respondes delivered transient happiness (thanks all) and reaffirmed my belief that happiness is a journey and a state of mine that needs attention. Being an engineer I pondered the simplicity of the formula and feel there is some fuzzy logic needed. :)

    1. I feel your enthusiasm about Happiness. Yes, Happiness is a journey and a state of mind. For me, (I'm an engineer too) the formula applies : Happiness is Reality divided by Expectations. If you always have high expectations, sooner or later you'll be disappointed and unhappy.

  14. A good topic and article, Jim, especially for this time of year.
    I agree with the path of "reducing your wants to your needs." And it's a path rather than a destination. What also could be included in the discussion are "joy" and "contentment." It seems to me that happiness is more moment to moment and joy and contentment are longer lasting and have fewer peaks and valleys.

    1. Being content with what you have is a day-to-day exercise. My wish for others is always Happiness, Joy, Peace and Love.

  15. Great subject to discuss and I agree, happiness to a large extent depends
    not on outer conditions, but by our stream of thoughts and the feelings
    that they generate. In other words, don't worry, but look for things to be
    happy about and appreciate the awesomeness of life in each passing moment.
    It takes practice, but it's worth the effort. I can say all of this now
    that I'm retired and no longer give a rip about meeting my quarterly sales

  16. I remember as a teen-ager once asking my Dad if he was HAPPY. His answer was : "Happy is ho ho-ho!" "I would prefer to say that I am content"

    And my parents had a really good marriage for 62 years.

  17. Jim, very topical for me personally. I just retired and am spending winters in Kauai, HI while returning to Alaska for the summers. I also just finished a book by Eric Weiner called "the geography of Bliss" a book about what makes people happy. Eric traveled to many places and one was Bhutan. One potential factor was geography and a thought that the further west one lives the happier. If that is the case then I should be most happy and in fact am.
    Happy Holidays
    Steve Barnett