Welcome All! I'm a dreamer, I hope you are too! A Posse ad Esse, or From possibility to reality, is a general state of mind. I hope you'll share your possibilities with me as I will with you. Namaste~

January 16, 2008

The Algebra of Happiness -       Contentment Theorem

I know what your thinking, "Algebra and happiness in the same title, not possible!" bear with me you might find it interesting. I have to preface this whole series of articles with a short explanation of why I think about things this way, other than of course the fact that I am a computer programmer and that's just the way we're wired. When I began High School I had a terrible time with Algebra. Like so many other kids I asked what's the point, I've never needed to add an "A" and a "B", and it doesn't even make sense. The Answers are still questions. if A+B=C and A+D=C then B = D. What the heck do either of them equal? They're still letters? I'm sure you can understand. My dad, whom I rarely listened to because I was a teenager and knew everything, caught me at a rare moment of attention and gave me this idea, that saved not only my algebraic High School career, but has influenced how I look at and solve problems throughout my life.

"Algebra has nothing to do with math. It's just a way of thinking and ordering your thoughts."

What? Nothing to do with math? What do you mean nothing to do with math?
Well, think about it like this:
If you have $2.00 and I give you some money, and then you have $5.00, OR
if you have $2.00 and someone else gives you some money, and then you have $5.00 you know that the amounts of money that either that someone else or I gave you were the same; $3.00. That's all A+B=C and A+D=C then B = D really means. We just never think about writing it out like that; we just know it. Once I learned that this was all that algebra was I never had a big problem with it and now I think things through like this all the time. That brings me to the Algebra of Happiness. I wondered if there were a way that I could illustrate very clearly the things that I see as affecting a persons level of happiness. I'll break it down into a couple of sections, and they'll all have this title, so if you see it coming and you’re not interested, I'll see you the next time I'm baking bread or experimenting with homemade yogurt.

The contentment theorem:
-(w) + g = C
'w' represents wants.
'g' represents gains or gets.
'C' represents contentment.

The variable 'w' will always be expressed as negative, denoting an absence or void, while 'g' will be expressed as positive to show increase or gain. A persons level of contentment 'C' can therefore be either neutral (most likely), positive or negative as a product of wants + gains. I would say typically that 'C' would be equal to zero, a neutral result, for a generally happy person; in other words the individual has had all wants met by an equal gain (i.e. -(4) + 4 = 0 ), whereas a typically unhappy person may be one that had very few of their wants met and therefore had a negative level of contentment. (i.e. -(4) + 1 = -3 ). The interesting part in thinking about it like this is that you realize that you can impact your level of contentment directly in one of two ways. You can either decrease your wants with relation to your gains, or you can increase your gains to meet your wants. Let's look at those ideas for a minute.

Decreasing want. (w)
How this affects the equation is dependant on how you decrease it. If you just say to yourself “It’s not realistic.” and resign yourself to the fact that you’ll never attain it, then you would cause an impact on another area; Serenity. (I’ll write more on this in a later post.) Doing that is like deciding that you’ll never be happy and there’s nothing that you can do about it. However, if you reevaluate what you “want” and determine why it is that you want it, you may find that there is no valid reason for it to begin with. I think the most important thing is to "want" things that will bring something else positive to you other than just the getting.

Increasing gain. (g)
I think that this area is not entirely dependant on physical possession or attainment. If one truly believes that the gain will be made in the foreseeable future it is seemingly equivalent to actually having it. For instance, if I wanted a new car but didn’t have it I may feel a lower “C” level. However, if I have in place a plan to achieve that gain, and am making progress toward it, I accept it as a gain not yet tangible; thus not impacting my “C”. Another possibility is that you could decide to work harder, or do whatever necessary to attain the things that you want. This could increase contentment, but it also could impact Serenity if all you did was work and toil in order to attain. If wants are in line, this shouldn't need to be increased too much to attain any thing we desire.

I've been through times when I was very discontent because of the things I didn’t have. I did whatever I could, using credit, or borrowing, or living on shoestrings to get the things but I found that as long as I attached my wants to "things" that there was always another “thing” out there to want. Essentially I was in a squirrel cage of consumption. I wasn’t happy in many other ways in my life, and I guess I thought the next thing would make it better. All I got was a bankruptcy, a repo’d car, and a credit score that I could count on my fingers; my “C”ontentment was very low. Lately, my equation has shifted. I still want of course. I just think that my wants have changed. I want to spend time with my family and for my wife to be able to be home for my children. I want to write and share my thoughts. I want to learn to grow food and make things by hand. I want things too; books, seeds for my garden, and god knows how many other little things I see. But the things I want are readily attainable, and you know what? My contentment is sky high.
I hope I haven't lost you in my prattling on. I get these ideas and they’ll just drive me crazy until I get them out. I have quite a bit more to say on it, so bear with me.
Till next time

1 comment:

Sunil Goswami said...

Dear Paul,
I realize my comment is kind of late (about 9 months :D )but I read this post on my PocketPC when you posted it in Jan '08 and that small keyboard is not very motivating to writing long comments, plus I was on vacation. And then it just got pushed onto the infamous backlog. But it still stayed in my mind somewhere esp. as you had picked such a profound topic to discuss.

Sorry to say, I find your question very profound but your treatment of it a tad materialistic. IMHO, "having" and "possessing" has no connection with "feeling" and "being". There is a connection because we create a connection in our mind, or most times the ad agencies create the connection for us.

Example - the same child who is bawling his eyes out for a toy car can be seen couple of days later crying his lungs out for something else with the car lying forgotten in a corner. We, as grown ups have our grown up toys. Can you say that the man who buys a $100,000 Mercedes is always happy as long as he has the car?

I agree with Leo Tolstoy's formula for happiness, he said, "If you want to be happy, be". My own expression of that, which I am quite fond of repeating, is, "If you are not happy, right now, this moment, you'll never be.". One has to learn to be happy in this moment or else keep chasing the mirage. No amount of purchases or possessions can get you happiness. Happiness is one of those things that Mastercard can't buy.

If you feel like replying, please do, and I would be happy to discuss it further with you!