Happiness is subjective. There’s no universally agreed consensus or government standard we can come to, to know what we have to do to be happy. It’s entirely based on opinions and feelings. I want to point out something I’ve observed about the conventionally shared view that society teaches us through media and general conversation and interaction.
We live in a very materialistic society probably because this belief created the society we live in. Materialism tells us that he more we have, the happier we’ll be. Money makes us comfortable. Status brings us respect. Beauty makes us desired. Things make our life easier. And at first glance it seems that an easier, more comfortable life is a happier one.
People believe, or more commonly act as if, paradise is a place where all their needs are met. So the common dream is that if I had all these needs met I’d be happy. These needs are usually things like:
So I picture these needs as being like a graphic equaliser with various settings depending on the individual. When someone doesn’t have enough of something this will bother them and they will think I’ll be happy when I have enough money, respect, the right relationship, house, lose some weight and so on.
Yet someone else could be happy living with none of the comforts most of us are used to. It all depends on what you are used to. Habituation is a very powerful factor. It’s the reason these things don’t make us happy. Because we get used to whatever circumstances we are surrounded by and so they lose their impact on making us happy or sad. It’s the reason why lottery winners are usually unhappy a year after winning and why people like Viktor Frankl could be happy even living in a Concentration Camp.
How we feel is entirely dependent on the story we play in our heads. If we feel hard done by we feel sorry for ourselves. If we feel we have improved our circumstances we feel happy. It’s not the circumstances themselves, but how we interpret them.
This means we have more control over how we feel. Now all of us have this ongoing story in which we are the star. This story determines the thresholds of various aspects we need to feel happy about our circumstances. You see, this story in our head is the easiest variable that we can change because it is the only one we have complete control over. All of the rest take time, even if we can change them.
The reality is that actually none of these or even all of these can make you happy. There is never a level we can reach where we will be satiated. We’ll always want more and more. And so actually needing more of these is a weakness.
First of all, because they put us on a hedonic treadmill like the donkey always chasing the carrot, but never reaching it.
And secondly, because we believe getting more is the gateway to a happier life, our world becomes driven by consumerism. Getting stuff to use. This leads to people being objectified and transactional relationships and callousness. A view that things and people are there to serve our needs.
I am the first person to advocate the individual over the system, but the difference is in the nuances. I would fight to my dying day for the right of the individual to be themselves and to have free will to make their own choices.
However, many of the things we think we want are about ego, greed and laziness. They make us special at the expense of others and turn life into conflict and competition.
The things we actually need are;
- The freedom to be ourselves
- Rich and deep real relationships
- Giving to something beyond our self-interest
- Challenges to grow beyond our limits
- A sense of meaning and purpose to our life
These bring us into harmony with life. We find our place, not above and below others, but with them in a jigsaw where all play their equally valuable part.
Of course, we do have material needs, but only to the level that enables us to live the life that’s true to our DNA. Beyond that isn’t a need, but a want. The confusion between needs and wants has been the cause of many people to waste time chasing goals that never would satisfy their soul.
Sometimes we can change our circumstances and in such cases having high thresholds can cause us to push ourselves and create changes in circumstance. Often though it’s at a cost. Steve Jobs demanded high levels of performance and design and was allegedly an insufferable Boss. He created incredible products, but it’s possible to get great results without being such a dick to people.
I’m not suggesting that we should settle for low standards. I think it’s a natural part of humanity to push ourselves as high as we can go, but that’s not dependent on us not being able to tolerate circumstances we do not like. It’s dependent on confidence, clarity and courage. Things that actually work better when we feel safe and relaxed enough to tap into our higher levels of creativity. There are many people stuck in life who really want a different career/relationship/lifestyle or whatever, but they feel trapped because they NEED x, y or z. Yet really they don’t need those things and if they could see this they’d free themselves to live THEIR life.
So how about you… do you actually need all those things you’re waiting to be happy for?
Or have you bought into a false idea of what you need to be happy?
If this hits home for you, why not write out what you actually need in all areas of life and take a cold dispassionate look examining what you actually do need. Work out your minimum existence needs and then you have a lot more flexibility and freedom.