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  • Writer's pictureMark Walmsley

The Algebra of Happiness by Scott Galloway Summary

Updated: Mar 11, 2021

The Algebra Happiness Book Mockup

A fun and engaging book that deals with career, work-life balance, partner selection, where to live, investing, family, entrepreneurship, and much more. From a globally acclaimed professor, author and presenter. No knowledge of math or algebra required. Key insights:

  1. Work hard while you are young to set yourself up for future success

  2. Choose your life partner based on alignment in passion, values, and money

  3. Get the easy stuff right – it will give you time and space for the important stuff

  4. A high paying job is available with a good education in a big city

  5. Above $100K income more money doesn’t buy more happiness

  6. Drink less alcohol – it is far more damaging than you realize

  7. A lot of happiness comes from family

  8. Pursue a career that you have talent for, will pay you, and you don’t hate. Passion is overrated

  9. Not everyone should be an entrepreneur; there’s a lot to be said for being an employee

  10. Salary isn’t enough, you need equity. Save hard early in your career and build wealth

Book details

Full title: The Algebra of Happiness: Notes on the Pursuit of Success, Love, and Meaning. By Scott Galloway

Length: 256 pages, or 3 hours and 35 minutes on Audible

Buy the book (USA): Amazon (book, Kindle, Audible)

Buy the book (AUS): Amazon (book, Kindle, Audible), Booktopia (book, eBook, audio-book)

Key insight 1: Work hard while you are young to set yourself up for future success

Life’s successes are built exponentially – like compound interest - not linearly. The effort you put in during your 20s will have a 5x return on the life you live in your 40s and beyond. You need to find and leverage your talents, be strategic, and work hard. Here’s how Galloway puts it:

“We all know somebody who’s successful, in great shape, plays in a band, is close to their parents, volunteers, and has a food blog. Assume you are not that person. Balance when establishing your career, in my view, is largely a myth. “Struggle porn” will tell you that you must be miserable before you can be successful. This isn’t true: you can experience a lot of reward along the way to success. But if balance is your priority in your youth, then you need to accept that, unless you are a genius, you may not reach the upper rungs of economic security.
The slope of trajectory for your career is (unfairly) set in the first five years post-graduation. If you want the trajectory to be steep, you’ll need to burn a lot of fuel. The world is not yours for the taking, but for the trying. Try hard, really hard. 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.”

In Galloway’s algebra he is showing when you’re young, work outweighs personal life as seen below.

Life And Work Balance

Galloway also talks about the ratio of work to play as a forward-looking indicator of future success. This is because life is lived cumulatively, or exponentially; the more you do while you’re young, the bigger the payoff later. From Galloway:

"The ratio of time you spend sweating to watching others sweat is a forward-looking indicator of your success. Show me a guy who watches ESPN every night, spends all day 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 playing sports as watching them on TV, and I’ll show you someone who is good at life.”

What is Galloway’s equation for this? See below. It shows happiness (on the left) as equal to the ratio of ‘sweating’ divided by ‘ESPN’ (or watching TV).


Key insight 2: Choose your life partner based on alignment in passion, values, and money

When you’re in your 20s your focus on life isn’t on choosing a great life partner, even though who you choose to partner with for life is likely the single biggest determinant of life-long happiness. One can have money and career success and be unhappy if their spouse isn’t their ‘partner’. On the flip-side, one can be demonstrably happing even with less money, fewer friends, and only minor career success if you have a real partner to share your struggles and successes with. So how do you choose a partner? In Galloway’s words:

“The best romantic partnerships I know are synced up on three things. They are physically attracted to each other. Sex and affection establish your relations as singular and say “I choose you” non-verbally. Good sex is 10% of a relationship, but bad sex is 90% of a relationship. However, this is where most young people end their due diligence.
You also need to ensure that you align on values like religion, how many kids you want, your approaches to raising kids, your proximity to parents, sacrifices you’re willing to make for economic success, and who handles which responsibilities.
Money is an especially important value for alignment, as the number one source of marital acrimony is financial stress. Does your partner’s contribution to, approach to, and expectations about money – and how it flows in and out of the household – fit with yours?”

And here is Galloway’s equation for this key insight:


Key insight 3: Get the easy stuff right – it will give you time and space for the important stuff

The best made plans can fail for the simplest reasons. Forgetting to send the invite, turning up late to a presentation, failing to follow up with an important client. None of these mistakes are difficult to avoid. Where should you start? How about showing up on time, doing the work expected of you or agreed by you, being ready to contribute or discuss when required, paying your bills on time, having good manners, and following up when you should. From Galloway again:

“Getting a good job, working long hours, keeping your skills relevant, navigating the politics of an organization, finding a work-life balance … these are all really hard. In contrast, respecting institutions, having manners, demonstrating a level of humility, [and showing up on time] … these are all (relatively) easy.
Get the easy stuff right. In and of themselves, they will not make you successful. However, not possessing them will hold you back and you will not achieve your potential.”

