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