What do you expect out of life? Are you anticipating deep love and soul connection with an intimate other? Perhaps you hope to contribute profoundly to the betterment of humanity? Maybe you expect great wealth so that you can help those less fortunate than you? Possibly you look forward to a good Indian meal tonight? Whatever your expectations are, the nuances and details of them are uniquely yours and new research shows that they have a significant impact on your happiness.
The research involved participants completing a decision-making task where they could make monetary gains or losses. Throughout the task the participants were asked how happy they were feeling and scans of brain activity revealed what neural activities were going on in the subjects.
Using the data gathered the researchers developed a mathematical model that tracked happiness and they found that it related directly to what rewards were received combined with what the people expected to receive. Using this model they then developed an app for smartphones that they tested on more than 18,000 people. Using data gathered from the app they found that their predictive model held true and happiness at any given moment was a product of rewards received and expectations previously held. However, expectations were found to be even more strongly predictive of happiness than were rewards as expectations impacted happiness even before the outcome of a decision was learned. On a biological level they found that neural activity in a part of the brain called the striatum during decision making and outcomes could be used to predict momentary happiness.
This doesnâ€™t mean that should raise your expectations or lower your expectations, as the relationship between expectations and happiness varies with the individual. However, maybe it does point us again to the need to dwell, and draw our consciousness, into the present moment because it is there that happiness lies.