mathematically hacking happiness


"Without mathematics, there is nothing you can do. Everything around you is mathematics. Everything around you is numbers."

- Shakuntala Devi


Math and human interaction are not a particularly obvious paring to most people, myself included. But the truth of the matter is that equations do rule our lives in a way we perhaps instinctively know but do not understand. On that note, one of the most interesting studies I have come across (available here) examined the ratios of positive information vs negative information for happiness throughout three different areas: work, relationships, and mental health in general.


According to the research (which actually spanned a couple of papers), the best distribution is as follows:


For overall mental health:

  • Anything below a 2.5 positive to 1 negative (or a 2.5:1) ratio generally lead to depression or other emotional issues.

  • Those with a 4.3:1 ratio or high had optimal mental health.

For the work environment:

  • Teams with 3:1 ratio appeared to thrive whereas those below suffered.

  • However, the ratio could become too high; anything more than a 13:1 felt disingenuous.


For relationships:

  • Good relationships needed a 5:1 ratio during discussion and conversation.

  • They also needed a 4.7:1 ratio when it came to emotions.


There are some things I wished the study included, though. For example, does a day of relationship love-bombing offset a heated argument if the ratio remains intact? I have some doubts. Nevertheless, I think it is incredibly interesting and am curious to start applying it more to life in general.





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