If You’re So Successful Why Aren’t You Happy?

If You’re So Successful Why Aren’t You Happy?

It’s a paradox: Shouldn’t the most successful people in the world be the happiest?

“Expectations are the mother of all unhappiness.” — Steve Spring

Most people are not happy.

If you have the career you have always wanted. If you have the money to buy the things you have always wanted. If you have the ability to travel the world in your free time.

Why aren’t you happy?

Americans live in one of the richest countries in the world, but according to the 2017 Harris Poll Survey of American Happiness, only 33% of Americans surveyed said they were happy.

So, why aren’t they happy?

Maybe a better question is…

Why will most people never be happy?

They are not happy because of their unmet expectations.

Most People Have Unmet Expectations

“A life that is burdened with expectations is a heavy life. Its fruit is sorrow and disappointment.” — Douglas Adams

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of British neuroscientists created an equation that they say accurately predicted the short-term happiness of more than 18,000 people by comparing their expectations of an event to its real-life outcomes.

Here’s what that looks like:

Let me simplify this for you.

Your Happiness = Your Expectations — Your Reality

What they discovered is that what makes you happy or unhappy comes down to how well your expectations are being met.

It’s pretty simple. If your reality exceeds your expectations you are happy. If your reality doesn’t meet your expectations you will be unhappy.

Happiness “doesn’t depend on how things are going,” says lead study author Robb Rutledge of University College London. “It depends on whether things are going better or worse than you had expected they would.”

Let me give you an example. Let’s say that your expectation at your annual performance review is a 3% pay raise. If you only receive a 2% pay raise, your reality doesn’t meet your expectations and you are unhappy. Probably even pretty mad! Maybe even looking for a new job.

Now let’s say that you receive a 5% pay raise instead. Since you were only expecting a 2% pay raise but received a 5% pay raise instead, your reality exceeds your expectations. The result is that you are pretty happy.

If your expectations exceed your reality you destined to be unhappy.

There were two ways to be happy: improve your reality or lower your expectations. – Jodi Picoult

Will Lowering Your Expectations Make You Happy?

“Most disappointments arise from unmet expectations. Set realistic expectations for yourself, based on your strengths, then strive to exceed them.” — Rich Tatum

Research over the last 50 years indicates that happiness is not based how the world actually is, but rather our expectations of the world.

“Expectations are thoughts or beliefs we have about ourselves, our relationships, and what happens to us in life. They are crucial, as they are the standards or yardsticks by which we judge what happens to us and how satisfied or unsatisfied we are with ourselves and with life. — Jeffry H. Larson

Expectations shape our view of the world.

If our reality exceeds our expectations we will be unhappy.

“According to this formula, a failsafe way of sustaining high happiness levels is to maintain low expectations. This formula is based on the idea that one’s happiness levels are inversely proportional to one’s expectations.” — Raj Raghunathan Ph.D

Is it possible to be happier by having lower expectations?

On the surface, this might look like a good idea, but it probably will not work because it is hard to change your expectations. In fact, Dr. Raghunathan says, “setting low expectations may seem easy in concept, it is nearly impossible in practice.”

This is because our expectations are formed by subconscious processes which are almost impossible to change. This is actually a good thing because these subconscious processes help us navigate through a complex world effectively and efficiently.

What we can do is reduce unrealistic expectations. We all have them. We expect the perfect career, and the perfect spouse, and the perfect kids. But, this creates unrealistic expectations because a perfect world doesn’t exist.

The secret to happiness is to set realistic expectations for ourselves and others.Ones that are challenging, but not unreasonable. Ones that make sense based on our current situation.

“You can’t really make yourself happier by cheating the system,” Rutledge told Shots. “The best thing is for your expectations to be accurate.”

How Does Changing Your Reality Improve Your Happiness?

“In today’s world our expectations are being increased and increased on a daily basis as we are promised things that are bigger, faster and easier to attain. Unfortunately sometimes our reality lags considerably behind this ‘ideal’ and therefore our potential for disappointment and upset are greatly increased.” — Colman Noctor

Your reality is how you view your current situation.

It may be good or it may be bad.

It is what it is, but you can change it.

“Don’t become a prisoner of your own reality, set yourself free by creating a life worth living.” ― Steven Redhead

You may want to improve your physical reality by getting more sleep, eating healthy meals, or starting an exercise program. You may want to improve your career by getting a promotion or finding a new position. You may want to improve your relationships by removing toxic people from your life.

Whatever it is you can change it.

You can increase your happiness by improving your reality just enough to exceed your expectations.

You don’t need to radically change your reality. You just need to improve it enough so that it exceeds your expectations. All it takes is small consistent changes.

According to Brett and Kate McKay of The Art of Manliness:

“Instead of trying to make radical changes in a short amount of time, just make small improvements every day that will gradually lead to the change you want. Each day, just focus on getting 1% better in whatever it is you’re trying to improve. That’s it. Just 1%.

It might not seem like much, but those 1% improvements start compounding on each other. In the beginning, your improvements will be so small as to seem practically nonexistent. But gradually and ever so slowly, you’ll start to notice the improvements in your life. It may take months or even years, but the improvements will come if you just focus on consistently upping your game by 1%.”

Think about how happy you will be if you improve your life by just 1% a day.

Start today.

Join the gym, create a resume, distance yourself from toxic people.

As your reality improves your happiness will increase.

“If we limit ourselves to what’s given to us, we are at the mercy of other people,” Bradberry says. “When you take action, think ‘what steps do I need to take?’ ‘what obstacles are in my way and what do I need to do to remove them?’ and ‘what mistakes am I making that take me away from my goals rather than toward them?” — Travis Bradberry


“The higher the reality, the better. The lower the positive expectations, the better. Although they can’t be zero. Then you are homeless.” — James Altucher

The happiness formula says that:

Your Happiness = Your Expectations — Your Reality

If you lower your expectations or raise your current reality your happiness will increase.

Many gurus advise lowering your expectations. Some even suggest not having expectations at all will help you be the happiest. The real answer is to create realistic expectations based on your current situation.

The other possibility is to change your current reality. Small changes over a long time can add up to big changes in your reality. Do whatever you can to create positive changes in your life daily.

Are these changes easy?


But, they have been proven to improve the happiness of thousands of others.

Life will still have its ups and downs, that’s not going to change. But, your overall level of happiness will increase every day.

Call To Action

If you want to be extraordinarily happy and create the life of your dreams, check out my checklist.

Click here to get the checklist now!

(P.S. I have included some Amazon affiliate links to help defray the ridiculously high cost of my daughter’s education)

This story first appeared on Medium.com

Steve Spring

Steve is the founder of Live Your Life On Purpose, where his goal is to help others transform their health, minds, and relationships. A former management consultant and executive coach, Steve is also a Christ-follower, husband, dad, and entrepreneur who loves his family, friends and helping others live their life on purpose.