The Algebra of Happiness by Scott Galloway

This is a transcript of a talk given by NYU Professor Scott Galloway at

This semester, 172nd year MBAs, whose backgrounds range from IT consultants from Delhi to Marines from Athens, Georgia, are enrolled in Brand Strategy.

The second year MBA program is a unique place.

The kids have incredible professional trajectory, while at the same time they’re a bit lost.

Most people who come to business school are the elite, smart, hard-working achievers, but aimless.

If you were certain what you wanted to do, you wouldn’t be back in business school.

We often veer from the course topic, Brand Strategy.

What I’m most comfortable discussing?

Life strategies.

I have no academic credibility or credentials that indicate I should counsel people on how to live their lives.

Like that’s gonna stop me.

The arc of happiness.

Your childhood, teen, and college years are the stuff of Han Solo, beer, unprotected sex, and self-discovery.

Pure magic.

From your mid-20s to your mid-40s, however, sh** gets real.

Work, stress, and the realization that despite what your mom told you, you likely won’t have a Hollywood star or fragrance with your name on it.

As you age, the stress of building a life you’ve been told you deserve begins to take a toll.

Then in your 50s, or younger if you’re soulful, you start to register your blessings, acknowledge your mortality, and begin affording yourself the happiness you deserve.

So in adulthood, if you find you’re stressed, recognize this is a normal part of the journey and just keep on keeping on.

Happiness waits for you.

Sweating versus watching.

The ratio of the time you spend sweating versus watching others sweat is a forward-looking indicator of your success.

Show me a guy who watches ESPN every night, spends all day Sunday watching football, and doesn’t work out, and I’ll show you a future of anger and failed relationships.

Show me someone who sweats every day and spends as much time participating in sporting events as watching them on TV, and I’ll show you someone who is good at life.

The myth of balance.

We all know someone who’s successful, in great shape, plays in a band, is close to their parents, volunteers at the ASPCA, and has a food blog.

Assume you are not that person.

If you want to be economically in the top 10%, much less the top 1%, you should plan on spending 10 to 20 years working and not much else.

I have a lot of balance now, in large part because I had almost none in my 20s and 30s.

Work, partner, friends.

Most students devote their greatest efforts to shaping their work lives and socializing with their friends.

However, the most important decision you’ll make is who you’ll choose to partner with for the rest of your life.

I have several friends with impressive careers, wonderful social lives, and a spouse they love, but they aren’t happy as their spouse isn’t their partner.

They are out of sync on their goals and approach to life.

My friends who have less economic success and spend less time with friends, but have a real partner to share their struggles and successes with are tangibly happier.

Passion, values, and money.

The best marriage partnerships I know of are synced up on three things.

They’re physically attracted to each other, sex and affection establish your relationship as singular, and say I choose you.

You also need to ensure you align on values including religion, how many kids you want, your approach to raising children, and who handles which responsibilities.

Money is also an important one for alignment.

Does the other’s approach to and contribution and expectations about money flowing in and out of the household foot to your expectations?

Zip code plus credentials.

We have a CAS system in the U.S., higher education.

Economic growth is increasingly clustering around a handful of super cities.

This is the peanut butter and chocolate of economic velocity.

Advice here is simple.

While young, get credentialed and get to a city.

Both get difficult, if not impossible, as you get older.

There will always be great stories about Steve Jobs, Jay-Z, and other college dropouts.

Again, assume you are not that person.

Money and happiness.

There is a correlation and money can buy happiness to a point.

Once you reach a certain level of economic security, the correlation flattens.

So yes, work your ass off and get some semblance of economic stability, but take note of the things that give you joy and satisfaction and start investing in those things.

Compound interest.

Einstein is credited with saying compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe.

The notion of putting money away is most important to the cohort that least understands it.

Young people.

Start putting away money early and often.

Think of it as magic.

Put a thousand dollars into a magic box and in 40 years, boom, it’s ten to twenty five thousand.

If you could have this magic box, how much money would you put in it?

Finding your gorilla.

