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The Happiness Debt

The pursuit of happiness is universally seen as an important part of our innate human and biological makeup. It is this very pursuit that works its way into our overall purpose, goals and decisions in life. Hence, I was inspired to write a post that looks into the methods that generation Z are currently using to ‘propel’ this pursuit and question its sustainability in order to help not only myself but those who read this with a greater sense of self-awareness.

Most young people are drawn to digital media, expecting to laugh, be entertained, or to fulfil a desire for connection, a desire born from, in my opinion, a low sense of self-worth. In an attempt to avoid/distract from this they reach out to anyone or watch anything to avoid spending time reflecting on this further. However, when you spend all your waking hours borrowing happiness from others (real or fictional) you also shift this expectation onto them. Accordingly, when we are unhappy/unsatisfied we shift this blame onto others as well because we hold them responsible for our highs and lows. What everyone must realise is that we are responsible for our own happiness as well as sadness. Therefore, lesson one, do not borrow happiness from others.

Ok, so you have deleted your social media and cancelled your Netflix in the spur of the moment, deciding to spend the next week focusing on your physical health, mental health, financial goals and relationships.

“I’ll be happy once all of this is prioritised, I will reach self-actualisation, transcend space and time, and be reborn.“ Here lies the real heart of the problem, expectation.

The happiness equation

The other day as I drove back home after work I listened to a brilliant podcast by Steven Bartlett. This podcast featured Mo Gawdat. He was the chief business officer for Google X. The tragic death of his son Ali changed his perspective in life and he shared a novel equation for happiness. This equation is: happiness is equal to or greater than the perception of the event in our life minus the expectation.

HAPPINESS ≥ your Perception of the event - your Expectations of how it should be

In simple words, the event itself does not cause happiness but our expectations and personal motivations around it. Take the concept of rain as an example. The rain itself does not make you happy or unhappy. If you wanted to water your plants; the rain would help fulfil that personal motivation and this would make you ‘happy'. However, if you decided to sunbathe the day before; it would hinder this plan.

You are essentially stealing happiness from your future self based on an expectation, accruing a debt which you expect to pay back, and what happens when you can’t? You must declare bittersweet bankruptcy. Lesson two, do not borrow happiness from yourself.


Therefore, I’d like to finish this post by stating how maybe if we started to implement this happiness question into our lives and think about our expectations more so, it may plant a seed to allow further personal growth.

1 Comment

Alan Jones
Alan Jones
Nov 23, 2021

Strategies for tempering expectation without hindering the joy of optimism?

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