Aristotle said, “All things we do, we do to increase our happiness.” People behave in ways they believe will increase their happiness. The figure below is a simple formula that predicts how happy you are after any setback.
Happiness = Experience - Expectations
This formula says that your level of happiness with any event or situation is equal to how you perceive that experience minus your expectations prior to the event. For example, think about the last time you were disappointed after seeing a movie or dining out at a restaurant. On a scale of 1 to 10, what score would you assign to the expectation you had prior to that experience? (Go ahead; pick a high number if you had high expectations.) Next, on a scale of 1 to 10, what score would you assign to the experience immediately after you had the experience? (Pick a low number if you had a lousy experience.) If you do the math (experience - expectations), you have your “happiness score.” If expectations were very high (9 on our scale) and your experience was low (3 on our scale), the number is negative. (3-9 = -6) If your subtraction gives you the number zero, the formula says you are satisfied. Your expectations were met. Whatever number you come up with, it represents how happy or satisfied you feel, overall, after any event or situation.
Think of all the ways this formula plays out, subconsciously, every day: The sports team or athlete that is “expected” to win, but falls short. Or the underdog that delights the home crowd by far exceeding expectations by merely reaching the playoffs. How about freeway traffic? You’re breezing along at 65MPH, when all of a sudden, traffic comes to a complete stop. The radio informs you about the accident up ahead. You groan, Oh no! I am going to be late if we don’t start moving. So, you start praying for any movement. And your prayer works! You start moving, slowly at first. How do you feel when you start clicking along at 20, 30, then 40 MPH? Pretty good, right? Why? Because your expectations became so low when you were stuck in the logjam.
The happiness formula also reminds you to choose happiness even if you fall short of a goal. For example, I once collaborated on a very large sale with a sales colleague, Tina. If we booked it, we both would earn a big commission check. We lost it. Ouch! We were devastated. I mourned the loss by taking a couple days off and biking in the mountains. I then re-focused on my sales goals, and had a good year. But Tina never recovered. Whenever I saw her, she talked about the “big one that got away.” After two years of missing her quotas, she was fired.
Tina’s inability to choose responsibly (the fourth level of the commanding style) can explain by the happiness equation. Do you see how it predicts Tina’s misery? Prior to the sale, she had high expectations. (Let’s give her a score of 9 out of 10.) She then had the very negative experience of losing the sale. (A score of -9.) You do the math. (-9 - 9 = -18) No wonder she was miserable! I was too! However, she stayed miserable because of her inability to let go of high expectations and her ineffectiveness in learning from the experience. While she subconsciously stayed a minus 18 after the sale, I chose to let go of my expectations and learn my lessons.
Don’t let what happened Tina happen to you. Follow the system outlined here to put the happiness equation to work for you. Keep your expectations high as your pursue your goal. However, let go of these expectations when you encounter an obstacle or setback. Remember that a “negative” experience doesn’t make you miserable, your attachment to it does. Perhaps this is why Peter Drucker says we often fail because of what we hold onto. Best-selling author and lecturer Dr. Wayne Dyer observes that one of the traits he sees in highly functioning people is their uncanny ability to shut out the negative past. (1)
Try using the system described here to help you see any setback as feedback waiting for meaning. Take time off, lick your wounds, and learn your lessons from the pain. Then stop complaining, refocus on your goals, and get back in the saddle again.
1. Dyer W: Wisdom of the Ages. HarperCollins: New York, 242, 1998.