Lowering your expectations could be the key to finding happiness. Sound a little pessimistic? Well, the old adage of always thinking positively and dreaming big might not be as effective as you’ve been led to believe.
You could say that all the Facebook photos and Instagrams we’ve seen of awesome parties, holidays and meals have created highly unrealistic expectations for us, in hopes of achieving the same. Thus the creation of that notorious modern fear of missing out.
In this same train of thought, when you’re stuck in a bit of a rut, it’s likely you’ve found yourself wishing there was some kind of formula for happiness – and that’s exactly what scientists at the University College London have set out to find.
What’s the formula for happiness?
As part of the study, 26 participants were asked to choose between safe and risky options, which would lead to either monetary gain or loss. All the while, their brain activity was measured and the people were asked about their level of happiness.
The participants’ answers were used to create a five-minute game, which researchers marketed as a smartphone app called The Great Brain Experiment. With this, they got the results of 18,420 international players. As a result, they were able to formulate an equation that could predict people’s happiness based on winning points rather than money.
“We were trying to understand how happiness changes from moment to moment,” lead study author Robb Rutledge, Ph.D, said. “We know about what happens in the brain when people are rewarded, but we didn’t know how those things connected to one’s emotion state.”
Why your expectations matter – and how to manage it
The result was that having lower expectations could eventually lead to greater happiness. So events that exceeded expectation were the ones that made participants feel particularly good.
“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,” Dr. Rutledge said.
“Life is full of expectations. It is often said that you will be happier if your expectations are lower. We find that there is some truth to this.”
It was also found that the most recent experiences of reward and expectations were those that affected happiness and that this can change from moment to moment.
But alternatively, simply expecting something small to be fun or positive could also affect the way you feel. So planning a visit to a coffee shop with a friend could make you feel good simply because you’re looking forward to it – so don’t go think it’s all about expecting doom and gloom! Rather, if your expectations are slightly lower, a positive outcome will seem like a nice surprise.
“Expectations have a very powerful effect on happiness. If you don’t have good expectations, then you can’t make good decisions,” Dr Rutledge added. © Cover Media
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