The One Formula For Happiness Nobody Told Me

Kissing tastes really good. The first time I kissed a girl I was 18. Tracey.

Man, what the hell! That was like an electric charge to the core. How come they didn’t teach this in high school?

In high school I learned one thing: that I was ugly as explosive diarrhea. Girls would cover their mouths and whisper to each other while they stared at me.

But at 19, I don’t know what happened. Some girl graced me with her lips.

And, as is typical with me ever since, I fell immediately in love with her, begged her to move in with me, hid that fact from my parents, cried desperately on the floor when I realized it wasn’t working, and finally moved to another city as a clever way to end the relationship.

But still…kissing. I can’t stop it. It’s an addiction. I will die from that addiction. The autopsy will reveal “too much kissing led to cardiac failure – a broken heart.”

Bad Formula #1

I thought that kissing = happiness.

What an easy formula.

And I thought I would get more kissing in various ways. I’m just being blunt. Here are the ways:

If I was handsome, funny, famous, or rich. If I grew up in the Instagram world, I would think Kissing = More Instagram followers.

Instagram is a company that has a billion cat photos uploaded every day. It was bought for $2,000,000,000.00.

Nice is good also. But I didn’t have enough confidence or charisma to make nice work for me.

I wanted to be a psychologist. My dad said, “Don’t be a psychologist. You won’t make any money. Girls won’t like you.”

But I really wanted to be one. To talk to people. To help people.

I said, “But if a girl likes me, how do I know she will like me for me or for the money.”

My dad said, “She’s not going to like you because you have money. She’s going to like you because you are the kind of guy who can make money.”

Maybe so. Maybe so. I don’t know. I got a D- in Psychology 101 anyway and by the time I was 19 years old I was no longer qualified to help people according to the institutions of higher learning. And they were right.

Now I’ve kissed quite a few women. And some women I’ve kissed quite a lot. So, after careful scientific calibration of all the statistics and post-kissing MRI’s and interviews, I have the following result:

Kissing = happiness for 3 seconds. But often the quest for kissing and the aftermath of kissing leads to unhappiness, jealousy, desperation, and a need for more.

In other words, I need therapy.

So I’m going to tell you what I figure out, for at least myself, is better.

What can make kissing better. What makes my work better. What makes my career better. What makes all my relationships better.

What makes me care less about money. What makes me care less about what people think of me. What makes me a better writer.


Magic Formula:

The Happiness Ratio.

Happiness = Reality / Positive Expectations.

The higher the reality, the better. The lower the positive expectations, the better. Although they can’t be zero. Then you are homeless.

Reality is your current situation. You might be in a job working for the CIA, in a relationship with a drug user, you might be 6’5″, you might be 500 lbs. Who knows? This is your reality.

You can sometimes change reality. But it’s slow.

Here’s how you change reality, the same way I always recommend, but with one twist:

  • Physical – every day exercise, sleep well, eat well.
  • Emotional – every day improve your relationships. Which means eliminate toxic people and bring on positive people.
  • Mental – which means creative. Write down 10 ideas a day. Or take a photograph every day.
  • Spiritual – Be grateful. Celebrate small successes.

Try to improve in these categories 1% a day.

The one twist: if there is an area where you are unhappy (bad job), try 1% a day to make a move away from where you are unhappy. Make a resume, for instance. But also, doing the above (improving relationships, being creative, etc.) will improve your chances of finding a better job.

Done. That’s how we can up the reality part. It takes time. 1% a day. At best.

The expectations part is different.

If you are in a bad relationship because your spouse is not having sex with you every day, then reduce your expectations on sex. At least until your reality changes (improve your relationships, be creative, be grateful).

If you have cancer and are in pain, reduce your expectations (“when I wake up in the morning, I want to be mobile enough to move around even though I will probably be in pain”).

If you have a bad job, reduce your expectations (“I can’t wait to listen to The James Altucher Show podcast on my way to work and back again”).

By the way, If you haven’t already listened to my latest podcast with Brian Grazer: How a Curious Mind Creates An Original Idea, you can find it here. 

You can always reduce your expectations today.

And then what helps even more is to reward yourself. If you wake up mobile even though you are in pain, you can say, “Yes! I met my expectations.”

Lowered positive expectations bridges a bad reality to a better reality. It helps you get from A to B. And it makes you happier every day. Happy enough to celebrate them.

I have low expectations. I don’t want any belongings, for instance. And I rarely care what people think about me. And all I want to do in life is kiss.

My reality changes, but if I do my daily practice, I increase the chances that the positive side of my reality goes up.

Some people have negative expectations (“everything I do turns to garbage!”).

It’s hard to go from negative expectations to positive expectations.

The only thing you can do is recognize that that is a choice and try practicing every day for being grateful for smaller and smaller things in life, until you find something small enough you can start expecting it. And build from there.

I want to be happy. I want to kiss more.

So every day these two steps:

A) Reality: Do whatever I can to increase the positive aspects of my reality using four elements of the day practice described above.

B) Expectations: List the areas I am disappointed. If I’m disappointed, reduce expectations to match reality and find ways to be grateful until you can slowly change the reality.

Simple. It works. I do it. Don’t do it if you don’t want. I do it for me.

15 months ago something bad happened to me in business. 7 months ago something bad happened in my relationships.

Every day there are irritations and hopes and reality and changes that mess with reality. It’s just life.

Every life (I hope. I think) has ups and downs, no matter how good things seem, no matter what BS self-help advice you follow (including this).

So the equation is always changing:

But you can choose how it changes as much as possible.

Happiness = Reality / Expectations.

But more importantly:

If you see me in the street, kiss me.

