How To Be Happy: Part 1 Why "having everything" won't make you happy and what you should do instead

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.

Why Are Some People Just Such Jerks?! How you can change anyone from an insensitive jackass to a kind saint

When someone acts like a jerk, we often reason that they are just bad people. This is a logical conclusion. But it also misses the full picture. It is not personality that explains most of human behavior but context

In a Stanford experiment, 100 students were categorized based on past behavior as either charitable or uncharitable, i.e. either as saints or jerks. All students then received a letter asking them to donate food at a charitable booth at the Tressider Plaza.

Two weeks later, 25% of one student group had donated food. Only 8% of the other group donated.

Based on these results alone, we would conclude that the 25%-group were the saints and the 8%-group were the jerks. A charitable person would also behave more charitable, right?

In fact, it was the other way around. 25% of the jerks donated while only 8% of the saints did.

What was the explanation for this surprising result? The researchers had sent out two different types of letters to both groups: one basic and one detailed letter.

The basic letter asked the receiver to bring canned food to the Tressider Plaza. The detailed letter included a map to the precise spot, a request for a can of beans, and also asked them to pick a time when they would be near the spot so they would not be inconvenienced.

When saints got the detailed letter, 42% of them donated. When jerks got the basic letter, none donated.

But when saints got the basic letter, only 8% donated. When jerks got the detailed letter, 25% of them donated.

Personality clearly influences behavior. But nothing influences human action as much as context. Put in the right context, a jerk has the capacity to be 3X as giving as a saint in the wrong context. And the difference between these two situations was minuscule. A few more sentences of instructions were all it took to change a jerk to a saint. What would the results have been if the jerks had been given additional incentives to donate while the saints had faced greater obstacles?

Since context is so much more powerful than personality, I have chosen to believe that every human is inherently good. Whenever someone does something selfish, I think to myself: “Oh, they were just in a challenging situation. They would have been more caring if only their context had been better.”

Perceiving everyone as inherently good gives one such a brighter outlook on life. Wherever I go, I am surrounded by kindhearted people! And because I perceive their intentions as good, I approach every person as a caring friend I have known for years. I want to listen to their story and offer them my help without expecting anything in return. Because that is what a friend would do.

And when someone acts insensitive, I am free to respond with kindness. Knowing that their actions were a reflection of their context and not their personality.

You will meet many people throughout your life. Some will tend to be giving and some will tend to be selfish. And you can’t change their personalities. But you can change their context by being kind to them first. You can get others to act like saints.

When the cashier greets you with a scowl, notice his nametag and smile and say “Hello [name]! How are you today?” 

When preparing a meeting with a demanding client, ask “How can I focus on helping them rather than talk about why they should hire us?”

When your child does her homework but ‘forgets’ to clean her room, say “That is great that you have finished your homework! I love how hard-working you are.”

Whose context will you change today?