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June 2024



Mindfulness: Why happiness is not the best outcome

Researchers at University College London have come up with a formula that appears to predict happiness. At first glance, you would think that to achieve this, mindfulness would play a large part.

You’re wrong.

Here’s the gist of the happiness equation:

Happiness can be determined by the size of the gap between some achievement or the result of some event, and the expectations you had about what you’d achieve plus your past history. So for example, say you bought a raffle ticket and you knew that lots of people were buying tickets, and that based on your own previous experience of raffles, you thought that your chances of winning anything were extremely small. If then you won £10, you’d be very happy. If on the other hand, you bought a raffle ticket knowing that not many people had bought tickets, that you won £100 last time you entered, and that therefore you expected another large win, then that same £10 win is unlikely to make you happy. So happiness is not about how much you have or what you get, but rather it’s about the difference between what you have and what you expect to have,

Happiness, therefore, is all about making judgments and comparisons, about what you have relative to what you know others have and what you expect to have.

When you are mindful, on the other hand, comparisons and judgments are absent. Mindfulness is about noticing what’s going on in the present moment, but without comparing it to what’s happened before, to what anyone else has, or to what you think is yet to come. This release from making judgments and comparisons is the absolute essence of mindfulness.

So if mindfulness doesn’t make you happy, then what does it offer?

Mindfulness confers a sense of inner balance, of calm, and of peace. It’s a lasting feeling–given the right circumstances, you could continue indefinitely to reap the benefits of mindfulness. Carefully observing and accepting what you notice is potentially a constant way of being. It never needs to change. Happiness, on the other hand, is always temporary. We’re always receiving new information, and that means we’re continually adjusting our judgments and constantly making new comparisons. Something that makes us happy at one point in time may not seem so lucky or wonderful at another point.

Happiness is lovely, but it’s brief, effortful, and not always in your control. Mindfulness, on the other hand, is lasting, restful, and always possible.