  • Southern Man

    You need to take the red pill, James. Seriously.

  • Olatunde Olaniyi

    Thank you for sharing this James.

  • Richard W. Linn

    I completely agree, that managing expectations is a key to happiness. Too often we long for some future event to occur before we will allow ourselves to be happy. But learning to be content with what we have, even if it is not very much, is a valuable skill.

    There are many people in non-affluent parts of the world who have very little material possessions, but are truly happy. Part of that stems from their realistic expectations. They just don’t expect too much, so they are not frustrated and disappointed.

  • Charlz

    nice post james… though i won’t kiss you if i met you on the street

  • Njuaj Fbtmfz

    I would kiss you if I met you on the street…kissing is awesome!!

  • Thank you for sharing the formula. Minimize expectations, maximize living reality and the happiness curve goes up. I love you James; you are a nice human being. But then sometimes bad things happen to nice people to.

    Sending you virtual hugs. If you’re reading this, hope it makes you smile. (:

  • Bonnie Smith

    I would kiss you but you would probably get more out of my hug! Great Article…just another good one!


  • Phuong Luong

    This post reminded me of my close friend’s story, that she realised that her expectations of a perfect dad caused a rift between her and her dad. Your formula makes so much sense. I tend to have a lot of high expectations of me and other people. When people do not meet my expectations, it makes me a bit angry but I really want to try and stop thinking like this because I know I can become alot more happier and appreciative of what they have done well. I would absolutely hug you if I met you, maybe not kiss though!

  • Scotty John

    Thank you so much for your writing James! I read all of it and I love everything you write. I’m so impressed by your ability to keep me engaged every. Single. Time. Not to mention your fearlessness in bleeding on the page. Since choosing myself nearly 2 years ago, my life has changed drastically every 6 months just like you said it would! I doubt you would want to kiss me if you saw me on the street (I’m a heterosexual man who would just feel really weird about kissing another man), but I would tell you I love you for sure.

  • I like how your brain works James. Do you have to be drunk to write these posts?
    This post is very Stoic which is all good in my book. Enjoying your podcasts at the moment too. Keep up with the interesting people. Hell, I might even write you a good podcast review. Yup. Going over there now to do it. Bye.

  • Ivey

    I love the raw truth in everything you write. Many people may think about these ideas and some may even take a stab at writing them. But, there is a mechanism in our society that keeps people from saying it this way…and you don’t care. It’s important to be honest or it adds no value and leaves the reader pining for unrealistic outcomes. I admire your honesty.
    I’ll save my next kiss for you.

    • Terrance Collins

      Hi Ivey, James just emailed me — he’s too busy to accept any new kisses and asked me to stand in for him on kiss reception. So, please send that kiss my way. Ta!

      • Ivey

        Sorry, Terrance…Kisses are unalienable :-) I guess I’ll be waiting a very long time until he frees up his calendar

  • Danny

    To the only guy with his own folder in my gmail, thanks as always for writing. Your personality always seems to come through…”too weird to live, too rare to die”! Wishing you peace, love, and good happiness stuff!

  • Jim Hughes

    James, I am really glad I found you and have subscribed to your posts. This particular post really resonated with me at this point in my life (will be 60) on my next birthday.

    Thanks Again,

  • This post reminds me of a friend I went to college with.

    I met my wife the first week of my second year of college. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t totally infatuated from the moment I saw her. But I’m just lucky in that regard. And at the time I had NO EXPECTATIONS of a girl even liking me. So I took my time and a few months later she finally went on a date with me. During that time period from first seeing her to actually getting her to go out with me I lost weight and tried to be a better person. Once she started going out with me I worked hard to be there person I wanted to be because I knew that person was also the person she wanted me to be. But it takes work. But I think I had very realistic expectations of what to expect from her in return for my efforts.

    Now I had this friend who was always interested in girls who were way out of his league. I’d put him at 50-100lbs overweight and these girls were bombshells with steady boyfriends (two of them married those guys). He ALWAYS thought he had a chance. It was painful to watch. He was obviously not happy about his love life (or lack of). And he did nothing to improve his chances at all. He’s still overweight almost 20 years later and still single.

    Crazy thing is that he had a great job. He was really realistic about his career but totally off the mark about his relationship possibilities.

  • Joeven Tomines Infante

    I am trying to catch up with all your articles James cos it is worth my time. Always the best read!

  • Lilly

    ??? I can’t believe I just discovered you only 30 days ago. I’m a huge fan and I’d kiss you if I saw you!

  • Neal Pritchett

    I am 58, getting fat, and not as energetic as I used to be. There is, despite daydreams, no way to be 20 again. On the other hand, I am fully capable of being a better 58. When I was young, and looked at my uncles, teachers, and other old guys, I always promised I was never going to let that happen to me. I was going to be cool when I got old. I was going to be James Bond, or Dick Clark, who over the decades never age. I was going to be flying jets and climbing mountains when I was 90. Well, it didn’t work out that way. But then, what’s one more broken promise?

    • James Buechler

      Why you give up? This world has infinite Ways and Means to help you lose weight, have energy, and be at peace.

  • gladtobehere

    Ha ha, I explained this in a less eloquent way to a good friend who believes I have become incredibly cynical as I’ve aged. It works for me and has done for years and it also significantly reduces the possibility of panic/desperation decisions, Kissing is great but I can leave it well alone when faced a trump like companion nomatter how old and near that shelf I am getting.

  • Angie Clark

    Only 3 seconds? Happiness can last much longer when you’re doing it right.

  • Sonia Garces

    how do I kiss u James you are too far and we are miles apart