There’s a reason why happiness eludes so many of us. We falsely assume our happiness is conditional. “If I get that promotion at work, I’ll finally be happy.” “If I just lose ten more pounds, I’ll be happy with my body.”
If you ever have thoughts like these, congrats, you’re human! Setting attainable goals and striving for improvement are perfectly admirable aims. However, putting your happiness on hold until you achieve whatever you desire can lead to an endless cycle of dissatisfaction. There will always be another milestone to reach after you surpass your current one and the world will never run out of possessions for you to covet. And while there’s nothing wrong with yearning for more out of life, it is possible to be happy with what you currently have.
In this article, I’ll explore the constant need for more as humans, why it’s so challenging to be happy with what you have, and how it can be possible for you.
- Do you need more to be happy?
- Happiness and hedonic adaptation
- The vicious cycle of wanting more to be happy
- Tips on how to be happy with what you have
- Wrapping Up
Do you need more to be happy?
The short answer is yes–and no. As human beings, certain physiological needs such as food, water, and shelter must be met in order to be happy. If you lack any of those basic requirements for survival, you do indeed need more to be happy. Before you chase higher needs such as happiness, your basic needs must be satisfied first at least according to the father of human psychology, Abraham Maslow.
People often say that money can’t buy you happiness. Though this is true for the most part, there are exceptions. If you’re uncertain of where your next meal is coming from or how you’re going to afford the rent this month, money can certainly buy you the food and security necessary for you to be happy.
Conversely, research shows that a person can still find ways to be happy even if their most basic needs are fulfilled only partially. This goes to show that it really is possible to be happy with less.
While you can be happy with less, it turns out buying more can actually have the opposite effect. A 2011 study revealed that consumerism is linked to lower well-being.
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Happiness and hedonic adaptation
Once your basic needs are met, the concept of needing more to be happy becomes flawed. Humans typically return to a set point of happiness regardless of their positive and negative life experiences.
This tendency to adjust to life’s ups and downs is a concept referred to as hedonic adaptation or “the hedonic treadmill”. Hedonic adaptation first appeared in a 1971 essay by psychologists Philip Brickman and Donald T. Campbell.
Brickman and Campbell studied two groups of people: lottery winners and paralyzed accident victims. Based on their research, they found that the initial elation experienced by the lottery winners was not long-lasting. Surprisingly, those who won a life-changing sum of money were not any happier than the paralyzed victims in the long term.
The hedonic treadmill explains why our positive experiences only have a fleeting effect on our happiness. I’m sure you know what it’s like to look forward to something, feel ecstatic when you finally attain it, and then, just like that, the initial surge in happiness dissipates. Just like that, you’re back where you started.
The vicious cycle of wanting more to be happy
The trouble with needing more to be happy is that seeking external sources of happiness is not a permanent solution. Sure, the sudden rush of joy feels amazing at first, but it eventually fades away.
The transient nature of these sources of happiness can turn into a never-ending cycle of needing more each time to maintain the same level of satisfaction. Not only is this exhausting, but it can be downright unhealthy.
If you’re active on any social media platform, you’re likely familiar with the rush of dopamine triggered by notifications. Have you noticed how the more likes or comments you receive on a post, the more you want? If a post doesn’t receive the same amount or more likes as your last post, your self-esteem takes a hit.
Dopamine isn’t just the chemical responsible for feeling pleasure, it’s also pleasure-seeking. If the reward you anticipated doesn’t come, in this case, a certain number of comments and likes on your post, you feel the urge to check your feed more often.
Fame, wealth, and success won’t make you happier
The longest study of adult life ever conducted followed two groups for over 80 years:
- Harvard students and
- Boys from Boston’s poorest neighborhoods.
Their findings were rather surprising. The boys who came from disadvantaged families were just as happy as the privileged group. The findings also discovered that good relationships are key to happiness. Not fame, wealth, or success.
Tips on how to be happy with what you have
Fortunately, there are numerous ways to break the cycle of constantly needing more to be happy. While it may be challenging at first, it is possible to be happy with what you have.
1. Lean into your relationships
With so many studies revealing that happiness is determined by your closest relationships, it’s essential for you to work on the quality of yours. The good news is there are a lot of ways to improve your relationships, and many of them don’t require much effort.
For starters, be fully present with your loved ones while spending time with them. Far too often, we pay more attention to our phones than the people right in front of us.
