It has long been known that happiness depends on many different life circumstances.
Now scientists have developed a mathematical equation that can predict momentary delight. They found that participants were happiest when they performed better than expected during a risk-reward task. Brain scans also revealed that happiness scores correlated with areas known to be important for well-being. The team says the equation, published in PNAS Journal, could be used to look at mood disorders and happiness on a mass scale. It could also help the UK government analyse statistics on well-being, which they have collected since 2010.
“We can look at past decisions and outcomes and predict exactly how happy you will say you are at any point in time,” said lead author Dr Robb Rutledge from University College London. “The brain is trying to figure out what you should be doing in the world to get rewards, so all the decisions, expectations and the outcomes are information it’s using to make sure you make good decisions in the future. All of the recent expectations and rewards combine to determine your current state of happiness,” he told BBC News. Think of going to a restaurant for example, having low expectations may improve your dining experience if the food is better than expected. But having positive expectations may improve your happiness before the meal even starts because of your anticipation of the event. To build the mathematical model, the team analysed the results of 26 people doing a task in which, over repeated trials, they chose between definite and risky monetary rewards. Every few trials they were asked to report their level of happiness. Participants’ brains were also scanned using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging). Activity in two areas of the brain correlated positively with happiness scores; these were the ventral striatum – a main source of dopamine neurons – and the insula, an area of the brain known to be important for several emotions including happiness. The striatum was associated with changes in happiness and the insula with overall levels of happiness. Read more on BBC News.