The Unlimited Desire for More

We live in a society in which we are constantly chasing more. We tell ourselves “if only I could have a little more, then I’d finally be very happy.” We chase our imagined “10”, so life becomes a form of checklist to attain what is bigger, better, and faster.

Trapped in a wheel of consumerism, we chase stuff as a way to upgrade our lives because we hold the belief that at this moment we don’t have enough to be happy. But when is enough enough? I see it like climbing a mountain as fast as you can, just to get to the desired “top” and realize that now you have to climb the next mountain just because it will get you even higher up. The problem lies in unchecked ambition, the why behind climbing to a higher new “top”.

Constant dissatisfaction is the result of wanting more, regardless of how much you have. But, like Mark Manson says, “what if there is no ‘next level?’ What if it’s just an idea you made up in your head? What if you’re already there and not only are you not recognizing it, but by constantly pursuing something more, you’re preventing yourself from appreciating it and enjoying where you are now?”

It’s like putting your life on hold since you are too busy chasing what you believe you need to be truly satisfied. But in fact, you either never reach your ideal “10” and as a result live frustrated, or you do reach your “10” but your “never-enough” criteria causes you to not be satisfied with it because now you want 20, 30, or even 100.

I don’t see a problem on wanting a better car, a new house, great shoes, or an awesome vacation. However, living your life believing that these external circumstances are at the root of your happiness makes me cringe. Not only because it makes you a victim of your external context, but because research shows it is simply just not true. “Mis-wanting” is the term used by Tim Wilson to describe the process by which our brain wrongly tells us that “if we could just have X, then we’d be happy.”

Multiple studies show that, regardless of our external circumstances, we experience quite a stable state of happiness, where we are content yet not fully satisfied. From 0 to 10, the average level of happiness for most people lies around 7. As surprising as it sounds, research shows that even when negative experiences happen, like a family member getting cancer, missing a mortgage payment on the house or even losing an arm in an accident, happiness levels dip low for a short period, just to return to baseline (7) after a certain amount of time. The same is true for positive events because, as seen by people who marry, win the lottery or take their dream vacation, their happiness increases for a short period of time, and soon settle back to around 7. As a person achieves more (success, money, health, belongings, recognition…), their expectations, goals, attention, values, and desire shift and rise at tandem. The result is that we never feel fully satisfied.

Psychologists use the term “hedonic adaptation” to describe the tendency to quickly adapt to major positive or negative life circumstances, and then return to our base level of happiness. Regardless of how pleasurable or disappointing a situation is, we tend to return to our happiness set point because we simply get used to stuff. As psychologist Daniel Gilbert says, “wonderful things are especially wonderful the first time they happen, but their wonderfulness wanes with repetition.”

So, it’s not what you have or what happens to you, but your view about it that can effect your wellbeing. Recognizing that “having more” truly doesn’t cause any lasting effect on your happiness, we can decide to stop chasing short-lived outcome-dependent experiences that in the long-term can keep us feeling void. As psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky states “the joys of loves and triumphs and the sorrows of losses and humiliations fade with time.” In the face of this, we can intentionally appreciate our life at this moment, instead of living for a future scenario that we project to be much more attractive than the present. We can feel grateful as we savor life daily experiences, choosing to create our reality with our mindset and our presence. We can examine if our fear of not being enough is causing us to want to prove our self-worth through external haves and accomplishment. We can decide to be “okay” with what is, without any added resistance from the mind. And, finally, we can learn that “this too shall pass”, to enjoy the wonderful experiences in life and acknowledge the impermanence of the hardest times.