Happiness Is Based on a Flawed Equation — Here's How to Fix Itby@benoitmalige
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1,826 reads

Happiness Is Based on a Flawed Equation — Here's How to Fix It

by BenoitMaligeMay 15th, 2024
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Explore the flaws in Jimmy Carr's happiness formula and discover a fresh perspective on finding true happiness through personal growth and self-reflection.
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I heard Jimmy Carr on the Diary of a CEO podcast say something about happiness that resonated with me.. initially.

The statement is: “It's your quality of life, minus envy, that's how happy you are”, speaking on Happiness. You can check it out for yourself here.

The equation seemed straightforward:

Happiness = Quality of Life - Your Envy.

I sat with it for a second, then let it marinate for a day. There was something about it that bothered me, but not enough to think about it again..

..Until I was I was listening an episode of "Acquired" a day or two later.

They delved into Microsoft and Bill Gates' Harvard days, they mentioned equations—and bam!

In a split second, I felt my brain snapped out of my skull, tossed onto one of dj Khaled’s turntable.

Khaled hits the reverse scratch hard, stops it abruptly, and brings me right back to Jimmy's formula.

And it hits me: It had been bothering me subconsciously because there’s a flaw in his formula:

If happiness is simply our quality of life subtracted by our envy, then to maximize happiness, you would need to eliminate envy completely. I don’t know about you, but that seems complicated to me.

The framework suggests that any increase in quality of life must be offset by a reduction in envy to maintain or enhance happiness.

This introduces a paradox that left me unsettled. (I’ll get to that in a second).

First, we need to set some ground rules for this equation—because it wouldn’t be a fair debate otherwise.

  1. His equation assumes that there is no starting point. We have to address this, because nobody pops out of the womb contemplating happiness. (if you did, hit me up—I really want to talk to you). And if that’s the case, then applying this equation at ages 10 and 30 would yield completely different results.
  2. There has to be a minimal viable baseline for the equation to function effectively. Something that would cover basic needs like shelter, food, and arguably, health.

For the sake of my imaginary argument with Jimmy Carr, let’s lay down our groundwork:

  • We’ll assume the starting point is at 20 years old—old enough that you’re likely thinking independently.
  • That you might be self-sufficient (meaning you got yourself a job—I don’t care what it is, but it pays minimum wage).
  • We’ll also presume that all basic needs are met.

Ok, now that we have our parameters, we can discuss the equation, and its paradox.

Contentment and Aspiration — Can we get both?

In Jimmy Carr's equation—Happiness = Quality of Life - Your Envy—I see a fundamental paradox that reflects a classic human dilemma:

When you try to balance contentment with striving for more.

According to this formula, if you want to increase happiness, you must eliminate envy.

What he is telling you in plain, vulgar terms: Just shut up and be happy. You should have everything you need.

For me, this raises issues:

  1. If we’re completely content, what drives us to improve?
  2. If we're always striving for more, then we are perpetually dissatisfied. If we are perpetually dissatisfied, this forever increases our envy and decreases happiness.
  3. Looking and comparing others to yourself to judge happiness is a recipe for disaster.

How can you ever win at this?

No matter what you try to improve, it always results in a stillness or reduction of happiness.

Seeking improvement could increase your quality of life, but it also increases envy. If envy increases 📈 , happiness decreases 📉.

Any gains in quality of life are immediately nullified by a corresponding increase in envy, keeping our happiness static.

Is your head spinning yet?

Don’t worry, we can fix this. But it has to get worse before it get’s better — just trust me, ok?

Fixing the Formula.

Let’s focus on that last part of the equation: Your Envy.

This is your envy towards others. This is comparing yourself to others, what they have, and where they are in life. This aspect needs revision in my opinion.

This is what I propose:

Instead of the traditional view of envy as a negative force, we redefine it as a reflective, internal motivation—focused on your past and future selves.

Forget other people. Don’t compare yourself to them. Compare yourself to.. your self.

Think of it this way: how your past self feels towards your current (and future) achievements.

In 6 year old terms: ‘Yesterday You’ has to be jealous of ‘Today You’. It’s envious of the progress you’ve made in a span of 24 hours.

Ok, that’s great. Now, how does that fit into the equation and what does it change?

Glad you asked. This is where we put our mathematician hats on for just a second. I promise it won’t hurt your brain too much..

Since we’ve introduced an element of your past self, we need to reflect that mathematically. Your self envy from yesterday becomes a negative because we’re dealing with past tense. Let’s call it ‘Past Self Envy’.

