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(LONDON) -- People have long searched the secret to happiness, but researchers at the University College London have discovered a close second: an equation.
Researchers predicted the happiness of more than 18,000 people worldwide using a mathematical equation that forecasted people's reported elation from moment to moment. Analysts based the predictions on participants' rewards and expectations during a decision-making task.
The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that rewards gathered during the experiment were not a good predictor of the emotion, rather it depended on the recent history of winnings.
"We expected to see that recent rewards would affect moment-to-moment happiness but were surprised to find just how important expectations are in determining happiness," said lead author Dr. Robb Rutledge. "In real-world situations, the rewards associated with life decisions such as starting a new job or getting married are often not realized for a long time, and our results suggest expectations related to these decisions, good and bad, have a big effect on happiness."
Twenty-six participants completed decision-making tasks with rewards and losses, during which researchers used MRI to measure brain activity. They also asked, "How happy are you now?" several times in the experiment.
The data collected resulted in the equation, which scientists then checked and tested on more than 18,000 separate participants using a smartphone game. Researchers found the same equation could be used to predict how happy the subjects would be when they played on the app.
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