Happiness: Always more vs. always enough

It has been a while since my last article on this blog. I guess I have been rather busy. I intend to write more regularly in the future. The main reason is that happiness is an important topic, although too often neglected, just like health. Yet, both are interdependent.

I will resume by looking at whether happiness is the result of always wanting and having more or whether it is just about having always enough. The current economic model is really all about pushing people to always want more. Enough seems just not enough. It is true if the main parameter of economic performance is the GDP, but is the GDP the right indicator?

Happiness is a theme that comes and goes. During periods of economic growth, it seems to be overlooked as shopping seems to be the panacea for continuous bliss. But when the economy is not doing so well, then happiness reappears as an important theme. It was quite noticeable during the Great Recession of 2008. Since money was a bit short and the outlook uncertain, happiness suddenly emerged as being something of value. Even political leaders and the UN were engaging in attempts to use happiness as an indicator of prosperity and considered as something to assess how countries are doing. The example that they all referred to was Bhutan, which has happiness as one of its parameters. The media were adamant about it. It sounded promising and we were perhaps headed toward a different ranking of what is truly important and what makes people happy but then something terrible happened: the economy started to boom again. Since then, who talks about Bhutan and its happiness indicator for global improvement of societies anymore?

With the economy doing well and people having more disposable income, the main concern became the old one again: how to give your hard-earned work money to corporations as quickly and as much as possible and dig yourself into debt? I guess that I am old school but I am not really keen on giving the money that I earn to the richest 1%. For some reason, I believe that they already have more than enough to sustain themselves. Of course, this is a bit of sarcasm but the true reason, as far as I am concerned, is that I do not need always more to be happy. I have reached a point in my life where I have about all I need and I do not feel that I should waste my time and my money in the consumerism rat race.

So let’s have a look at the always more vs. always enough question. The economic model, based on GDP, wants the economy to be about always more transactions (i.e. buying stuff). The GDP is an indicator of growth but it has no particular focus on whether the growth is quantitative or qualitative. In other words, the economy is about buying –and producing- always more, regardless of whether it creates wealth or chaos. One of the reasons is what economists call externalities, which simply put are the long-term economic costs (negative externalities) or benefits (positive externalities). For instance, if mass production means damaging the environment in such a way that health costs increase for the society, these health care costs are not factored in the cost of production and the price of the consumption goods. An interesting illustration could be the health cost of bad nutrition. Society pays for the health care costs of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and some cancers, but producers and sellers of foods that contribute to the diseases are not charged for the health care costs and thus the health cost of bad foods is not included in the price of foods. Profits are individualized and costs are socialized.

In a system that is focused on quantitative growth (always more), the externalities are something that will have to be looked at later. If we deplete resources or damage our living environment, that is not the problem of today’s GDP, and that is the core of all the difficulties to address climate change for instance. The engine behind quantitative growth is marketing, which has become the art of making you buy a whole bunch of things that you do not really need with money that you do not even need to have right now, either. These consequences will have to be addressed later. They are externalities. To push you to want always more, marketing will trigger all your insecurities and hidden fears. You might not be “cool” or not sexy or not modern or not trendy or not special enough, etc etc… you name it. Well, you cannot live like that, can you? Fortunately, somebody somewhere has exactly what you need to hide all your “flaws” and fool the rest of the world. All you need to do is to spend your money and it will be all fine… for the corporations and the stock markets.

Opposite of that never-ending race, there is the always enough strategy. Just like with always more, you must earn money to sustain such an approach. It is not free, either. The difference is that you will not need as much money as with the always more concept. You also will have to develop a thick skin against all the mind games tricks from the marketers and not mind whatever you neighbours, friends or colleagues may think of you. The thick skin has a name: happiness, and it makes you almost indestructible. Actually, the always enough philosophy rests on qualitative growth. It is about growth that does not have externalities and long-term consequences that cannot be managed. It is much healthier for your finances and it is much gentler on the planet as well. Qualitative growth is the only truly sustainable economic growth model. On the opposite, quantitative growth is not sustainable. In a closed system with finite resources, “always more” leads inevitably to “no more”. The only thing we do not know is when that day will come. That is what wondering about what world we will leave to future generations really comes down to.

