Downsizing your pyramid

The best things in life are not only free, but the line is shorter.
Robert Brault

A fellow blogger’s book review reminded me of the famous pyramid representing Abraham Maslow’s proposed hierarchy of needs and it set me wondering how relevant it might be in 2016.

A lot has changed since Maslow first published it way back in 1943. They didn’t have so many of the daily essentials we take for granted – the Internet, Wi-Fi, smartphones and microwave popcorn were all still a long way off. Life must have been hellish.

Of course people were somewhat distracted by the small matter of defeating Hitler and winning WWII, so they probably didn’t spend a lot of their time thinking ‘If only there was a way to watch short movies featuring cats, from any room in the house.’

So what do we really need to be happy? Needs are all too easily confused with wants. You may want a home imax-style cinema with a state of the art sound system and fully stocked bar, but you do not need one. Equally the exclusive handbag, sports car or luxury holiday in the Cayman islands are also wants, shiny and enticing perhaps, but not essential to your ongoing existence or Joie de vivre.


For some of the super-wealthy, the ideal might be an actual pyramid, with bullet-proof-glass windows, a pool and a gold sarcophagus-style bed.

Most mere mortals can be happy with far less and also avoid the risk of ending up a paranoid fruitcake, sealed inside your own high-security tomb, nervously watching banks of cctv monitors as you sip your fine wine and swallow another handful of Xanax.

If you are convinced you need these things in your life in order to be happy, you may need to spend some time thinking about the true nature of happiness and ask yourself, ‘Would I really be a happier person with any of those things? Or have I been snared in a cunningly-set trap?’

Of course we cannot deny that life’s little luxuries or occasional extravagances do make us slightly happier for a short time. But thanks to the phenomenon known as habituation, it wears off very quickly. Studies have shown that people who win big on the lottery see their happiness levels return to their pre-win levels not long after their windfall. The same happens after having children or getting a pet tarantula.

Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.
Marcus Aurelius – Meditations

Many of the world’s greatest thinkers have extolled the virtue of the simple life. From the ancient Greeks and Romans to zen masters and some of the great European and American philosophers and writers, there is a common thread of learning to be happy with less and appreciating the bounties of nature.

tiny house 2_sml

Of course one doesn’t have to take it quite as far as Diogenes, and live in a wine barrel. Simply downsizing and living with lower expectations and less stuff can boost our levels of happiness. With the growth of the tiny homes movement and a lot of support for re-use and recycling schemes, as well as ideas like international no-shopping day, there are some small signs of hope we may yet escape the chains of rampant consumerist culture that bind us.

It’s easier said than done when we live in a world bombarded with advertising messages and glamorous lifestyles 24/7. Corporations and the clever marketing whizzkids they hire are out to ensure we stay unsatisfied. They need you to feel like you cannot live without an upgrade to your smartphone, your home and perhaps even your partner. Happiness is not their primary concern. One might say they are promoting unhappiness and then offering you an ineffective cure.

The things you own end up owning you.
Chuck Palahniuk – Fight Club

Ultimately the things we actually need, as Maslow and so many others have pointed out, are much more within our reach than the trappings of the rich and famous. Beyond the basics of food, water, shelter and safety we need love and belonging. We need self esteem and we need self-actualisation – working towards reaching one’s true potential.

The relative importance or ranking of these primary needs is the subject of much debate, but we can probably all agree that meeting them would certainly make for a more contented life. The home cinema and luxury holidays are fine if you must, as long as you don’t assume they are important to your long-term happiness.

Wi-Fi and microwave popcorn on the other hand, well just consider them as basic necessities of life.

Copyright J.Lennick 2016. All rights reserved.
Modern Pyramid House by Juan Carlos Ramos

Modular Micro Home – Geoffrey Warner

25 thoughts on “Downsizing your pyramid

  1. I don’t think it’s sad at all. It’s known that people are happier and healthier if they are outward looking, with wider interests outside their own lives. The internet certainly helps us with that. The problem comes, as always, when commercialism/consumerism take over. Unfortunately, some people think the internet is just about buying stuff, talking nonsense on Facebook and watching silly videos on YouTube.