Feeling masculine has been hugely rewarding to me.

As a younger man, I felt masculine by impressing my friends, having sex with strange women, and being ripped.

As I’ve gotten older, being a loving and responsible head of household who provides for my family, being a good citizen, and voting makes me feel strong like bull.

In sum, be a man and not a boy in a man’s body.

Equity equals wealth.

It’s difficult to obtain economic security with just your salary, as you will naturally raise or lower your lifestyle to match your current income.

As soon as possible, buy property, stocks, and try to find a job that has forced savings through a retirement plan or better yet, options on the firm’s equity.

The definition of rich?

Passive income that’s greater than your burn.

My dad and his wife receive about fifty thousand dollars a year from dividends, pension, and Social Security and spend forty thousand dollars a year.

They are rich.

A number of my friends earn between one and three million dollars, have several children in Manhattan private schools, an ex-wife, and a lifestyle fitting of a master of the universe.

They spend most, if not all of it.

They are poor.

By the time you’re 30, you should have a feel for what your burn is.

Young people focus on their salary.

Adults focus on their burn.


The Harvard Grant study is the largest study on happiness, tracking 319 year old men for 75 years and looking at what factors made them less or more happy.

The presence of one thing in a man’s life predicted on happiness better than any other factor.


It led to failed marriages, careers coming off the tracks, and poor health.

When I was just out of college living in New York City and working at Morgan Stanley, I’d go out every night and get drunk at a very cool place with what felt like other successful people.

It felt natural.

However, alcohol made me a mediocre person.

I would spend the better part of the next day feeling like s***, trying to find a conference room to grab an hour of sleep, only to feel well enough for an hour in the afternoon to recommit to going out again and getting drunk where Fun Scott would show up.

Take stock of your relationship with substances.

If they’re getting in the way of your relationships, professional trajectory, or life, then address it soon.

Things versus experiences.

Studies show people overestimate the amount of happiness things will bring them and underestimate the long-term positive effect of experiences.

In sum, drive a Hyundai and take your family to Africa.

A good death and return on investment.

Other than my kids, the thing I am most proud of is giving my mom a good death.

I spent eight months of my life living with my mom in the Del Webb active adult community in Summerlin, Nevada.

During the day I’d manage my mom’s health care and watch Frasier in Jeopardy with her.

At night, I’d venture to the strip and get drunk with entrepreneurs and strippers.

It was a strange but rewarding time in my life.

The instinct of rewards from nurturing children is well documented.

However, providing comfort for someone you love at the end of their life is also deeply satisfying.

If you’re in a position to make a loved one’s exit more graceful, you’ll cherish it the rest of your life.

Happiness equals family.

On a balanced scorecard, the happiest people are those in a monogamous relationship who have children.

I didn’t want to get married or have children and still don’t believe you need children to be happy.

However, I can say that being a decent dad and raising kids with someone you love and who’s competent for the first time begins to answer questions we all struggle with.

Specifically, why am I here?

Success equals resilience over failure.

Everyone experiences failure.

Everyone experiences tragedy.

You will get fired, lose people you love, and likely have periods of economic stress.

The key to success is the ability to mourn and then to move on.

I had a marriage fail, businesses go bankrupt, and lost the only person who at that point knew love me, my mom, all before I was 40.

But blessed with a great education, good friends, some talent, and the best zip code in the world, the United States, for me these were obstacles not barriers.

Nothing is ever as good or as bad as it seems.

Market dynamics trump individual performance, so your successes and your failures aren’t entirely your fault.

The number one piece of advice seniors would give to their younger selves is they wish they’d been less hard on themselves.

Your limited time here mandates you hold yourself accountable, but also be ready to forgive yourself so you can get on with the important business of life.

As an atheist, I believe this is it.

That when near the end, I will look into my kids eyes and know our relationship is coming to an end.

And that’s okay, as it motivates me.

A recognition of the finite nature of life is a blessing.

It focuses you on loving, forgiving, and finding the gorilla.

We’ll see you next week. you you you you you you you you Thank you.