Are you looking for a way to personalize your well-being by adding and subtracting the research-based, positive psychology way? Don’t miss The Happiness Equation: 100 Factors That Can Add To or Subtract From Your Happiness, by Bridget Grenville-Cleave, Ilona Boniwell, Ph.D., with Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D.
There are several positive psychology books that have been reviewed on this site, some of which have an academic focus, or are mostly about a single topic, like resilience or gratitude, or a for a particular audience, like parents. (The 2008 nominee for best single book about happiness is here.)
The Happiness Equation is different. It is a pocketable, colorful, easy, and fun way to find out how you are already adding and subtracting from your happiness every day, and how changes can affect your well-being balance sheet.
Consistently supported by positive psychology research throughout, the book is divided into five sections:
- Life circumstances
- Emotional well-being
- Physical well-being
You are probably familiar with Ken Sheldon, David Schkade and Sonja Lyubomirsky’s pie chart depicting where our happiness comes from. (I have likened it to a pizza here, where you get to choose all of the toppings on 3 1/2 slices.) The authors use this pie graph, too. The Happiness Equation looks at 100 factors that affect our well-being, both positively and negatively. Some myths may be dispelled for you as a result.
Each of the 100 items is scored on a scale from minus 5 (makes you much less happy) to plus 5 (makes you much happier). Interestingly, none of the plus 5’s are in the category of life circumstances. Items in that category not only account for a mere 10% of your happiness, the individual items mentioned have much less impact than “feeling good” (positive emotions) or “optimism” or “gratitude”, the plus 5’s in Part Two: “Emotional Well-being”.
The remaining sections, “Physical Well-being”, “Relationships” and “Fullfillment” have more positive gems so get your happiness calculator ready. There is a scale to help you determine whether you are less happy than average or “on cloud nine”. Incidentally, the scale may not work for everyone. I’m at 143. Oooops! Forgot to subtract the pesky negatives! Even then you might find you need to adjust the point value and give yourself only some of the possible points.
A surprise for me was the “Gender” entry, which suggests that men have a slight advantage over women (just +0.5 points) because they are considered more emotionally stable. Other research suggests that women have greater well-being over the life span because they have a greater range of emotions and stronger social connections.
One of my favorite aspects of The Happiness Equation is its step-by-step “How To’s” for increasing happiness. For the entry on “Too Much Choice,” a minus 5, the book has neatly simplified the complex research in this area which comes from the blended fields of positive psychology and economics and made it practical enough for the everyday reader. (Don’t spend too much time choosing a cell phone, compared to the time you should spend choosing a career.) Both positive and negative happiness events may have these practical tips. I also like the implicit reminder that you have to work at happiness. Well-being is not magic, and without work many of the positive numbers in your equation will not last.
If you are looking for a great gift idea, The Happiness Equation, a diary (plus 5 points) for logging your progress and gratitude (plus 5), and a calculator would be fun! Don’t forget to meditate, which I do daily. It’s a plus 5, too!
Grenville-Cleave, B., Boniwell, I., & Tessina, T. (2009). The Happiness Equation: 100 Factors That Can Add To or Subtract From Your Happiness. Adams Media.
Lyubomirsky, S. Is it possible to become lastingly happier? Answers from the modern science of well-being. The Vancouver Dialogues.