The formula for a good New Year’s Eve is to have low expectations

  • Psychologist suggests party-goers make fun plans but curtail all expectations
  • A UCL study found people are happiest when they don’t plan their night
  • This is because their low expectations are more likely to be exceeded
  • A separate study by Duke University found 83 per cent of people are usually disappointed with New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve is often a bitter disappointment for party-goers, with sky-high ticket prices, over-crowded bars and roads, and rowdy drunks.

Even people with seemingly flawless party plans are destined for disaster, according to psychologists.

That’s because people are more likely to be unhappy with an event when they set their expectations high and try to stick to strict plans.

But an expert in human decision making has the answer: Make fun plans for your evening, but be careful where you set the bar for your expectations.


Even people with the best laid plans New Year’s Eve plans, the last night of 2016 is likely to disappoint, according to psychologists. That’s because people are more likely to be unhappy with an event when they have high expectations and strict plans. (Stock image)

Dr Robb Rutledge, a senior research associate on decision making at University College London, told the MailOnline: ‘People often make big plans for NYE, and that means there is the opportunity for big disappointment if reality doesn’t match up to what people were hoping for.

‘In general, we want our expectations to be accurate because we use them to make decisions.

‘Those expectations help us decide, for example, which NYE party to go to.

‘It’s fine to be expecting a fun night out with friends, but it’s unrealistic to expect one of the best nights of your life.

‘Most of those nights happen when we least expected them.

‘So make plans for a fun night out, but don’t have unrealistic expectations, and maybe you will be pleasantly surprised.’

Dr Rutledge has worked on the link between expectation and happiness before.


Although the researchers’ happiness formula is complicated, put simply it looks at the event (t), how important or significant the event is (w) and when the event occurred (y). EVj is the reward for taking part, and RPE is the reward compared to the expectation

‘What I’ve found in my research is that expectations are just as important for determining how happy we feel from moment to moment as what actually happens to us,’ he told MailOnline.

‘I developed an equation for predicting happiness which found that happiness depends not on how well people are doing, but whether they are doing better than expected.’


A separate study found that an 83 per cent of those they surveyed were disappointed with their New Year’s Eve celebration. And the people who were most disappointed were those with the highest expectations

This equation was developed during a 2014 study in which Dr Rutledge found that the ‘ebb and flow’ of mental happiness – the way our mood shifts moment-to-moment – is hugely impacted by our expectations of life.

Although the formula itself is complicated, put simply it looks at the event (t), how important or significant that event is to that person (w) and when the event occurred, also known as the ‘forgetting factor’.

The ‘forgetting factor’ in particular looks at what has happened in the past to determine the current expectations.

HAPPINESS IS… USING WORDS CONTAINING THE LETTER ‘I’ 

Researchers from Germany found the articulation of vowels influence how we feel.

During tests, they tracked participants’ emotions by measuring changes in facial muscles linked with smiling and frowning, and found the most positive letter is ‘i’ and the most negative is ‘o’.

The team, led by the Erfurt-based psychologist Professor Ralf Rummer, was able to demonstrate the articulation of vowels systematically influences our feelings and vice versa.

The scientists focused on the sound of the long ‘i’ vowel and that of the long, closed ‘o’ vowel.

In the first experiment, the researchers asked participants to watch film clips designed to put them in a positive or a negative mood, and then asked them to make up ten artificial words and to speak them out loud.

They found the artificial words that contained significantly more i’s than o’s when the test subjects were in a positive mood.

In a second experiment that looked at the link between the sounds, mood and people’s facial muscles.

They found that participants making the ‘i’ sounds found things funnier than those making ‘o’ noises.

They believe that the tendency for ‘i’ sounds to occur in positively charged words, such as ‘like’, and for ‘o’ sounds to occur in negatively charged words, such as ‘alone’, in many languages appears to be linked to the corresponding use of facial muscles.

EVj is the average reward from taking part in a certain event, and RPE is the reward compared to the expectation the person had beforehand. 

Speaking of the research at the time, Dr Rutledge said his team were surprised to find just how important expectation is.

He said: ‘It is often said that you will be happier if your expectations are lower.

‘We find that there is some truth to this – lower expectations make it more likely that an outcome will exceed those expectations and have a positive impact on happiness.’

The equation accurately predicts how happy people will say they are based on recent events.

The formula was put together by studying 26 people who completed a decision-making task in which their choices led to monetary gains and losses.

They were repeatedly asked how happy they were, and their brain activity was measured using MRI scans.

The scientists used the data to build a computer model, which was tested on 18,420 people using a smartphone app.

The results confirmed that people who started off with lower expectations were happier when they had better results. 

The Washington Post notes that similar results were found in a 1999 study called ‘The pursuit and assessment of happiness can be self-defeating,’ by Duke University.

In the weeks leading up to New Year’s Eve, the researchers asked 475 people about what they planned to do to see in the New Year.

They contacted the same people several weeks after New Year’s Eve to find out their happiness levels. 

The study found that an 83 per cent of those they surveyed ended up being disappointed with their New Year’s Eve celebration. 

And the people who were most disappointed were those with the highest expectations. 








Courtesy: Daily Mail Online

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