Other insights from The Algebra of Happiness

4. Education + Location = Wealth. Economic success mostly requires a good education and working in a city that has strong economic potential through multiple large businesses. Seattle for example has Amazon, Starbucks, Nordstrom, Microsoft, Costco, Weyerhaeuser, and more.


5. Above $100K more money doesn’t buy more happiness. Once you have financial stability, learn what gives you joy and satisfaction and focus on those things.

Money Happiness

6. Drink less. One of the largest, long-term happiness studies showed alcohol as the major factor predicting failed marriages, career derailment, and poor health. If alcohol might be holding you back in your personal or professional career, think very seriously about cutting back or stopping altogether.

Less Drinking

7. Happiness = family. The happiest people are those in monogamous relationships with partners they love and are raising children. Do this if you can.

Family Happiness

8. Don’t follow your passion. Follow your passion is common career advice from well-intentioned folks – and according to Galloway – wrong. Instead, he strongly recommends that you do things that 1) you’ll get paid for, 2) things you might have talent for, and 3) things you don’t hate. When you become good at these things the passion will follow.

Circle Chart

9. Employee or entrepreneur? If you’re not on track to be the best employee, seriously consider starting your own business. That said, on a risk-adjusted basis, being a good employee for a great company is more rewarding that being an entrepreneur.

10. Equity = Wealth. Salary alone isn’t enough to assure wealth as you’ll usually increase spending to match earnings. Save as much money as you can early in your career so you can buy property or stocks. In addition, look for a job that offers discount equity in the company or options on company stock.


Why you should read this book if you’re under 30

What I really like about this book is that it gives the under 30s young adult an indication of what adult life from 20-50 looks like.

What leads to success or failure – spoiler alert, working hard in your early years. What to look for when seeking love. What to look for in a career. How to think about wealth and family. And much more. As you embark on a self-improvement journey this is a great place to start. Insights are provided in a short, sharp, and fun narrative. With simple formulas and graphics to support the story, the insights are easy to remember.

Relationship to other Eruditeable books

#3 – Atomic Habits. While Galloway discusses the importance of getting the easy stuff right, this book provides guidance on how to habitually get the easy stuff right.

#4 – The Defining Decade. While Galloway discusses the importance of working hard in your 20s to set the foundations for later life, this book will provide practical guidance on why and how to do it.

#5USA – Set for Life. While Galloway discusses the importance of saving and investing early and often, this book provide guidance on why and how to do it in the USA.

#5AUS – The Barefoot Investor. While Galloway discusses the importance of saving and investing early and often, this book provide guidance on why and how to do it in Australia.

#8 – The Magic of Thinking Big. This book will open your mind to be able to see the many employment/promotion opportunities that are all around you. In addition, you'll learn many things to help in your personal life to overcome adversity, or realize personal dreams.

#14 – Peak. While Galloway discusses how to think about choosing a career, this book shows you how to think about how to becoming world class in that career.

#15 – 50 Etiquette lessons. While Galloway discusses the importance of getting the easy stuff right to give you the capacity and opportunity to succeed at the hard stuff, this book will show you how it’s done.

#16 – The Personal MBA Galloway suggests folks consider carefully the employee or entrepreneur pathway. Either way a sound knowledge of how business works will be extremely helpful.

#17 – Crucial Conversations. Galloway’s book shows how many different domains one needs to manage throughout your adult life. Partners, family, friends, life/death, children, and of course work. Learning how to excel through the difficult conversations will be an invaluable skill.

#21 – Leaders Eat Last. While Galloway discusses the importance of ‘not being an ass’ as a leadership trait, this book provides clear guidance on how to be a great leader in the modern workplace.

#23 – The Lean Startup. While Galloway discusses that you should consider whether you might better suited as an employee or entrepreneur, if the latter, then this book is for you.

#24 – The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. While Galloway discusses the importance of choosing the right partner, this book provides guidance on how to make the marriage thrive.

Book resources

About the author

Galloway has a Bachelor of Arts (Economics), and an MBA from UC Berkeley. In 1992, he founded Prophet, a brand and marketing consultancy firm that employs over 400 professionals around the world. In 1997, Galloway founded Red Envelope, one of the earliest e-commerce sites, and in 2005 Galloway founded the digital intelligence firm L2 Inc which was acquired in 2017 for $155 million.

He was elected to the World Economic Forum's ‘Global Leaders of Tomorrow’ which recognizes 100 individuals under the age of 40 whose accomplishments have had impact on a global level. Galloway teaches brand management and digital marketing to second-year MBA students. Much of his research focuses on ‘The Four’ – Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. The Algebra of Happiness is Galloway’s second book.

External links

YouTube video

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