An equation to predict happiness


We developed a new equation that predicts the momentary happiness of thousands of people, finding that it depends not on how well things are going, but whether things are going better than expected. We used functional MRI to measure the neural activity of subjects performing a decision-making task while being asked repeatedly ‘how happy are you at this moment?’ Activity in the striatum during task events could be used to predict changes in happiness. Our equation shows how happiness depends on recent rewards and expectations. We replicated our results in 18,420 participants playing a smartphone app that we developed called The Great Brain Experiment. [ UCL press release]

Rutledge RB, Skandali N, Dayan P, Dolan RJ (2014) A neural and computational model of momentary subjective well-being. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 111, 12252-12257. [Abstract] [PDF] [PDF+Supplemental]

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Our research was featured in Discover Magazine's top 100 science stories of 2014 (PDF) and Time Magazine's 100 New Scientific Discoveries of 2014 (PDF).