How much does it take to be happy? And how much is too much?
Money, houses, cars, TVs, phones, computers, video games, stereo systems, furniture, clothes, shoes, food, sex, sleep, drugs, and more – there’s no end to the amount of things we can want and desire.
Of course, we can’t live a life without an experience of desire. We see something, we want to experience it, so we take the necessary steps to fulfill that craving. We all have needs and wants, and one part of happiness is satisfying these needs and wants.
But anything in life we can become too addicted and too attached to. To the point where we don’t just want it, but we think we need it to be happy.
There’s a very simple rule to happiness: the more you need to be happy, the more work it takes to fulfill that happiness. Often becoming more happy is just as much about letting go of certain desires, as it is about fulfilling them.
This article describes the benefits of being happy with less – and some actionable steps you can take to begin this process.
Happiness from wealth is only true to a point
Psychology research is beginning to reveal that wealth is important to happiness, but only to a certain point.
In a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, psychologists found that in the United Sates, “emotional well-being” – or our daily experiences of positive emotion – tends to level off at around $75,000 a year.
This specific number likely varies depending on where you live and the individual person, but the big idea here is that wealth can only improve happiness so much.
And once you’ve reached that point, having more stuff isn’t necessarily going to make you happier. This is why we still see many rich people who live miserable and corrupted lives, despite their high status.
Money isn’t the only value in the world – so you can’t expect to be happy by just focusing on being more wealthy. There are other things in life you need to balance.
Happiness from stuff tends to wear off quickly
There’s a concept in psychology known as hedonic adaptation. The basic idea is that “we get used to things.”
When we first buy that new car or television set, we are in a complete state of bliss – but as the days, weeks, and months go by it becomes less and less interesting to us.
In the beginning stuff is new and exciting, but we quickly adapt to it. The next thing we know, we are looking for something new and better to satisfy our cravings.
This can become a vicious cycle: new stuff gets old, so we seek more and more of it to be happy. We become a kind of addict toward new stuff – getting a short high and then searching for our next fix.
One good way to break this cycle is to practice gratitude more.
Many studies show that learning to be thankful and appreciate what you already have is one of the strongest predictors of happiness. This will help you focus more on what you have and not what you don’t have.
Happiness is more than just pleasure
Old philosophies on happiness used to say that happiness is nothing more than the total of your pleasurable experiences subtracted by your painful experiences.
But now psychologists realize there is more to happiness than just seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. New research shows “meaningful happiness” can be just as, if not more, important as “pleasurable happiness.”
This type of happiness doesn’t come from joy and pleasure, but rather finding a sense of purpose in life. This includes your relationships with family, friends, and coworkers, as well as your relationship with yourself and the pursuit of your own personal goals and values.
One of the best examples of this is the psychologist Viktor Frankl. He used to live under really terrible and painful conditions while being imprisoned in a concentration camp during the Holocaust, and he had lost almost all of his immediate family except for his sister. Despite these circumstances, he was able to find meaning and purpose in every moment.
As Frankl suggests, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” This is the essence of finding meaning and perspective regardless of the pain and pleasure in our lives.
We can’t forget that there’s more to happiness than just maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain. We have to also keep in mind the “bigger picture” of our lives – our relationships, work, and personal goals. These are what provide our lives with a deeper meaning.
The balancing point depends on the person
We need to balance our desires, but that balance is going to be different for everyone. Each individual is going to vary in both what they desire and how many desires they want to fulfill overall.
While some people may be happy living a modest life with little luxury and pleasure, others may strive for more. Everyone has different values and preferences in life, so it’s important to discover what matters to you most.
Remember, having wants and desires isn’t a bad thing – in many ways, it’s a part of life – just try to be careful not to let your wants get in the way of your happiness. This is especially true if your wants are excessive, unhealthy, or unrealistic.
At the end of the day, the more you desire the more you’re going to need to work for it. But if that’s something you really want, then it may be worth the striving. That’s your choice.
Try living with one less desire
Do you have too many desires in your life? Try living with one less desire, even if it’s just for a day or week.
In fact, a recent study shows that by temporarily giving up a desire for a period of time, we actually improve our pleasure the next time we revisit the desire.
In this experiment, participants who were told to abstain from eating chocolate for a week reported greater happiness the next time they ate it vs. the participants who were told they could eat however much chocolate they wanted over the week.
While giving up on one of your desires, try focusing more on the simple pleasures in life.
We often don’t need to do anything extravagant to be happy – instead, happiness is often about finding joy in the little things – like walking your dog, or watching a sunset, or having a nice conversation with someone.
The more happiness you can find in the everyday things, the less desires you’ll feel the need to fulfill.
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