We all want to be happy. However, whether you’ve lost a loved one, been through a relationship break up, experienced a career setback or simply felt that happiness was perpetually just out of reach, happiness can often seen unattainable.

One way to think of happiness is as an equation:

happiness=8 reality - expectations

Another way to think of it, which is advocated by Neil Pasricha in The Happiness Equation, is:

“Want Nothing + Do Anything = Have Everything”

The idea is that you can work on lowering your expectations, improving your reality, or both to be happy. Reducing happiness to an equation oversimplifies it but can be useful. The largest flaw with this approach is the belief that happiness is derived from being without. In other words, if you decrease your expectations, you still view happiness in terms of external validation. Life is about growing, achieving, failing, and learning from everything in between. It is better than raising your expectations to become happier, as long as you are internally rather than externally motivated. You will be made happier by setting a goal and failing to achieve it than setting no goals in the first place. At the end of the day, many complex factors play a part in what makes us happy.

According to a November 2017 National Geographic study, the three happiest places in the world were Singapore, Denmark, and Costa Rica. What does each of these places have in common? “Their people feel secure, have a sense of purpose and enjoy lives that minimize stress and maximize joy.” What is so intriguing about the study’s results is that people living in each city do it in differing ways. Happiness doesn't go to the person with a leased line internet connection.

  • People in Singapore are very achievement-based, so they are focused on improving their reality.
  • In Denmark, the joke is that people living there are happy because they have low expectations.
  • The people of Costa Rica are somewhere in between.

Research published in The How of Happiness by University of California psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky tells us exactly how much of our happiness is based on our life circumstances. The shocking figure? 10%.

Ten percent of our happiness is what happens to us, and the other 90% is based on our own expectations of the world. Expectations, not material wealth, play the biggest part in being happy.