Book review: The Algebra of Happiness



Hardcover, 224 pages Amazon $ 18.99
Published April 16th 2019 by Portfolio (first published 2019)
ISBN 0593084195 (ISBN13: 9780593084199)
Edition Language English


By Adnan Qaiser    11 January 2023

In Pursuit of Happiness: The Mathematics of Life

Algebra is a branch of arithmetical science which studies – and expresses – the relationship among abstract symbols, variables and numbers. Thus, the manipulation of any one variable affects the whole equation, drawing different results. However, if we want to keep our result constant, we need to interplay with the numeric values of other variables.

Apply this rule to our life – which remains a constant factor – and we find ourselves continuously playing with – or trading off – with the value of its variables such as love, health, family, wealth, career and success in order to achieve a satisfying and fulfilling life experience. However, since life’s variables carry different connotations, significance and worth for each one of us, there is no fixed datum to determine life’s optimum quality.

In that sense, Scott Galloway’s book, The Algebra of Happiness: The Pursuit of Success, Love and What It All Means is “not a holy scripture” but a “self-help guide” to assist you in identifying the areas to focus upon, and intelligently playing with (trading-off) the numerical values of your life’s variables for an enriching experience.

The author is known for three reasons: (i) He is a professor of business and marketing at the New York University’s Stern School of Business; (ii) Has already authored a book titled The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google; and (iii) Carries decades of experience running failed as well as successful enterprises.

Galloway breaks-down his thoughts into life’s four major algebraic variables of:

1) Life (personal-professional balance);

2) Success (career growth, wealth and financial freedom);

3) Love (family, marriage, emotions and death); and

4) Health (personal wellbeing)

In a constant battle of tradeoffs among various factors of life, Galloway counsels to adopt a strategy, what he thinks is best, in the following key areas:


If winter is here; can spring be far behind: Everyone experiences happiness, stress and tragedy in life equally; we are not alone in this boat. Thus the hardships must not stop you from hoping for better days to come – which do arrive eventually. The graph of our happiness is usually highest during younger years, dropping during early to mid-life (crises), but picking up again after you hit your 50s.

WFF: Opposite to teenagers’ BFF or their Best Friend Forever, man’s “worst friend forever” remains alcohol. It not only takes away your focus from your life’s goals and ambitions but also leads to failed marriages, poor health and flopped careers.

Experience over Things: Invest in experience over material possessions. While you may lose your physical belongings, an enriching and fulfilling life experience helps you to rebuild the edifice once again.

Moreover, assets carry a limited shelf-life as against spiritual satisfaction or emotional fulfilment, which bring lasting pleasures.

Resilience + Failure = Success: Good and bad times remain transient and relative to each other. Failure and hard times not only help you learn how to survive adversity but also teach you how to cherish the moments of bliss as and when they arrive in your life.


Balance is a Myth: For a successful career never try to achieve “work-life balance” during the early years. You will get ample time to do so during the later part of your life.

A not-so-sound advice, though. Galloway contradicts himself here by preaching to concentrate on your professional path only, while sacrificing other key elements of personal life such as leisure, family and health during one’s precious years of youth and energy.

Embrace Adulthood: Don’t get sucked into following your passion. Find out what you are good at; and become great at it. Greatness, along with emotional and economic dividends will make you passionate about what you do.

Again a misplaced notion, for you attain excellence in a field only through personal ardour, vehemence and avidity.

Sweating Vs Watching: Go, dirty your boots in the arena. Sweating yourself remains far better than watching people sweat; it gives you inspiration and motivation from their feat and accomplishments.

Quote: “The world does not belong to the big, but to the fast. You want to cover more ground in less time than your peers. This is partially built on talent, but mostly on strategy and endurance.”

Staying Hungry: An overstuffed stomach (probably) thinks less and sleeps more. Control your appétit and sustain hunger. Ostensibly, it keeps you alert and focussed, according to Galloway. Another perplexing thought, indeed.

Entrepreneurship: “You are (probably) not Mark Zuckerberg.” Think through the implications of any venture before diving into entrepreneurialism.

Ask yourself business’s fundamental questions: (i) Is it viable? (ii) What is the market competition/saturation? (iii) Would it survive during struggle; and for how long? (iv) What is your risk profile; can you absorb losses?

Credentials + Zip Code = Success: Opportunities lie where there is more economic activity. Good fortunes do not come with “destiny; rather density.” Success in the next 50 years will be synonymous to “crowded super-cities.”

Invest Early, and Often: Early investing brings lifelong dividends. Compound interest remains universe’s most powerful multiplying source of wealth. Embrace it.

Quote: “Always be in the stock market, because you aren’t smart enough to predict when to jump in and out on your own.”

Diversify to Absorb Economic Shocks: Respect the inevitability of stock market crashes and economic crises. Diversify your investment eggs in different baskets; keeping extra cash in hand to withstand any unforeseen fallout or to exploit unexpected opportunities that cross your path.

