F.H. = A.E. x EXP
Now, the formula has been expanded. It has yet to include all the psychological factors which affect happiness, but at least it’s a beginning. Here we see that “felt happiness” is equal, not just to the “actual events” of life, but also to the “expectations” we had prior to the event.
Algebraically, we now have two variables which can determine how happy or unhappy we might be in any given situation: the “actual event” and our “expectations” about the event. Theoretically, if our “expectations” of an event are equal to the “actual event” itself, we should feel relatively neutral about it. If our “expectations” of an event are much higher than the “actual event” turns-out to be, we will probably feel disappointed. If the “actual event” is much better than our “expectations” were, we’ll most likely be quite pleased.
Expectation theory has a long history in psychology. William James, the founder of modern psychology, expressed the theory initially, and Kurt Lewin’s research laid the basic scientific foundations for it (133). The theory suggests that if events give us more than we expect, we tend to be pleased with the results; but if events fall short of our expectations we’ll tend to be disappointed. This theory, over the years, has received scores of scientific confirmations. But it has only, more recently, been studied by happiness researchers and found to be one of the most basic components of personal happiness (124, 130, 133, 137 plus Michalos & me).
Let’s look a classic research example from an actual psychological experiment to see how “expectation theory” has been demonstrated…
Students at a university have volunteered to spend a day taking psychological tests at the school’s experimental laboratory. They’ve been induced to participate, partially because it had been announced that all volunteers for the project will be paid for their day’s work (although the amount of pay is never specified).
Now as the day’s work progresses, the experimenter arranges for half the volunteers to “accidentally” overhear a rumor that the pay is to be $20.00 per person. He also arranges for the other half of the volunteers to “accident- ally” hear that everyone will get $100.00.
At the end of the day, the experimenter thanks all the volunteers for their time and proudly announces, officially, that each volunteer is to be paid $50.00 for their efforts.
Now $50.00 isn’t bad pay for a struggling college student; particularly when they volunteered, not knowing if the so called “pay” might just be enough to pay for their lunch. So you’d think they’d all be fairly satisfied. But no! The reactions varied according to the “expectations.” The students who had been led to expect just $20.00 are absolutely thrilled with the $50.00 they actually receive. Yet the students who’d been expecting $100.00 are quite angry and disappointed with a measly $50.00, and can’t understand why half their cohorts are jumping around with glee.
Expectation theory explains a lot. Perhaps, going back to our original examples, the reason you had such a great time at the party when your friend did not, is that you weren’t expecting much of anything, while your friend was expecting “the best party of the year.” Maybe the reason you didn’t like the movie as much as your spouse did was because you had heard so many fantastic things about it, when your spouse had heard nothing at all. And maybe the reason you and your coworker had such different reactions to that “special recognition” was due to the fact that she was counting on it, while you were completely surprised.