The Calculus of Happiness

Happiness – for years, it was my white whale – I chased it, hunted it, but never quite captured it.  It wasn’t for my lack of trying, but the mere way in which I thought about happiness, the way in which I defined it, made it impossible to obtain.

I thought the problem lied in my actions – the real roadblock was in my way of thinking. It wasn’t until I applied a little calculus theory to my emotional state that I was able to discover my own path to happiness.

Learning How to be Happy Isn’t Easy

I used to think of happiness as a constant, a destination – and once reached, I would be part of the “in” crowd, the bulletproof peace warriors who have the Force within them – even stress cannot bring them from their state of happiness for once they have arrived, they are indestructible.

Every day I tried to reach for happiness and would fail miserably. I thought weekend mornings were my best chance at happiness but to no avail. Something in my day would elicit sadness, anxiety or fear, thus ending my streak of happiness and any chance of being part of the “happiness” crowd. Every morning felt like a climb up a mountain only to fail; tumbling down to the bottom, bruised and hopeless. Hmm, I wonder why I was feeling miserable?

The most obvious flaw in this type of thinking is that happiness, or any emotion, is never constant – ever.  Emotions are designed to be short-lived, they are products of what’s going on in the moment. I like to think of emotions as an inner communication tool our body and brain use to speak to each other about the current situation. However, our current situation is changing – ALL THE TIME – and so are our emotions.

Why Calculus Helps

Calculus is defined as the study of infinite change. (How cool is that?) Through mathematical equations, calculus helps us to understand and make assumptions of an ever-changing environment. The way in which calculus does this is by breaking down a large changing environment into small, manageable, finite pieces called integrals. When we break things down into smaller chunks, we can make sense of them.

I had established that happiness could not be a constant unwavering state because emotions change constantly. However, if I broke life into small, manageable, finite pieces, I knew I could find happiness in at least some of those small pieces. I call these pieces happiness integrals. If I see a pelican fly over me, I smile, and that is an integral of happiness for me. If I play with my neighbor’s pets, that’s at least 15 minutes of happiness. Some integrals may last 30 seconds, 5 minutes, hours or even a fraction of a second – some integrals may be other emotions.

Learn the Benefits of Happiness Integrals

  1. Unlimited Integrals of Happiness: In calculus, there is no limit to how small an integral can be. In other words, I could have an integral that is a millisecond long. I could think a thought that brings me happiness, and that would be a fraction of a second of happiness. Thus, I can have an infinite number of opportunities to be happy.
  2. Summation of Happiness:  Although an emotion is fleeting, its repercussions can be long-lasting.  Positive emotions can lead to positive thoughts which lead to positive beliefs. Positive beliefs allow for you to be primed for seeing positive opportunities, which in turn lead to more positive emotions. The total sum of happiness can be significant even if every integral is not a happy one.
  3. Integrals of Non-Happiness are Allowed Without Penalty: If the number of happiness integrals in life are infinite, then why am I going to get down on myself for feeling the other realm of emotions out there? It is okay to feel sad, anxious or any other emotion. Feeling emotions does not prevent us from more happiness integrals, as long as I am mindful to harness the thoughts that may result from them. (See the impact of thoughts in #2 above.)

There have been times in my life where it was difficult to identify what brought me joy. Personally, I had lost touch of the difference between what I did to please others over what I did to serve myself.  In the next paragraph, I offer some questions you can ask yourself to help uncover what makes you happy and encourage you to share what you find.

However, If you find yourself struggling with the questions, as a certified professional coach, I can help you identify your happiness integrals. During our coaching sessions, I can also help you to explore if your definition of happiness is limiting you in any way.

What CanYou Do to Increase Happiness?

Remember the key to happiness is not a constant state of happiness, joy, or nirvana – it is finding happiness in even the smallest chunks to perpetuate more positive moments.  Ask yourself the following:

What can I do in this minute, right now, to experience happiness or joy?

What thought or memory makes me smile?  

Write them down and refer to them often to start your own accumulation of happiness integrals. Let me know what you come up with and share them with me below. I’d love to hear how it goes.