The arrival of a new year is typically a reflective moment. Setting new goals can be exciting, but this moment of contemplation can bring a bit of dread, too.

At the root of many people’s anxieties is an age-old question: Am I happy?

I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness lately and reading what the great philosophers say about it. This has helped me develop a “personal happiness algorithm,” and I recommend that everyone take the time to develop their own. I believe that it’s the only way that we can achieve happiness.

You might start by thinking about what happiness means to you.

Epicurus defined it as “the absolute tranquility of the soul” (Ataraxia). Aristotle distinguished between pleasure (Hedonia) and contentment (Eudaemonia). Silicon Valley guru Naval Ravikant described it as a state where nothing is missing.

Whatever your definition, we are hardwired to seek happiness. But how does one achieve it? If you “try” to feel happy, you’ll likely fail. But you can’t just “be” happy because it requires certain preconditions. 

Basic needs being met is one, to be sure. It’s impossible to be happy if you’re hungry or homeless. Schopenhauer argued that happiness depended on good health, and it’s hard to disagree. But after those necessary conditions, happiness is as much a choice as it is a product of favorable circumstances. 

It can only be achieved after self-reflection. French philosopher Frederic Lenoir argues that it is essential to be *aware* of our happiness to be happy. This is true not only because we need to discover what brings us joy but also because it’s slightly different for each of us. In other words, we need to find our personal path to happiness. 

British psychologist Paul Dolan introduced me to the concept of a happiness “equation” when he wrote:

Happiness = pleasure + purpose over time. 

Life can’t be reduced to a simple formula, of course. But like good meals have recipes at their heart, so too can good lives. 

The six pillars of my personal happiness algorithm are: 

– A Well-Planned Life filled with
– Many small Daily Pleasures and 
– A few big Purposeful Pursuits, 
– A job that uses your Superpowers, surrounded 
– By People you Love, all framed by  
– A Productive Story you tell yourself that delivers a feeling of Progress.

 My goal as a strategic advisor is to help people perform and transform so that they can flourish. That last verb is crucial because it’s the objective of the other two.

In order for any of us to flourish, we need to identify our own personal happiness algorithm – and then design a life around it.

But I maintain that happiness is a choice. We can’t chase it, but we can choose it.

Have you thought about your personal happiness algorithm?