If we position this self-envy as a negative force (mathematically speaking), it becomes a positive contributor to the overall happiness.

Why? Simple math suggests that 2 negatives = a positive.

If we apply this to the equation, we now have:

Happiness = Quality of Life - (-Self Envy).


Happiness = Quality of Life + Past Self Envy.

See what we did there?

This little correction changes how you perceive progress and personal development.

By framing the envy of your past self towards your present self as a negative, we transform it into a positive force in the equation of happiness.

This allows you to recognize that your growth and achievements can retroactively inspire and validate your past aspirations and struggles.

Why does this matters and what does this even mean?

Well first, our formula makes sense now. (you’re welcome, Jimmy)

Here’s what it allows for:

  • You can increase Past Self Envy.
  • You can increase your quality of life.

Both result in levelling up your happiness.

Do nothing, happiness stays stagnant.

Decrease Past Self Envy or Quality of Life, your happiness decreases.

The paradox is lifted.

In practical terms, this means that your journey and achievements effectively 'cancel out' the negative aspects of envy.

This not only reduces the traditional negative impact of envy, but turns it into a source of positive reinforcement.

Applying The Formula

How do you optimize Happiness = Quality of Life + Past Self Envy ?

Making👏 Progress👏 Every👏 Single👏 Day👏

I think that’s truly it.

How much progress? Just keep it simple and small.

James Clear said it best: (don’t come at me for more math, this time it’s visualized): 1% every day = 37X better in a year.


🫵 How should you apply this to your life?

I’ll let you figure this one out on your own.

I can’t tell you what you should do. All I can do is share what I’ve been doing on my end.

  • Mental Acuity

I mostly do three things every single day: I read, I listen, I write.

There is no particular order, as they all complement each other.

Intaking information:

I read newsletters, articles, and books.

I listen to podcasts.

Processing, organizing information:

I write about what I read and listen to. This helps me deepen my understanding. It helps me make new connections, improve my communication and retain information better.

By doing this every day, I become better at it. I sharpen my thinking, on the simultaneous quest to finding my true and authentic writing voice.

Am I the best writer there is? No. Will I ever be? I don’t know.

But I can tell you this: I’ll always be a better writer than I was the day before.

The little bonus? In the first 5 weeks of publishing these letters, I've amassed 38k unique page views on Beehiiv and 17+ days of reading time on Hackernoon.

I am extremely grateful that my ideas are shared around the globe (yes, it's at an insignificant level, but don't kill my vibe please). This humbles me, validates that I have found my life's work, and contributes to my happiness.

Readers of the Simuliation Strategists

  • Relationships

I talk to someone new, online or in person, every single day. Fortunately, with my writing, people come to me, which is great.

In the past 6 years, all I did was work on my business. I reduced my circle every day by being closed off. I spent time with myself, my stress.

I’ve decided to spend this year travelling and meeting more people in person.

  • Wealth

I took a step back recently by making a major shift from running my real estate business with 10 full-time employees, 37 contractors, 400+ tenants and millions in annual gross income to..

Just myself, my thoughts, my computer, a few books, and no active income.

Granted, my previous company allowed me to spend time reinventing myself this year.

This time around, I am building differently. Instead of chasing income at the detriment of my health and relationships, I am pursuing my passion which is also improving my mental health, expanding true and new relationships.

The income, when it comes, will feel true and meaningful.

So what am I doing to increase my income? I keep making daily 1% progress on my health, mental acuity, and relationships.

  • Health

I workout every single day. It’s not long (30 minutes or so), but it’s intense, and it’s consistent.

Has my body gotten 37 times better? It’s hard to say. But I am happy of my one year progress? You sure fucking bet I am.

Final Thoughts

These things bring me joy, give me a sense of purpose and feel like I’m always progressing.

I don’t think it’s about enjoying the journey or the destination.

You'll end up at a destination no matter what. But the more you do, the more you get to choose what that destination will be.

Enjoying the journey is cool and all, but like we just discussed, if all you do is enjoy it, you won't reach a meaningful destination.

When I look back at the equation of happiness, I think it’s more about the conscious effort you put into the journey.

Let's recap.

Happiness = quality of life + your past self envy.

The pursuit is never ending, which is good news, because there is an infinite board game, and all the cards are in your hands.

Everyday, you are able to make a choice. You have an opportunity to tip the scale in one direction, or the other.

You get to pick what makes your brain tickle, what makes your knees weak.

You get to work on it every day.

Do it, and see your happiness increase.

Strategizingly yours,