It’s a new year and time for new resolutions to make big changes happen. If you are looking to build a happier 2021 (seriously, who isn’t?), change your focus from wants to needs. We often confuse things that we want (popularity, romance, money) for things that we need.
Fulfilling your wants will bring you a bit of instant gratification and a quick serotonin release. But these ‘good’ feelings will fade quickly. Fulfilling your needs brings peace and contentment. It allows you to be more grateful for what you have and less focused on what you want.
Getting a Raise or Promotion at Work
Recognition at work feels good. A raise or a promotion (hopefully both) will boost your happiness in the present, but it rarely leads to long-term happiness. Unless you change income brackets and move from poverty to sustainability, making more money will never equate to happiness. If you are already meeting your financial needs, making more money will not bring happiness.
Winning an Argument
Winning an argument feels good in the moment. And, the science agrees. The desire to assert oneself in social situations is hardwired into our DNA, challenging authority and exerting dominance to find our place.
While an occasional shot of happy hormones does promote long-term happiness, it is one small piece of the puzzle. There are healthier ways to boost your mood that do not destroy your relationships.
Making a Big Purchase
If you have had your eye on a big-ticket item and are looking to justify the expense for the sake of your happiness, you may want to practice some frugality. Spending money on possessions fulfills wants and gives you an instant-gratification release of serotonin. It feels good in the moment, but the warm and fuzzy feelings fade quickly.
If you have financed your big purchase like a boat or a car, the nostalgia will likely wear thin before the first payment is made. It is ok to indulge your whims if you have the financial capacity, but buyers beware that happiness will be fleeting.
Taking an Extended Vacation
If you are tired of the daily grind, spending weeks (or months) on white sandy beaches might sound like the respite that you need to recover. But longer isn’t necessarily better. Don’t get us wrong, we are absolutely a fan of taking the vacation.
But there comes a point when you will settle into your new abode and no longer feel like you are on vacation. If you are taking every day for rest and relaxation then your mental health will suffer from a lack of purpose.
Plus, if you truly need more than a couple of weeks to reset from the stress of your job then it might be time to consider a career change. There is burnout and then there is a poor fit. If you are not ready to return after 1-2 weeks away, the latter is likely the reason at play.
Having More Free Time
If you are burdened by a tedious job, you may dream of having more free time. You may even blame the hours you spent at work as the cause of your unhappiness. While a poor fit or a job you have outgrown can add stress to your life, it is not the free time that you crave.
There is a difference between free time and purposeful time. The discontentment that you feel from spending so much time at work is a sign of unfulfillment. A different job that provides more fulfillment while requiring the same time commitment will change your perspective.
Studies show that we are happiest when our time is spent on meaningful activities, not leisure activities. Having more free time will not equate to greater happiness unless that free time is spent on meaningful activities that fulfill you.
Society pressures us into believing false stories about what will make us happy. Wealth, career advancement, social dominance, possessions, and more time to play are all fruitless endeavors in the pursuit of happiness. They are sort of half-truths that we go after without having the full story.
Every basic human need exists on a scale. In modern society, you need a minimum amount of money to provide for your family and live comfortably. While wealth will not bring happiness, living in poverty won’t bring happiness either. Being the person who always has to be right will not bring happiness, but missed opportunities to assert yourself socially will also limit your happiness.
The bottom line is that every need is fulfilled on a scale and once your needs are met, getting more won’t increase your happiness.