Why are some people in wheelchairs happier than $1,000,000 lottery winners?
How can a poor farmer in an African dictatorship be more joyful than a wealthy movie star in a democracy?
And why do the things we believe will make us happy lose their luster soon after we get them?
What do all of these scenarios have in common? They only measure happiness in terms of how much we have. This assumption of “The more I have, the happier I feel!” is so ingrained in minds that it seems ludicrous to even question it. Of course, a bigger salary is better than a smaller one. Of course, a warm sunny day is better than a cold rainy storm. And of course, having two legs to walk on is better than being in a wheelchair?
Actually, the true picture of happiness is more nuanced than this.
Imagine a black and a golden circle, as seen in the image above. The golden circle represents everything positive you have: your family, your health, your material possessions, etc. The black circle represents everything you need to be happy.
Whenever your circle of haves is greater than your circle of needs, you feel good. But whenever your circle of haves becomes smaller than your circle of needs, you feel unhappy.
It’s not the size of your haves that determines how happy you are, but how big your haves are compared to your needs. The size of your needs is the amount of joy that you never allow yourself to experience. The true equation of happiness is:
Haves – Needs = Happiness
The majority try to achieve happiness solely by expanding their circle of haves. But what usually happens to your needs when your haves expand?
Your needs expand too.
People who focus only on haves merely expand the size of both circles. They never become happier because the difference between their haves and their needs stays the same.
There is another danger with focusing only on haves. You can never guarantee that the things you need will be in your life. What happens if you get laid off from your job? Or if you get diagnosed with cancer? When you have needs, you allow your happiness to be blown around like a leaf by winds that you can not control.
There is another path to happiness: focus partly on expanding your haves, but give most of your attention to reducing your needs. What happens to your haves when your needs shrink?
Your haves stay the same!
This path, however, is more challenging. Like exercise, you can’t conquer your needs once and then stop practicing. Your needs want to grow, and you must constantly work on keeping them small to maintain your happiness. But it’s so worth it!
Imagine if you kept shrinking your needs until they disappeared completely. When you can be laid off from work, be diagnosed with cancer, or lose a loved one and still be happy, there is nothing reality can do to hurt you. You can never guarantee what will happen to your haves. But you can always control your happiness because you can always control your needs.
Happiness is not about what you actually have, but how much you perceive that you have. And if you can be happy with nothing, you can be happy with anything.
So… how are you trying to be happy?
To learn how you can reduce your needs, please see the post How to be Happy: Part 2.