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Your Feelings? Surprisingly, They’re Based on Math

Next time you’re feeling down or anxious, stop feeling hopeless and do some math. Seriously.

Chip Conley, the founder of Joie de Vivre, the second-largest boutique hotel company in the U.S., is the author of the just-released Emotional Equations: Simple Truths for Creating Happiness + Success.

Emotional Equations has a simple overall theme: Mathematical equations can provide insights into our feelings and emotions. Think it’s impossible to rationalize something intangible like an emotion with a simple equation? You’re wrong. Here’s an example.

According to Chip, suffering is, relatively speaking, a constant since we all suffer to some degree. Meaning, on the other hand, is a variable since we can add or remove a sense of meaning to just about anything. So: Despair = Suffering – Meaning.

When you increase the sense of meaning, your suffering may not change, but your sense of despair lessens.

For example, say you’re trying to get in better shape so you start running five miles a day. It’s really hard. In fact, it’s often painful. You often wonder if all that pain is worth it. The problem is, it’s hard to find meaning in a nebulous goal like “get in better shape.”

On the other hand, if you decide you want to run a half-marathon this June and you’re excited by the thought of achieving such a cool goal, your sense of meaning instantly goes up.

Sure, you’ll still feel the same aches and pains and sore muscles; the level of suffering stays constant, but by creating a greater sense of meaning your feelings of despair decline. You don’t mind the suffering as much, because it’s worth it. You feel better about what you’re doing – and about yourself.

Seem overly simple and even obvious? In a way it is. (The best things usually are.) Still, the equation provides a mental framework we often ignore when we’re too busy wallowing in despair.

Here’s another one: Disappointment = Expectations – Reality. How many times have you been unhappy simply because your expectations were unrealistically high? How many times have you been disappointed with your performance simply because you weren’t able to see just how well you actually did? The key is not to set low expectations, but to adjust your expectations based on reality instead of wishful thinking – otherwise, no matter what you achieve you will always be disappointed.

My favorite equation is Happiness = Wanting What You Have / Having What You Want. The more you want what you have, the happier you will be; the more you churn away on the I-need-more-more-more-more hamster wheel, the less happy you will be. According to Chip the fastest way to create happiness is to want what we have… or, in short, to be grateful. The happier we are with what we have the less we worry about what we don’t have.

Simple. And often ignored.

If a good book is a book that changes the way you think about yourself, Emotional Equations is an outstanding book. You’ll find yourself repeating, “Oh yeah, I know that…” dozens of times – and you’ll find yourself wondering why you haven’t used what you already know to make your life better.

Last updated: Jan 12, 2012

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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