You Will Not Find Lasting Happiness By Seeking More, But By Wanting Less

Recently, I wrote about how happiness is a lack of want.

I even came up with a really good quote for myself “You will not find lasting happiness by having more and more, but by wanting less and less.”

This is something that I feel warrants further discussion.

I have researched and found that peak happiness for both America and the U.K. happened in 1957. A full 35% of Americans responded to a happiness survey stating that they were “very happy.” For the U.K., they had historians scour the records and found that works published in 1957 contained the largest amount of positive words.

We have not surpassed those levels since even though we have more technology, more income, more STUFF than we did 60 years ago. Yet, we are not happier as a people. That’s not to say that some of this stuff hasn’t made us happier, but that any additional happiness has been canceled out by other things.


We all need to have at least a minimum level of comfort.

Living in a cardboard box by the dumpsters, being hungry, sick, and cold of course having more will make us happier. But once we are past that level of existence, further stuff doesn’t really make us any happier.

To put it another way, having just one (or two!) winter coat gives us vastly more happiness than winter coats 3-10. Having $100 as a homeless person gives way more happiness to him than it would to me as I already have many 100’s of dollars.

Now we are bombarded daily and from every direction with sleek advertising telling us that that way of thinking is wrong. That we can only become more happy buy having whatever it is they are selling. That this new gadget (which is only slightly different than the one we already have) will instantly solve all the problems we have in our lives. Sure, buying that new thing can give us a temporary boost to our happiness, but it is fleeting. To get that feeling again we need to buy more. Then more again. It is a never-ending chase towards a happiness that can never be lasting. Then you have to factor in the time spent at work to accumulate the money to buy these things (don’t forget the taxes, both income and sales), the clutter that it causes, the time spent maintaining it and you have to wonder if the whole process causes a negative happiness when it is all factored together.

It doesn’t even stop there.

Because we spend all this time away from building personal relationships due to more work or time spent on the stuff, we distance ourselves from each other. Building stronger relationships with our spouse, family, friends, neighbors, and others interested in similar things are well-known to be the major factor in increasing happiness past the level we have once our basic needs are met.

Think of the slow death of social and civic club memberships. Fraternal clubs like the Rotary, Elks, Shriners all the way down to bowling leagues all have fewer members than they had 60 years ago – even with a vastly increased population in the country. It all ends up with a situation in which the average person has fewer friends, associates, knows fewer neighbors, and all-in-all has a weaker community.

Many people no longer have someone they can talk to about personal matters. Maybe the internet has taken up this role, but I am not so sure it can provide the same level of support that a person to person chat can have.

It is not just that a person today has less emotional support, but that the logistical side is lacking too. If you end up needing someone to watch the kids, help moving, a ride to the airport, groceries if you are sick, or someone to watch your pets and house when you are on vacation you are increasingly unable to find anyone to support you.

Since someone is always going to need these things, the services have become outsourced. The gig economy has stepped up to fill this void that the lack of personal relationships used to. You can now hire out to have your groceries delivered, find a babysitter, grab an uber to the airport, get two men in a van to move your stuff, or have someone walk your dog. All these things used to be something that you could find within your strong social group but now are purchasable services.


It’s a negative feedback loop.

We have to work even more to afford all these services, which means we have even less time to create the bonds with those around us. We have even more busy lives and look to these services to outsource more and more of our lives, which costs more money. It is a downward spiral.

In the past, it was thought that the increased industrial automation would free the human race from having to work many hours to provide for ourselves. John Keynes theorized that the workweek of the future would be just 15 hours.

That is not to be when the total U.S. Consumer debt is $11.4 Trillion. That takes a lot of hours to pay off. A lot of hours makes us stressed. Buying something for ourselves makes us a little happier for a moment. Which often is put on the credit card. It becomes a vicious cycle.

So it really starts to make sense that 1957 was the peak of happiness. We had enough, we had strong relationships and communities, and we had hardly any consumer debt – almost everything was paid for in cash.

But that all began to change in 1958 when both American Express and Visa were created…

1 comment

  1. Cato @thedollarbuild.com

    How about that?! Things have never been the same since the world was introduced to Visa and MasterCard. No doubt it – credit cards have led to absurd levels of consumer debt and all-around consumerism. Unfortunately, wanting more is now so deeply engrained in our society, I don’t know that the mindset can be reversed by anything short of a major catastrophe.
    Cato @thedollarbuild.com recently posted…Could E-Commerce Improve Your Financial Situation?My Profile

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