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How to be happier: Expect good things and even if they don’t work out, your happiness will have increased!

Feeling happier moment-to-moment could be more about expecting more good things day to day than making a load of money, researchers at University College London have found

Most people would love to be richer but a new study has found that wealth is not a good indicator of happiness. In fact, when it comes to moment-to-moment happiness, what matters more is not just how well things are going right this minute, but whether they’re going better than you expected.

The research, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences tested nearly 18,500 participants using the game ‘What makes me happy?’ part of an app created by neuroscientists at University College London called The Great Brain Experiment where the study was carried out.

To create the app, the researchers got 26 subjects to compete a decision making task in which their choices led to monetary gains and losses. During that process they were repeatedly asked to answer the question: ‘How happy are you right now?’ Their brain activity was measured using MRI scans and from this data, the scientists the app which measures how happiness is related to rewards and expectations.


The researchers then asked 18, 420 other students worldwide to play the ‘What makes me happy?’ game on the app, modelled from the previous MRI findings.

The researchers found that of course, rewards affect our happiness whether they’re a cash injection or a compliment. But what surprised the scientists was the role day-to-day expectations played in determining happiness.

‘In real world situations, the rewards associated with life decisions such as starting a new job or getting married are often not realised for a long time,’ said Dr Robb Rutledge, lead researcher on the study, a senior research associate at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging.

‘Our results suggest expectations related to these decisions, good and bad, have a big effect on happiness.’

What does that mean for you and me? Whatever is going on in your life, expect good things to happen in the short-term and long-term and you can have an instantly positive effect on your wellbeing scores. Plan for things that give you positive expectations – anything from a snazzy dinner out to a trip of a lifetime – and you’ll up your happiness quotient considerably.

2014 Meme Happiness

On one hand, slightly lower expectations might impact your happiness a little more, the researchers said. ‘Life is full of expectations,’ said Dr Rutledge. ‘We found that lower expcetctions make it more likely that an outcome will exceed those expectations and have a positive impact on happiness.

But that’s not the full story. In fact, the research found any expectations affect our levels of happiness even before we learn the outcome of our decisions, says Dr Rutledge.

‘Positive expectations may increase your happiness as soon as you make the plan to do them,’ Dr Robb explained. Time to book next year’s holiday then?

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