Another way to strengthen your relationships is to recognize and respond to bids for connection. For example, if your partner is talking about their day, listen intently and ask them questions instead of responding with grunts or worse, not at all.
2. Start a gratitude practice
Practicing gratitude is the easiest and most immediate way to be happy with what you have. Good things happen to us every single day, we just don’t take the time to notice. Intentionally acknowledging all the good in your life is beneficial for your health and results in greater happiness.
If you aren’t grateful for what you already have, what makes you think you would be happy with more?
Roy T. Bennett
There are endless ways to incorporate gratitude into your life. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
- Keep a gratitude journal. Write down everything you’re grateful for before you go to bed each night.
- Each time something good happens to you, express gratitude out loud or silently in your head.
- If you have a partner, tell them the qualities you appreciate most about them.
- Celebrate every small win, no matter how small.
- Thank everyone who shows you kindness.
3. Stop comparing yourself to others
We all know that nothing good comes out of comparing yourself to others. And yet, we all do it anyway. Thanks to social media, making comparisons is now easier than ever.
Comparison is the thief of joy.
The problem is we often forget that a social media feed isn’t a comprehensive picture of a person’s life. While it may not be possible to resist comparison one hundred percent of the time, being aware of it as it happens is a huge step in the right direction.
One way to fight the comparison itch is to remind yourself that people typically only share their highlights. Comparing your baseline to someone’s highest achievements will only breed misery.
4. Resist instant gratification
Easier said than done, right? If you truly want to be happy with what you have, you must overcome the temptation of instant gratification. Succumbing to it may give you brief bursts of happiness in the short term, but you could be unknowingly reinforcing a self-destructive habit in the long run.
Here are some alternatives to the most common forms of instant gratification:
- Instead of reaching for your phone to check your notifications, stand up and stretch.
- Instead of indulging in another bite of something unhealthy, take a deep breath. Check in with yourself to determine if you’re still hungry or not.
- Instead of spending more hours than you’d like playing video games or watching Netflix, gradually reduce your time allotted for these activities. Perhaps, instead of five hours, you can cut it down to four, and then three, and so on.
Depending on how deeply ingrained the habit is, it may be near impossible to resist so be kind to yourself if you struggle at first.
5. Incorporate more minimalism into your life
To be happy with less, you need to get used to having less. The truth is you probably don’t need most of your stuff. Now, I’m not suggesting you have to donate all of your possessions to be happy. However, it wouldn’t hurt to declutter every once in a while and throw anything you no longer use or value in a donation box.
Another way to live more minimally is to thrift your clothes instead of buying new ones. Look for staple, high-quality pieces that you can style in multiple ways instead of falling for the fast fashion trap.
6. Embrace impermanence
Accepting the fact that nothing stays the same may seem counterintuitive to happiness, but it’s not. The more you embrace the fact that nothing lasts forever, the less likely you are to cling to it and resist change. Making peace with impermanence also reduces our desire for material objects. This makes it possible to be happy with what you have.
Moreover, when you understand that all things will wither and fade eventually, you learn to appreciate your life more. Embracing that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed for anyone is a good reminder to not take the people we love for granted and to savor every bit of happiness that wanders your way.
7. Invest time in your relationship with yourself
How well do you really know yourself? It’s difficult to be happy with your life just as it is unless you are intimately familiar with who you are. To know true happiness, you must first know yourself. Most of us have only scratched the surface of our identity. There are parts of ourselves still waiting to be discovered and appreciated.
To cultivate a loving and healthy relationship, you can:
- Take yourself out on dates. Go to your favourite restaurant and treat yourself to a delicious meal. Alternatively, you can go to a museum alone and completely immerse yourself in the experience. If you’re a homebody, light a scented candle and read a good book.
- Journal. Writing your thoughts and feelings down is one of the best ways to improve self-awareness. The more self-aware you are, the easier it becomes to be happy with what you have.
- Play games by yourself. As children, play used to come naturally to us. As adults, it’s something we dismiss as silly or childish. However, play is actually one of the best ways to grow our right hemisphere, the side of our brain that is key to happiness.
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Desiring more out of life is inherently human, but your happiness is not dependent on it. Ultimately, your happiness is not sustained by possessions, success, wealth or fame, it hinges on you. It is possible to be happy with what you have, but like any skill, happiness requires practice. Train yourself to be more grateful, more committed to your relationships, and more minimalistic instead of wanting more. Happiness will surely follow.
Do you want to share your own tips on how to be happy with what you have? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!