Quote: “You, not the market, should be the arbiter of diversification of your assets.”

Measure your Metrics: Track your KPIs (key performance indicators) as you grow professionally. And remember: Career accomplishments are directly proportional to your personality or attitudinal conduct. Good individual habits fetch professional premium.

Quote: “Accountability and insight is the by-product of math. Numbers yield insights about markets, how value is created, and how we want to live our lives.”

Believe to Receive: Get rid of your inhibitions or qualms about being successful. Prosperity knocks at the door of those who perspire and place their faith in their potential. Grant yourself some deserved credit with conviction.

Opulence Brings Happiness to a Point: While money and wealth buy you luxury and comforts of life, they do not necessarily get you happiness in the long run. Thus, investing in relationships and experience over assets, estate and valuables brings you long-term bliss and contentment. Avoid conspicuous consumption; rather live with things of utility, service and durability.

Galloway again contradicts himself here for having sermonized earlier:

Quote: “The definition of rich is having passive income twice the amount greater than your money going out.”

“Serendipity is a Function of Courage:” Take risks and be open to rejection. Two universal quotes remain instructive in this situation: (i) “An opportunity is never lost; it’s taken by someone else;” and (ii) “You lose 100% of the chances, you don’t take.”

Quote: “My willingness to endure rejection from universities, peers, investors and women has been hugely rewarding. Knowing what you want is a blessing, and fear of rejection is a bigger obstacle than lack of talent or the market. Train yourself to take some sort of risk (ask for a raise, introduce yourself around at a party) every day and get comfortable grasping beyond your reach.”

Equity = Wealth: Upon achieving financial security start enjoying your hard-earned freedom.

This, however, remains an X amount of our life’s algebraic equation because “how much is good enough” differs from person to person.

Follow the Fundamentals: Get the basics of your personality right. Show up early, have good manners and follow up.


Relationships Matter: Invest in your family, associations and partnerships in developing quality relationships that last long and withstand stress and distress.

Quote: “In the end, relationships are all that matter. Ultimately, it is our connections to other human beings that matter most and define our long-term happiness and health.”

Be a Romantic Partner: Celebrate Valentine’s Days and bring back affection in your conjugal relationship.

Quote: “Do something every day because you love your spouse deeply.”

“Go Slow but Stable:” Being in love remains more refreshing and blissful than falling in love.

Quote: “Love is the willingness to take the life you already have and tear it up for the other person.”

Breakups: Divorces are like “second chances;” go for them, if needed.

Take Affection Back: Physical touch remains a hugely important part of our well-being, stemming from human being’s evolutionary need for affection. Embrace it with your loved ones. Family and professional growth are rewarding experiences. Find out someone who can share the moments of joy with you and stand by your side during times of distress or misfortune.

Quote: “Love and relationships are the ends to everything. Everything else is just the means.”

Understand and Love Kids: Children are sensitive and susceptible by nature. Handle them with care, whether your own, or adopted.

Quote: Make small investments everyday to build up your relationship with your kids. Think about when you die, who do you want to be around you supporting you with your last breath. You want your kids there don’t you? Treat them nicely and they will be there when you go.

Care-giving and End of Life: Be compassionate to give someone a “good death.” When a loved-one’s “end” approaches, help them to be at home surrounded by the family in their final departing moments. While you must respect your own happiness and its boundaries, help them relive their life. Listen to the unsaid and say what is due to be spoken by you.

Quote: “Take care of your parents. It’s rewarding to become the adult in the room (when your time comes). Look after your parents as they did for you.”


Marriage Compatibility: Decision about your life partner remains crucial to your happiness and success. Choose someone who is emotionally stable having compatible goals, outlook and approach towards life. Find out a partner who is in sync with your ideals in three areas: (i) physical attraction; (ii) values (ideology, belief and religion); and (iii) attitude towards money matters.

Quote: “Love received is comforting, love reciprocated is rewarding, and love given is completely eternal.”

 1 + 1 > 2: Don’t underestimate the synergies of a well-synchronised relationship. Marriages remain economically advantageous, provided you share expenses and responsibilities. A harmonious partnership helps you focus on your career while utilizing the collective wisdom (“wisdom of crowd”) of your spouse for better decision making.

Quote: “To love someone completely is the ultimate accomplishment. It tells the universe you matter, you are an agent of survival, evolution, and life. You are still just a blink of an eye, but the blink matters.”

Dos and Don’ts of Marriage:

(i) Don’t keep score: Competition breeds contention; instead of keeping a count, be generous and forgiving;

(ii) Recognize and remedify: Matrimonial quarrels happen when either of the spouses is feeling cold, hungry or tired; and

(iii) Be expressive in your romance, affection and desire through frequently fondling and sex. Absence of these factors cause indifference, disconnect and/or infidelity


Be Strong: Being strong is necessary to feel confident. However, strong is not being harsh or penalizing. Carry out exercise regularly to be mentally alert, physically robust and emotional stable. Stay fit and attentive and be grateful.