    Liked by 4 people

    • No the Internet isn’t sad, it’s what it’s become and how we use it that’s the problem. Using technology and clever psychology the new masters of the universe have created super-addictive media platforms that have, for many, replaced a real world social life. Fine if you’re housebound, but maybe not so great otherwise.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I think you are probably right about the futility of chasing after stuff and the importance of identifying the simple things that make us happy. Certainly, Roger (my pet tarantula) and I have been much happier since we moved into our wine barrel. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I’ve been meaning to leave a nice, meaty reply to this post for a bit now, but you see, I’ve been distracted by my elaborate pyramid of shiny objects.

    Kidding — I’ve actually been sick all day. But, I still love this post. When I first read it, before I clicked on the other post you linked, I assumed you had read the same Maslow based post I had just read the other day, but apparently loads of bloggers have been blogging about Maslow’s hierarchy lately! I enjoyed the post you linked.

    I think there’s a fine line between balancing asceticism and over-indulging in luxuries that technology affords us. At least, finding that line can be difficult for me at times. It’s a balance that’s been weighing on me a lot lately, and your post was a wonderful reminder. I can say for certain, however, that I 100% agree that, ultimately, love my not be technically *all* we need (sorry, Beatles) but that companionship and love and human connection is far, far more important to fulfillment in life than anything beyond the basic necessities of living.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Charlotte! I agree it is a balancing act. Sometimes it’s the little treats that make our lives more rich and enjoyable, but of course without love and human connections, they are not that important.

      I like to imagine that if they were writing the song now, the Beatles would have sung ‘Love is all you need, but Wi-Fi & popcorn are nice too.’ Although it doesn’t exactly roll smoothly off the tongue..

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I dunno, I think that imax home cinema would make me pretty happy, I know the well stocked bar would 🙂

    I saw a TED talk recently on happiness and found it quite interesting –

    I took a look at that Maslow Hierachy. I was surprised that esteem was above love/belonging. You here all this BS about you have to love yourself before you can love (or something like that). From the description of Self-actualization, how do you know you can be, or more importantly are being everything that you can be.

    And if you are trying to be everything that you (think) can be are are failing miserably (as I feel I am currently) then that makes you feel the opposite of happy.

    It is an interesting subject, there is definitely something in this less is more theory.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think these are good points, I often think the opposite to this idea of ‘trying to be everything you can be’ stuff. I’m ‘happy’ to accept my weaknesses and not feel guilty about them.

      I think many people who excel in what they do, are maybe just lucky in not finding those things a chore? They are enjoying that process. I presume Einstein enjoyed thinking about fundamental physics?


      • I was reading about zen Buddhism the other day and the concept of wabi-sabi – satisfaction with simplicity and appreciation of imperfection. A much healthier mindset than the endless and unachievable perfectionism of modern western cultures.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I liken it to a game like tug-of-war where you are pulling against your fears, your weaknesses and you mind etc.

        it is all made more difficult by “self issues” in terms of trying to decide which (weaknesses etc) are worth trying to change and which to let wash over you and accept.


    • Thanks I’ll watch that, I’m a sucker for a good TED talk. I know what you mean re trying and failing and how it can impact on your self esteem. There are many who think the path to happiness is self-acceptance and the western obsession with self-improvement is a trap that makes many miserable.

      Re the pyramid, the essentials are at the base, so love/belonging is the greater need than esteem or actualisation.


      • I would have though esteem, which I take to mean as liking yourself, would be above love etc. whereas they are opposite on that chart. if you don’t like yourself how can you possibly be happy even with love in your life?


