less is more

The Myth of More: Why It Won’t Make You Happier

Photo Credit: Gabrielle Esperdy

We’re taught that, in almost every area of life, having more is the key to happiness.

Not satisfied with your job? That’s because you want more money.

Unhappy with your home? You want more space.

Bored of your gadgets and DVDs and computer games? You want more of them.

As you’ve probably experienced in your own life, though, simply having more doesn’t tend to make you any happier. If you’ve ever received a pay raise – only to end up increasing your spending too – you’ll know that if you aren’t satisfied on $40,000 you’re unlikely to be satisfied on $50,000.

And if you’ve ever bought a new gadget or game, convinced that it’s going to make you happy, you’ll have noticed how quickly the thrill of “new” wears off.

More Isn’t Always Better

Our society promises that more is the way forwards – particularly when it comes to countables, like money, possessions, and rungs of the career ladder.

Sometimes, though, heaping up more just isn’t going to help. For instance, if you’re in a career that you don’t like, every step you take up the ladder is just taking you further and further in the wrong direction. You’re not getting any happier.

Other times, although more might seem good at first, it’s not really a fix for any underlying problems. If you’re a gambling addict, you might believe that all you need to be happy is more money … but the more you get, the more you’ll gamble away.

On a more everyday level, if you have more money you might upgrade to a bigger house with better furnishings … but you’ll also end up paying out more for home insurance, bills and maintenance, and working long hours just to keep up with your new lifestyle.

Even if you achieve the “become a millionaire” dream, you might find yourself dissatisfied: cut off from former friends, facing new hassles, worries and demands.

People assume that if you have accumulated money, then you are either using it in some unworthy way or you’re a miser, both of which are negative stereotypes.

(Trent Hamm, The Obligations of Wealth, The Simple Dollar)

How to Be Happy With Less

The secret, then, isn’t to keep chasing after more. It’s to figure out what you already have which is valuable, and make the most of that.

One easy way to start is with a gratitude journal. You’ve probably seen “gratitude” being mentioned all over the place in recent years – for a good reason. It works. Studies have shown that writing down what you’re grateful for really does make you happier: in one, led by Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough, participants spent a few minutes each week writing.

The first group listed five things for which they were grateful, the second noted down five things that annoyed them and the final group jotted down five events that had taken place during the previous week. […] The results were startling. Compared to those in either the ‘annoyed’ or ‘events’ groups, those expressing gratitude ended up happier, much more optimistic about the future, physically healthier and even exercised significantly more.

(Professor Richard Wiseman, 59 Seconds: Think a little, Change a lot, p17)

You can also deliberately go against the cultural pressure for more – and start thinking about how where less might make you happier, and how you can move towards that. For instance:

  • Less clutter: sell unwanted items on eBay, give them to charity, or recycle.
  • Less stress: consider a career switch, or taking a slightly lower-paid but more relaxed job.
  • Fewer commitments: stop saying “yes” to everything, and start only taking on the things which you can do wholeheartedly.
  • Fewer health issues: how about quitting smoking or drinking less?

And finally, look at what you value. If you’ve been chasing more money, or a fancier job title, what’s the motivation behind it? Perhaps what you really want is to feel that you’re making a contribution (and maybe volunteering is a better way forwards). Or perhaps you want to be certain that your family are safe and secure (and shifting to a smaller home would give you some financial breathing space and peace of mind).

Don’t get caught up in the trap of chasing after more in the belief that it’ll make you happy. Instead, look at all the good things you already have – and all the wonderful parts of your life, like your family and friends, which can’t be totted up on a balance sheet.

Take the time to enjoy all that, and you’ll be far happier than if you spent every spare minute trying to cram in more.

Related Articles:

Finding Bliss: How to Reverse Engineer Happiness

The 6 Components of a Happy Life


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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