Quote: “The ratio of time you spend sweating to watching others sweat is a forward-looking indicator of your success.”

Live in the Moment: Smart working – rather than hard working – and enjoying small mercies of life help you to not only give quality time and energy to your passion and loved ones but also save you from ill-health and early death.

Quote: “Take a ton of pictures, text your friends stupid things, check in with old friends as often as possible, express admiration to coworkers, and every day, tell as many people as you can that you love them. A couple of minutes every day — the payoff is small at first, and then it’s immense.”

Crying is Good:  Adopt the habit of sobbing once in a while to become kinder, tender and compassionate.

Be in the “Zone of Happiness:” Pay special attention to the things that bring you joy. Don’t involve yourself in “mind-altering substances” or getting obsessed with tons of money.

Quote: By being “in the zone of happiness you lose your sense of time, forget yourself, and feel part of something [significantly] larger.”

Sustenance > Addictive Substances: Studies confirm that drugs and substance abuse or alcohol consumption result into unhappiness. Human beings get easily addicted to random, transitory rewards. However, the most consequential addiction remains our food, sex, family and kids – things that keep us wired into our very survival.

Quote: “Choose sustenance over addiction to meaningless dopamine hits.”

I will quote Rumi here who said about drinking: “Numbing the pain is not the same as healing it; when anaesthesia wears off, the pain is still there.”

Practicing Gratitude and Praise: Sometimes it is important to appreciate the little that we have in the present moment than worrying – or fidgeting – about what more we can have tomorrow. Gratitude has been associated with personal wellbeing, longevity of life and “nature’s abundance.”

Moreover, complimenting and appreciating others does in no way undermine your own ability or credentials. Acknowledging the achievements of others gets you inspiration to emulate, making you more humane, civilized and benevolent.

Quote: “We all have good intentions that don’t lead to action. We have an even greater reservoir of admiration and good thoughts about others that get caught in the filters of insecurity and fear. To not let that dam burst is to cut life short and short-change joy. There are so few absolutes. One of them: Nobody ever says at a funeral, “He was too generous, too kind, and much too loving.” Nobody. Ever.””

The Algebra of Happiness is a casual, easy to read book with anecdotes from author’s life, personal experiences and observations. However, as I said earlier, it is not “one size fits all” type of a self-help-guide. While it points out “good to have” habits and attitude, the author, at times, stresses upon frivolous issues (like staying thirsty, going hungry or trading closeness for harmony) besides offering over simplistic interpretations of life’s complexities (getting the easy stuff right, and email; when to take cover; what to do if you think you might be in a bubble, etc).

Our lives remain an amalgamation of abstract – and intangible – ideations and philosophies. What remains indispensible in the West may be totally impractical in the Eastern culture. Moreover, as civilizations and societies evolve and grow, their values and ethos also keep transforming. Thus, while everyone pursues happiness and bliss in their individual capacity, their definition and numerical value of life’s variables, such as success and fortune, love and health, loss and grief, varies – keeping them in a perpetual state of trade-offs.

In The Jungle Book, Baloo counsels Mowgli: “Don’t spend your time looking for something you want that can’t be found. Look for the bare necessities. The simple bare necessities. Forget about your worries and your strife. The bare necessities of life will [themselves] come to you.”


Adnan Qaiser is a foreign affairs expert having had a distinguished career in the armed forces and international diplomacy. He tweets @adnanqaiser01 and can be reached at: [email protected] and. Views are personal and do not represent any institutional thought.

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A Canadian of Pakistani origin, Adnan Qaiser began his professional career as a commissioned officer in the Pakistan Army, taking early release as a Major. Working at various command and staff positions he developed a thorough understanding of national politics, civil and military relations, intelligence establishment, regional geopolitics and the security and policy issues that surround them. Moving on to international diplomacy on his next career ladder, he fostered political, economic and cultural relations at bilateral and multilateral platforms, watching closely some of the most turbulent times in the South Asian, Far Eastern and Middle Eastern politics from a G7 perspective. Immigrating to Canada in 2001, he kept upgrading his education, while maintaining memberships and affiliations with various industry verticals for his professional development. Adnan has worked at key positions in public, private and not-for-profit organizations. Speaking many of the languages and having deep insight into the region he keeps publishing papers on South Asia (Pakistan and India), Afghanistan, United States, China, Middle East, religious extremism and radicalization. Adnan has been a regular commentator at Canadian and Pakistani televisions and occasionally gives online talks at YouTube. Having been associated with the Conference of Defence Associations Institute, Canada since 2009, Adnan has delivered talks at think-tanks like CDA Institute and Canadian International Council (CIC). Adnan holds a Level-II (Secret) security clearance from the Government of Canada. He Tweets @adnanqaiser01 and can be reached at: [email protected]