Back to the thick skin I mentioned earlier. How can one grow it? Well, while always more is all about having more stuff, always enough is about covering your needs and just that. The focus is about defining yourself by what you are and what you have inside. It is about your own quality, hence the relation to qualitative growth. The model about quantitative growth wants you to define yourself by what you have, by what you buy, it comes from outside (the retailers and the producers), not from inside. If you look at it from a happiness point of view, there are simple questions with simple answers.

  • If you want always more, what is it that you are truly missing?
  • If you are happy, why do you need more?
  • If marketers and corporations decide how you should lead your life, then are you really in charge and in control of your life or are you just being played with? And can you be happy about that?

Another set of questions, looked at from the other end of the scope is

  • Is always enough about meeting your true needs and always more just about wanting instead of needing?
  • When you are truly happy, could it be that you have enough of all you need?
  • If you are happy with yourself, what does it matter what others think?

Of course, different people have different priorities and values. That is why the life plan that I present on this website is based on personal values. Regardless of these values and priorities, long-term consequences are real. Beyond individual values, collective values that shape our societies and our economic models will impact future generations. If the system needs to change, the name of the game is: planned transition. Unfortunately, when we look at economy, people and environment, the rhetoric is too often about changing the system abruptly, which creates resistance and rightly so. Everything needs time to be done well and changing our economic model is no exception to that rule. The irony is that by no giving ourselves the time for a smooth transition, we will end up with an abrupt crisis that we will not be able to postpone anymore and there will not be many happy people when that happens.

Copyright 2019 – Christophe Pelletier – The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.

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How to Be Happy

Here is the simple truth about happiness: there is no universal or absolute method on how to be happy. However, there are a few truths about the process of becoming happier.

Happiness is being in balance with yourself and your environment

balanceIn order to be happy, you need to know yourself. This sounds obvious. Yet because of lack of self-awareness, many people look for answers in all the wrong places. They can spend their whole lives being unhappy. Then, there is the direct life environment. Who are your friends, your relatives, your colleagues, your neighbors? Do you really want them in your world? Are they bringing you what you are looking for? Are you in the right place or do you need to consider a change? Is the necessary change about your environment or about you?

You must incrementally meet your needs and your values through action and objectives

People have their very own and very specific cocktails of values, needs, desires, goals and dreams. It depends on their personality, their upbringing, their education, and their social circles. This is why what makes one person happy does not necessarily bring any satisfaction to someone else. The first step to increase your level of happiness is to identify the ingredients of your own cocktail. The following steps are about setting targets on how to meet increasingly these values and needs in the future. j0438395[1]Trying to satisfy needs that you do not really have will not work on the long-term. Just look at a child at Christmas: the new toys are exciting the first day, a bit less the next day and soon they become boring. The toys meet a short-term desire, in most cases inspired by outsiders, especially marketers, but they did not answer the child’s true deep wish. There are many similar examples of quick fixes meeting the wrong needs. They might bring short-term satisfaction, because a nice surprise is always nice, but the feeling will not last because it is not the right answer. Having objectives, wishes, desires, dreams, is of utmost importance to be happy. It gives a feeling of purpose to your life, and therefore to you! Objectives are powerful drivers to grow and gain wisdom. If you doubt this, just try to imagine having to spend the rest of your life with no goal at all. How does that idea would make you feel?

This is not a passive process; you must have a plan, practice and train regularly

To do the above, nothing beats making a plan. It has to be a plan shaped around your values, in which you will determine your needs and set up a number of steps as well as set timelines to achieve them.  happyHappiness will not fall upon you per accident. If you want to be happy, you need to want to be happy. Nothing nice will happen to you unless you initiate the process and keep its momentum going.
Happiness will not stay with you, unless you nurture it. You have to work on being happy on an ongoing basis. If you stop your efforts, you will see your level of fulfillment drop over time. Being happy is an active process. Just like sport, your performance will decrease if you become complacent. It takes discipline and persistence. This is where so many people fail at happiness.

Happiness is not about being in a state of permanent bliss. It has its ups and downs. Being happy does not mean that you never experience negative feelings such as disappointment or frustration. This happens, and it happens to everyone. The difference with truly happy people is that they know how to find the resources to overcome such negative feelings. They have the ability to refocus on what will make them feel good. They take the proper action to correct that temporary setback.

