The Equation For Happiness

Gary Becker and Luis Rayo at the University of Chicago combined a variety of fields from psychology and brain science into an algorithm that describes a trap most economists believe is endemic (not pandemic, it’s 2021 now!) to our species.

They crowned this algorithm “The Happiness Function” to explain the physiological process that both fuels our desires for more AND ensures that we will be dissatisfied shortly after we attain it.

The algorithm suggests that dissatisfaction is inevitable.


Consider where you were five years ago. If you had known where you would be today, you might be in total awe.

But even if you’ve accomplished a lot, are you satisfied or focused the to dos for the years to come?

The bottom line: humans do not perceive value in absolute terms (measured by itself, not in comparison with other things).

Just as your first car initially held a special place in your heart it lost some of its appeal when surrounded by the latest model.

Our brain constantly adjusts what it perceives we need in order to be happy based on what everyone else has. Then it takes the ultimate end goal and breaks it into small finish lines we can cross in the near future, with an ever distant finish line ahead.

So happiness, in these economists’ particular formulation, is inherently elusive. It never stands still.

They tie this to primitive times. Dissatisfaction was an aid to hunter-gatherers because it would drive them to kill more game and collect more fish than they did yesterday. As a positive, it is an urge that can lead us to work harder.

It may be disappointing to know we have been hardwired for active dissatisfaction but this is an important realization.

One of the authors of this study, Rayo, summarizes saying “We are always comparing what we have to something else. But we’re not anticipating that no matter what we have, we will always be comparing it to something else. In fact, we’re not even aware that we are doing this. But there’s a difference between what’s natural and what’s good for us.”

Maybe this opens the door to some analysis of your own life. Is dissatisfaction playing too much of a role?

After all, what’s our natural human nature isn’t always what’s good for us.

Photo by Jorge Vasconez on Unsplash.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s