I never thought happiness could be explained as a science. In a brilliant, rational, and very understandable way Prof Brooks (former executive, now happiness teacher at Harvard (yeah, Harvard Business School) gives one equation that blew my mind.
Happiness is what you have divided by what you want. The smaller the denominator, the bigger the absolute number. Granted, you have to have early college maths to grasp what numerators/denominators are, but nothing unachievable.
This talk (here) is 45 minutes long, and resonates so much with plenty of thoughts that I didn’t know I was already aligned with, without really realising it.
We all – rationally – know that pleasure attached to things doesn’t last very much. Actually it lasts a time that is inversely proportional to how rich you are. When we were kids, one of the most vivid memories I have is when we played beach volley on a court we made using two huge wood pillars and an old tennis net that a club gave us for free. That made more for than one summer the happiest kids of the village. Happier than the scooter owners, the fancy clothes addicts, the “let s rent a soccer field and dress with the Juventus shirt” kids.
Now I know why.
Because enjoyment is pleasure plus higher consciousness.
Meaning when you do things or have things that bring you pleasure, what makes a difference is the love you are sharing, generating or giving (which is the same thing, technically) through these experiences.
So business class travel to Barbados with your shallow girlfriend of the moment in the perfect 5* hotel does not and won’t ever bring you the same pleasure of a weekend in a European capital with your daughter. (Ok, that was an easy one to say but it gives the twist).
Money does not make you happy, sure, say it to someone to struggle to keep the house from seizure, or someone who can’t cure her child. But this is not the point.
Things don’t make you happy either, and we can also find easy counterintuitive examples to challenge this, when you are really in need.
Indulge me for a moment in this first world problem: we often prefer to be special than be happy.
By « special » I mean the one with the better car, the nicest holidays, the best clothes, the business class trips, the wildest adventures … and more often than not our relationships deserved attention (not given), our kids grew apart (undetected), our family suffer (overlooked), our health is compromised, and so forth.
Therefore, increasing the numerator (of the happiness equation) is all we do, indulging in that super short elapse of adrenaline of the « have » versus the « want».
How can we want less?
I don’t think there is a recipe, but I do have a couple of examples (some of them happened by chance) that made me reflect on this, more as a consequence that as an intention in the first place (basically, pure luck).
This is a personal example of a “needing less” practice that started by accident, and thought me a lesson.
Most people who deal with me know that I do wear only black clothes, indulging in coloured sneakers (which happen also to be the only type of shoes I do wear, albeit I do have one or two relinquishes of the past).
How did it started? Back at the beginning of my post corporate life, as a sharp cut from the past of suits and ties, I started with jeans and black T-shirts, until I found black yoga-style pants and leggings, and the convenience of travelling on a single colour and the quickness of the « what do I wear » decision making did the rest.
10 years have past, all black, as far as business and day to day wearing is concerned. I am currently on a 2 weeks trip between Lisbon Geneva Copenhagen Milan Lome (Togo, Africa, if you wander) then back in Milan with 4 conferences (where I am on stage) and ONE trolley, no checked luggage.
All my clothes and shoes fit in a single closet. Not the “minimalist” religion that some is preaching, but certainly a pretty low sized wardrobe.
There is only so many black T-shirts you can buy, and it feels great. It also feels great not to care of what everyone thinks about you wearing the same all the time, but you know what? I am proud of not being slave of the latest fashion, the fancy shoes and that brand everyone buys clothes from as a sign of wealth.
So, what was a convenience and kind of a « against the system » decision of dress code became an excellent school for me being perfectly happy and content with a « limited » choice of clothes (granted, I do add some red from time to time actually) and it s now my own, blessed choice.
Think of it: most people will say « when I retire, I will just go live near the beach, maybe learn how to fish, go to nice walks, cook my own food, visit my kids or grandkids or my friends, have a simple life ». That sounds like reducing the «wants » right?
So why don’t you start now?