There is little need to try to bring any explanation that involves money, religion, spiritualism, love, friendship, meditation, science or any of the so many terms that usually are used when talking about happiness. That is simply because they are all valid, but they are not all valid for all of us. Everyone must choose what works for him/her!

Copyright 2009 – The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.

Maslow’s pyramid and happiness

Happiness is a subjective feeling. What works with one person, does not necessarily work with another person. The answer to this “mystery” can be found in Maslow’s pyramid of needs. For those who are not familiar with this concept, Abraham Maslow was a professor of psychology. He developed the theory of the Hierarchy of Needs. To explain his theory, he created the Pyramid of Needs, featured below. According to his theory, needs must be met in a certain order. One needs to meet their needs starting by the most basic and essential ones mentioned in the bottom layer before being able to meet the needs mentioned in the layer right above and so on. Trying to skip levels will not bring satisfaction, because the person would still be missing more basic fulfillment.

Maslow's pyramid of needs - Picture Wikipedia

His theory, although widely spread and used, has not got general approval and there are quite a few people who disagree with his hierarchy approach. Some see the overall picture as one whole pool of needs, that all need to be met one way or another in order to provide satisfaction. Although all the needs listed in the pyramid exist for all of us, to different degrees, this discussion is not very relevant, as every person will rank the needs differently. Maslow’s pyramid would probably be more accurate, if it the ranking was adjusted to what different people’s profile groups. Certainly, the basic physiological needs are absolutely essential and common to all of us, and everyone needs a minimum level of security for them to be able to think of needs that are more elaborate.

When it comes to happiness, the key is in one’s values, more than the different parameters that define them. By defining one’s values, which include a number of the needs listed in the pyramid, and by prioritize them, it becomes much simpler to understand why different people will find happiness in different things. Not everyone values Maslow’s needs equally, and therefore his hierarchy cannot describe properly the whole process of increasing fulfillment. The reason why material goods do not necessarily bring happiness can be explained by the fact that some more important values get by-passed in the materialistic thinking. Some deeper and more essential needs are not met, although the new “toy” just bought might bring some short-term satisfaction. The need left unfilled very soon calls for an answer, which another “toy” will not satisfy, either. This explains why, although some people have more and more stuff, many among them still feel empty. The real need is not being answered. They keep looking for the answer in the wrong place. This also explains that some people end up throwing away their current lifestyle to look for a drastic change. Unless this change answers the real need being left unfulfilled, such a move will only bring more damage.

Finding happiness does not have to be difficult. However, it must follow the following steps:

  • Know your values
  • Shape your life around them, which means giving up some things in the process
  • Take charge of your life, do not your let environment do that for you
  • Define your goals and set a plan to achieve them, including timelines
  • Keep working at shaping your own life
  • Celebrate your successes, and do not give up when you have setbacks
  • In the end, it is all up to you to make it happen!

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.

The Life Plan will help you increase personal fulfillment

Your level of happiness or fulfillment is generally a direct consequence of how much you live your life and live in an environment that matches your values.

The Happy Future Group developed a Life Plan program to help you identify how balanced your life and your values are, and from there we help you build your own specific action list.

The process is simple. To identify your values, you will confront your own findings with some of your friends’ assessment of what truly drives you. Involving trusted friends to participate makes this process more fun and more rewarding. It also avoids this search to feel like a questioning, and at the same time, it will give you a much more objective feedback. After all, every person is who they really are, but also whom they show and who others think they are. By reducing the discrepancy between these three apparently different persons, your level of happiness will naturally increase.

By assessing how much fulfillment the different parts of your life match your core values, you will get your own “fulfillment index”. From that index and its analysis, it will become rather easy and obvious what actions you will need to take to increase your level of fulfillment.

The philosophy of the action list is all about incremental improvement. Consider your current life as being the ground zero. Each action when completed will help you live more to your values, and therefore you will achieve progress one step at a time. The timelines are the ones you feel comfortable with. All you need is to fully commit to the process. Should you “soften” a bit, we will help you remember what you promised yourself to achieve.

All you need to complete this process to success is to have the willingness to make it work, to be yourself and to spend the necessary time and energy.

To be happy, you do not need to go up the mountain to find yourself. It is all here and now, inside and around you!

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.