  5. This chimes with the concept of ‘Maximum Stuff’, which states that the people of the rich Western nations now own more or less everything they could possibly need in order to live a life of material happiness. Global interest rates are falling — sometimes into negative territory — as the world’s output stalls. That is why commodity prices are also in free-fall, for who needs steel or oil for plastics etc, or aluminium ore or any number of raw materials for manufacturing processes when demand is sated and new orders are hard to come by? China is collapsing, as predicted; the sub-Saharan nations missed the boat long ago so that now they can never catch up with the ‘First World’, and as the CEO of the Rio Tinto Group said only yesterday, globally we are in the process of adjusting to the ‘New Normal’.

    I am no economist, but as an historian I can take the long view, and it leads me to the conclusion that we are now entering an entirely different set of circumstances than has existed before. We have had the agrarian revolution, the industrial evolution (both of which saw vast movements of people from countryside to towns and cities, and parallel to these physical revolutions we have had the civic revolutions of Greece and Rome, the renaissance in Europe, and the Enlightenment a little later. The future will be different, and therefore unknown. Democracy will spread across the world because unlike Theocracy it offers hope, and wars will become rarer — it is a matter of record that no two democracies have ever gone to war with each other.

    All in all, one has to say that what is coming will surpass what has gone before, and because much of humanity will be released from drudgery by advances in robotics and vastly enhanced computing applications, there will be much more opportunity for creativity, for spiritual contemplation, and for the pursuit of happiness as we live longer and remain healthier.

    What’s not to look forward to, eh..?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I certainly hope the dystopian visions beloved of sci-fi writers remain purely fiction. There is certainly much cause for hope, although I do worry if a loose cannon like North Korea, or the clash of the two great monotheist dinosaurs will bring catastrophe. There is also the huge threat from climate change, something that our ancestors probably survived by virtue of being hugely adaptable and mobile. Can modern societies with their mega-cities close to sea level survive long-term? Can technology outpace these disastrous climate changes and political threats? We can only guess how the world might look in two or three hundred years. But I’m mildly optimistic humanity will adapt and flourish, barring any giant meteor impacts..

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Jason,

    Dystopian fantasies are great fun because they allow one to taste a frisson of fear without exposure to physical danger, which is why sci-fi and horror writers love them. The clash of the ‘unstoppable force’ with the ‘immovable object’ is also a bit of a fantasy these days, for there remains only a single monotheist entity, which is Islam; rabid Christianity is no more, and Christianity itself is now more like its pacifist origins than perhaps at any other time in history. I don’t worry about climate change either; it happens; it has always happened; we adjust as all of nature adjusts, and who knows, it might be rather pleasant to live on vast island cities floating on the sea (or tethered under it) when technology allows — and of course there’s always Mars to be terraformed!

    Just one thing though, and it is this — I have to defend our friends the dinosaurs from the insults they suffer constantly. These creatures ruled the world for hundreds of millions of years, many, many times more than we have managed to, and even now, because of their remarkable adaptability, our supermarket shelves are stacked with untold numbers of their plucked and cling-wrapped bodies.

    Now, about that meteor… lol

    Liked by 1 person

    • I suspect those poor little dino-descendants rather wish they had gone the way of their larger relatives. It’s a pretty shitty way to end up after hundreds of millions of years, stuck in hideous factory farms (or ground up as useless if you’re male)

      The industrial revolution and the Anthropocene it ushered in has been rather catastrophic for most of the species with whom we share the planet. It may also prove our undoing, unless those future floating cities find a way to feed their populations from largely empty oceans and the few remaining farmable patches of land. Krill and seaweed stew every day might get a bit boring..

      Maybe we can head back down the evolutionary road and engineer new species of amphibian-humans. Or take a leaf from plant biology and learn to photosynthesise?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Where the balance lies between a Utopian or Dystopian future? I’d err towards the later. We’re always going to need huge amounts of energy and only took us around 300 years to use up most of the ‘3.5 billion years in the making’ fossil fuels.
        All the visions of a Utopian future seem to ignore population growth. Aren’t these floating islands are going to be a little crowded? Or is Utopia only for the fortunate few?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s