The desire to reduce my impact on the environment motivated me to learn how to live better with less. However, over time the environmental benefits have become almost secondary to the happiness and wellbeing benefits. I’ve discovered that having and doing less creates a sense of happiness and relief rather than deprivation.
Appreciating that less is truly more is nothing new. The Greek philosopher Socrates wrote almost 2500 years ago that ‘‘The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.’’
Just because something brings you happiness doesn’t mean that you’ll be happier with more. In all likelihood, having more will only lessen the joy.
In her book The Happiness Project, Gretchen Ruben tells the story of a boy who loved his toy car. He took it everywhere, always played with it. Then his grandmother gave him 10 toy cars, and he stopped playing with the cars altogether. Having more caused him to love what he had less.
This story made me realise that the less I give my daughter, the more she will enjoy what she has. Obviously there’s a point where you cross the line into deprivation, but to be honest I’m nowhere near that line. I struggle to resist giving her all she desires. But I appreciate that by not spoiling her with endless toys and gifts I’ll be helping her grow up with the capacity to find joy in having less.
Racing to fulfil a desire also takes away most of the fun. The anticipation, dreaming and planning often brings more happiness than the item or event desired.
Enjoying less can also turn modest pleasures into a luxury. I enjoy and savour one coffee a day far more than if I allow myself multiple. I stop and savour the moment, truly tasting and enjoying the flavour (and the caffeine). Learning to stop and enjoy what I have rather than wanting more is the secret to reducing my impact on the environment and increasing my happiness.
Originally published in my Newcastle Herald column 'Less is More' 7th September 2013.