The Calculus of Happiness / by Anne Kreamer

Can you identify what makes you happy? Did you know that there might be a loose equation that could lead you to a greater likelihood of long-term happiness? In her provocative new book, "The Happiness Myth," Jennifer Michael Hecht says three distinct kinds of happiness make up our overall sense of well-being: good day happiness, good life happiness, and euphoria.


She suggests that each of us has our own optimal personal combination of those happiness components. And it's up to each of us to determine what mix of these three elements is ideal.

As she puts it, "Live as you wish you had lived yesterday." As a person potentially entering the last third of my life, I definitely would like to optimize my good experiences.

According to Hecht, here are ways to think about the various strands of happiness in your life.

Good Day Happiness If you make it onto an air-conditioned subway just as it is about to leave the station on a searing afternoon, or find $20 on the sidewalk, or take a moment to appreciate the scent of lilacs as you walk past a bush, or revel in your team's playoff victory, then you are enjoying good day happiness.

Such chance pleasures are essential to life's enjoyment, but they're transitory and require little effort, apart from acknowledging and savoring the good fortune.

Good Life Happiness Good life happiness, on the other hand, requires effort - working hard to provide opportunities for your kids, finishing a challenging new project on the job, exercising to maintain your health, practicing the piano to achieve a level of mastery, taking care of your aging parents.

These efforts have long-term benefits and, according to Hecht, "the rewards are not merely the result of the struggle; they are the struggle, seen from a different angle, from a different vantage point in time." Without good life kinds of happiness, our lives would be less satisfying in fundamental ways.

Euphoria One's wedding or the birth of a child, climbing a mountain, or winning an award or seeing a once-in-a-lifetime concert - a quota of euphoric moments are essential to give us a sense of the sublime or spiritual.

We don't necessarily need frequent euphoric experiences, but can have them peppered throughout our lives; each experience can and will sustain us for a long time and we can draw on and in essence recreate the euphoric feelings for as long as we live.

But Hecht suggests that American emphasis on productivity and longevity have thrown our calculus out of balance and robbed us of some essential happiness moments. She says "there is a big difference between the value of longevity in our rhetoric and the value we give it."

She suggests that we've become a culture of denial and utilitarianism that values weird isolating kinds of drudgery like running indoors on a treadmill, dieting, or shopping in malls rather than the kinds of exhilarating festivals and pageants that sustained our ancestors.

She struck a nerve with me. I intend to think a bit more consciously about the three kinds of happiness and hope to find more opportunities to immerse myself in joyful communal celebrations of life - seeing a great play, watching 4th of July fireworks, learning to scuba dive - that fill me with pleasure and awe - and maybe spend a little less time alone on the treadmill.