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James Hong

Monday, February 19, 2007

How to stay happy

I think about happiness a lot, and more specifically, how to manage my own.

I came up with a formula, which i'm sure millions of others have thought of too, and it's perhaps wrong, but.. i find having a simple model enables me to manipulate my life to maximize happiness.

Happiness = Reality - Expectations

It's a lot easier to manipulate your expectations than reality. So basically for everything I do, I try to expect it to fail and result in disaster. Sometimes it does, at which point reality matches expecations and i'm feeling neutral about it. If I succeed, then it is more of an unexpected pleasure and I am happy. Of course I'm human and my expectations get raised a lot, which leads to unhappiness... but I try to keep it in check as much as possible.

Set the bar low, you'll win every time.

*NOTE: getting some flak for this one! keep in mind, this is how i've modeled MYSELF. I'm not saying it works for everyone... just for me.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


Hi James, I've been reading your blog, is amazing!

So many interesting things.

Let me tell you something, Happiness for me, personally is to follow what you really want.

Do what you want, Do it how You feel is gonna be right and Be with the people. Being the person that you are, I think... why not?... stop for a second and just let your mind fly and come back later with revolutionary ideas...
Also, being with the people who make you feel good will help you sooo much to relax your mind.

Definally Steve Jobs speech at Standford Uni is one of the greatest speeches ever :)

Im Nicolas, from Paraguay.
Im wondering if we can talk/chat anytime, I think you are very interesting person and I consider myself very creative, I think we can exchange some point of views and ideas.

My email is
nicogarcia [at]
and my hotmail messenger is

Good luck man,

5:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Low expectations... yeah, that's one way to be down in the dumps all the time and only pleasantly surprised when your expectations are passed. Not very good advice if you ask me.

7:07 PM  
Blogger Simply Me said...

I'd say I'm pretty pessimistic when it comes to most situations, though deep down I'm begging the almighty who/whatever to make it all good. hah hah. ;)

9:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My formula is almost exactly like yours, just worded a bit differently. ..

If Reality - Expectations > 0
then Happiness = True


10:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi James,

I've read about you in the media and have been truly inspired by your work and modesty, as seen through your blog.

As a successful, young and wealthy individual, what do you say to the 'average joe,' who believes that money equates to happiness? Does money really make people happy? Or is it something else?

music_jt_20044 AT

10:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like how you think... I, however, take it one step further and do not even take into account reality.

6:22 AM  
Blogger Ev said...

I think there's some problem with this formula, James. Namely: Self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you go to a movie and expect it to suck, you can be pleasantly surprised, and that's great.

But if you go into something expecting it to fail, and you have a lot of influence over the outcome, I have to believe, that will effect that outcome at some level. Consciously or not, you may screw it up to match your expectations.

Maybe it's all about timing: Optimistic until you have no control, then pessimistic.

(And, honestly, if you were that pessimistic, you wouldn't try most of the things you do.)

10:50 AM  
Blogger james said...

This formula works for me, that's about all I know. It may have to do with the fact that I work better in lower stress environments. I guess even when I expect something might fail, it doesn't make me work any less hard to try and make it succeed. Lofty expectations followed by a less satisfying reality sometimes puts me into "deer in headlights" mode, so lowering expectations helps me a lot.

I'm pretty comfortable with the idea that this rule doesn't apply to everyone, and is just how i deal with my own idiosyncratic behaviour.

The other thing to point out though, is that the stated goal for this equation was maximizing happiness.. not "success".

11:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

James, a career in 21st century philosophy awaits you.

I spent a semester in my phil 101 class last year and about chewed my hair out trying to solve the "happiness" puzzle.

I can't see how your formula cannot apply to any human. It is so broad, yet, realistic.


11:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the point some people are missing is that this is not a BLACK and WHITE science and more of an art.

Also, this formula WILL fail you if you take setting low expectations as an excuse to not working your ass off.

Work your ass off + set low won't go wrong for too long.

I am still wrestling with the part of the puzzle where you re-adjust the bar after hitting some success or failure.


11:43 AM  
Blogger Sikora said...

Hey, my wife thinks this formula is a pessimist way of life.

Actually I've been "using" something like this. It's the way of living and learning.

It's amazing to see people with similiar thoughts.

5:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

James, you're actually on the right (currently popular) track.

Check the works of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ("Flow; The Psychology of Optimim Experience") and Martin Seligman, "Learned Optimism."

Sure, both have been around for a while but they're both considered to be foundational works in the area you're seeking.

Bob Martin
don't know if this will help but feel free to delete if not

9:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I try to expect it to fail and result in disaster."

Funny, I started thinking this exact way back at some point in high school and it has served me well ever since. If I expected an A and got an A- I used to be really disappointed. If I expected a B and got an A- I'd be fired up. In both circumstances, I got an A- but my outlook was very different because my expectation was different.

I've had people tell me I'm a big loser for thinking that way, but it works for me. The truth is that I'm still very much an optimist at heart. I don't expect the worst because I hope for the worst. Instead I expect the worst because I realize that - as your equation implies - happiness is nothing more than a mental construct that is created relative to what we perceive happiness to be.

4:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


the word you are after is acceptance; accept the reality you cannot change, fight for what you can change, and pray for the wisdom to discern between the two.

Acceptance of immovable is the key to happiness.

There again entrepreneurship is all about challenging accepted wisdom. I dont think you can be an entrepreneur without some unhappiness. No pain, no gain.

2:47 AM  

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