It might seem crazy … but could there be a formula for happiness? Thomas Fiffer does the math.
It might seem crazy what I’m about to say
Sunshine she’s here, you can take a break
I’m a hot air balloon that could go to space
With the air, like I don’t care baby by the way
– Pharrell Williams, “Happy”
Yesterday, I was feeling down. I was in the bookstore with my sons, navigating their demands for books and toys I couldn’t really afford. I bought them anyway, and stuffed my anxiety back into my wallet along with my overused credit card. All day the weather had mirrored my mood—dark, cloudy, drizzly, and gray—and now through the tall, rain-streaked store windows we could see it was pouring outside yet also oddly bright. I told the boys to wait by the door and stay dry while I dashed out in my raincoat to bring the car around. As we sloshed through the parking lot and rounded the turn onto the road, my older son turned and said, “Whoa, Dad! Look at the rainbow!” I turned and looked. And there it was, an enormous, glorious, upside-down spectrum of color smiling across the steely sky, and just above, its paler companion. The smile on my face was nearly as large. By the time I’d taken a few photos, the rainbows were gone.
Happiness seems so elusive when it’s absent, so random when it arrives—a mercurial mood that strikes when the stars align and fades as fast as it came, an act of magic revealed all too soon as an illusion, a sudden ephemeral double rainbow, the lifting of gravity for a brief moment of weightlessness before the inevitable fall, the outcome of forces beyond our control. But is this really the case? Do we have no influence? Is what we experience in the moment the result of that moment or the result of what we bring to it? Could happiness be a way of being we can cultivate and practice? And if so, is there a formula for being happy; behaviors that, in sum, make happiness a habit? And could the constant in that formula be you?
I can tell you this. The answer isn’t, “Just be happy.” Don’t those words make you cringe? If we could all do that, wouldn’t we be doing it already? And if it was truly that easy, just mind over matter, wouldn’t everyone walk around in perpetual bliss?
I can also tell you that happiness is not something that happens to you. It’s all about what you contribute, the self you bring to a moment in time. The rainbow itself didn’t make me happy. It only served as a catalyst to help me shift my mood and remember why I’m on this planet. The Pharrell song doesn’t make you happy either. It taps into your desire to feel bliss. My happiest memories are of experiences I loved because I wanted to love them and allowed myself to love them. Experiences I brought myself to fully and completely. Experiences I was able to love because I refused to allow the darkness to rob me of them and always kept faith that the light would return.
So here’s the expression of my happiness formula. And the good news is, it’s all stuff you can control.
H = ((A + P) x R) + F
Happiness equals attitude plus presence, times resilience, plus faith.
Attitude is your positivity quotient—the outlook and type of thinking you adopt. Negativity is the biggest joy killer. Avoid it, and don’t let negative people influence your thoughts. The largest component of happiness is hopefulness, because without it, there is only despair. Stay positive.
Presence is your state of full awareness and your willingness to experience the full range of emotions in any situation. Presence requires risk, because you might have an unpleasant encounter. But if you’re not present, you won’t have any encounters, only a stretch of disjointed hours and days. I expressed this best in a blog post called “My Why Revisited.”
I can either watch my life happen as a series of sequential anomalies. Or I can live my life as an act of harmonious bliss.
Resilience is your ability to push through, to bounce back, to see setbacks as setbacks, not the end of the world as we know it. Being resilient means rolling with the waves and trusting your own ability to navigate through the storm and come out on the other side. It also means developing deep reserves of emotional strength.
Faith is your unshakeable belief that as long as you breathe, the sun has not set on your life, that you can rise up from the darkest places, and that you are never alone.
I realize this equation may not add up for everyone. But it works for me. And as someone who’s dedicated to helping make people happier, I thought I would share it. Happy weekend, everyone!
Top photo—Alexandre Normand/Flickr
Middle photo—courtesy of author
Bottom photo—Garrett Heath/Flickr