Dr. Julian Simon, in his book Good Mood , The New Psychology of Overcoming Depression explained happiness in terms of a mood ratio.
The hypothetical benchmark state is the state where we think we should be or where we want to be. Dr. Simon explains this ratio as follows:
If the numerator (perceived state of oneself) in the Mood Ratio is low compared to the denominator (hypothetical benchmark state) -- a situation which I'll call a Rotten Ratio -- your mood will be bad. If on the contrary the numerator is high compared to the denominator -- a state which I'll call a Rosy Ratio -- your mood will be good. If your Mood Ratio is Rotten and you feel helpless to change it, you will feel sad.
For those of us who are not mathematically inclined, Julian Simon is saying we have a perceived state which is our perception of our current situation and a desired state which is how we want things to be. If our current state of affairs is as good or better than the way we want things to be (our desired state) Julian says we will be happy but if we perceive things are worse than we want them to be and believe that we are helpless to improve our situation, we will be unhappy.
According to Julian's Simon's equation there are two ways to achieve happiness. One is to improve our perceived state. The other is to lower are requirements for happiness or our desired state. To illustrate suppose a poor man wants to be rich. If he works hard he might achieve that goal. Than he will perceive that he is rich and is likely to be happy. Of course there are unhappy rich men but that may be because once they achieve wealth they want more (Their desired state goes up). Lets say that instead of working hard to become wealthy we decide to be happy with what we have. In that case we have lowered our desired state and according to Julian Simon if that is low enough we will be happy as well (See the web page Wanting More).
In the 1980s political scientist Alex Michalos asked 18,000 college students in 39 countries to rate their happiness on a numeric scale. Then he asked them how close they were to having all they wanted. He found that the people whose aspirations - not just for money but for friends, family, jobs, health were much higher than what they already had tended to be less happy than those who perceived a smaller gap. The size of the gap predicted happiness about five times better than income alone.
Why not just lower our desired state? Why not just be happy with things the way they are? One reason not to do that is we may lose our motivation to change things for the better. Anthony Robins said that raising his desired state is what made him successful. His words were:
Any time you sincerely want to make a change, the first thing you must do is to raise your standards. When people ask me what really changed my life eight years ago, I tell them that absolutely the most important thing was changing what I demanded of myself. I wrote down all the things I would no longer accept in my life, all the things I would no longer tolerate, and all the things that I aspired to becoming.
The problem is that although Julian Simon's ratio may predict mood it also predicts motivation. The motivation to change one's situation is the inverse of Julian Simon's ratio as expressed in the equation below.
The worse our perceived situation relative to our desired situation the more motivation we are going to have to change our situation.
So what? Why change our situation for the better? Why not just be happy with things the way they are? Sometimes we may be better off just being happy with things the way they are. Don Rickles in an interview with Esquire magazine said:
I used to play golf. I wanted to be a better player, but after a while I realized I'd always stink. And that's when I really started to enjoy the game.
By lowering his desired state of being a better player Don Rickles started enjoying himself. It really wasn't important that Don Rickles become a better player except perhaps for the fish in the golf course ponds being hit by his gold balls. There are situations though when its important not to accept things the way they are. One reason is that we all face threats to our welfare and it is better to actively work to protect ourselves against these threats than to ignore them. Lets imagine that the town folks of the town of Pleasantville find out that organized crime is dumping hazardous waste in the local town woods. The townsfolk can choose to be happy with things the way they are and so not be motivated to do anything about it or they can choose to be unhappy about it and try and do something. If they don't do something about it the incidence of cancer may start going up in the town. Having cancer definitely lowers one's perceived state of affairs in Julian Simon's equation and will definitely lead to unhappiness. So by being unhappy now we may prevent a lot more misery in the future. Is there any way the townsfolk could be happy and still be motivated to stop the waste dumping? I consider that question later on.
In the web page about the happiness muscle I describe how when we try to be happy we may encounter resistance and if we ask ourselves what that resistance is that can help us diagnose why we are unhappy. I give the example of how one time I made an effort to try and be happy and the reason for my resistance was "I can't be happy because than I would accept things the way they are and wouldn't try and improve my situation". I once asked a friend what reasons he had for not being happy and he told me he wouldn't be motivated to achieve greatness if he was happy with things the way they are. In the Happiness is a Choice page of this web site I quote Barry Kaufmann who said:
Unhappiness was used as a motivator to help me take care of myself and to try to get more....All this so that eventually I would be happy or fulfilled.
Can we be be dissatisfied with our current situation, be motivated to improve it, and be happy at the same time? If we can than something is missing from at least one of the above equations. That would imply that we can be happy even if our desired state differs greatly from our perceived state. One factor is how much we want our desired state or how important it is for us to have it. Another factor may be how the difference between our current and desired situations affects the core problems of low self esteem, paranoia and pessimism as well as related problems such as anger. Do we feel low self esteem because we haven't achieved our desired situation? Do we feel that bad hostile people have prevented us from achieving it? Does it make us angry? Are we pessimistic that we will never achieve our desired situation and do we believe that not achieving that situation is a terrible thing? In that case more accurate equations might be:
Motivation may be a function of both delta and the effect delta has on one's mood. If a large delta bothers us a lot it might motivate us a lot to make a change, on the other hand if delta bothers us so much that it makes us depressed we may lose motivation and give up.
A theory similar to Julian Simon's theory was published in 1987 by Tory Higgins in Psychological Review (Self-Discrepancy: A Theory Relating Self and Affect vol 94 No. 3, 319-40). He discusses two types of discrepancies that between the way we perceive our situation and what we think our ideal situation should be and that between the way we perceive ourselves and what others expect we should be. Dr. Higgens did experiments that showed that the first type of discrepancy was likely to lead to dejection whereas the second type was likely to lead to paranoia and anxiety.
An interesting question is what feelings others feel when one doesn't live up to their expectations. My guess is they are likely to feel anger and contempt and perhaps believe that we are bad which is a form of paranoia.
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