A One-Minute Microshift to Become Instantly Happier

When you can’t change your reality, change your expectations

Photo: Tim Robberts/Getty Images

People spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to become happier, but so much of our happiness boils down to a simple formula:

Happiness = Reality / Expectations

Let’s review some third grade math. In a fraction, when the denominator is greater than the numerator, the result falls below one. Therefore, if we say contentment equals one, and your expectations exceed your reality, you will be less than content.

In their book Engineering Happiness, the economists Rakesh Sarin and Manel Baucells call this equation “the fundamental question” of well-being. Consider how it plays out in our everyday lives: Say you come home and a friend has left a gift for you on your doorstep. You had no expectations for this, and your reality skyrockets. Your happiness, therefore, goes through the roof.

Now imagine that as you sit down to work, you spill your coffee all over your desk. Suddenly, your numerator decreases. Reality threw a curveball. You didn’t expect to begin your day with stains all over your notebook, and so your happiness drops.

While you can’t control our reality, you can lower your expectations. Yep, that’s the whole “trick.”

It’s not about becoming a doormat — you should always have certain expectations in how you’re treated by yourself and others. And you don’t need to lower your aspirations — you should always be working toward your definition of success. It just means creating a habit of making microshifts in your brain as soon as reality changes. As you’re wiping the coffee off your desk, shift your expectations from “I’ll have a productive start to my day” to “I’ll have a clean desk when I’m done.” When your power goes out mid-email, go from “I’ll get back to these eight people today” to “I’ll write out a plan for tomorrow.” When your partner breaks up with you, go from “I’ll never have to worry about dating again” to “I’ll learn something from this situation.”

Not all of these shifts are easy to make, of course. Sometimes, they take a while to fully embrace. But for any shift, you’re making a course correction: How can you shift your formula based on your current situation? If you’re able to change a few equations every day, you’ll find yourself becoming happier over time. It’s simple math.

I write for dreamers, doers, and unbroken optimists. For my best articles & book updates, go here: https://niklasgoeke.com/

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store