Thursday, July 3, 2008

Stuff and Happiness

I was perusing the net the other day and came across this:

It’s an article about a study that ranks the happiest countries in the world using the following survey questions:

“Taking all things together, would you say you are very happy, rather happy, not very happy, not at all happy?" And, "All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?"

Let’s just say that the US didn’t quite crack the top ten. But you know what? Colombia and Puerto Rico did.

This got me thinking about what, in fact, makes us happy. More to the point, what, exactly, does a person really need to be happy? This is such a subjective question, particularly in the realm of voluntary simplicity. Not everyone gets the same kind of joy from the same activities or life amenities. My mom, for example, is perfectly happy lounging around at home, watching TV, and talking to her girlfriends on the phone. For her, leaving the house is a chore that is done only when absolutely necessary. On the other hand, I have a very good friend who LOVES to sail. I suspect that he would be perfectly happy living on a sailboat, sailing from port to port, without the comforts of a house, car, etc…

So, the question presents itself: What are the bare essential of MY happiness? To put it differently, what are the things that I would need to have access to so that I could be in a position to be happy, whatever happiness means?

Here is a bare-bones list that I came up with on the fly.

*Affordable health care (medical and dental)

*Air Conditioning (definitely NOT a heat/humidity person)
*Comfortable restful sleep (i.e., a bed, couch, other surface that would allow me to have a good, full, night of sleep)
*Working laptop
*Access to the internet
*Cell Phone
*Basic set of clothes for all types of climate/conditions (nothing fancy, so long as it is durable and well-made)
*Long-term travel necessities (backpack, sleeping bag, etc…)

*Bicycle (plus helmet)

*Listening to music (off an Ipod/PDA/laptop)
*Going to the movies
*Renting movies (which I can happily watch on my laptop)
*Occasional lunches/dinners/nights out with friends (nothing fancy)
*Access to books (buy used on Amazon; library; friends)
*Travel (cheap, cheap, cheap!)
*Travel-related activities (hiking, access to museums, access to historical sites etc…)

*Occasional nice dinner out

I think I may just use this list as a guidepost as I start to get rid of stuff later this month.


donna said...

thats really interesting, i think i might have a go at my own list!

Nicola said...

i think making a list for yourself is a great idea, although i am a list person, so of course i would think so. i am finding that the more i purge (the less i have), the happier i am. less to take care of and financially allows us to have fewer things of far better quality.
keep up the good work!

Elizabeth Halt said...

Good idea, though I love any excuse to make a list :-)

Jack said...

Thanks everybody. Pretty excited because I'm starting to go over all my "stuff" this week as part of my overall plan. Lists are awesome, but only a means to an end. But, bottom line, I am going to move forward because I now have a list to work with!

Take care,


terahreu said...

Great blog.

It is interesting, I live in a country that we have daily problems with water, electricity, and gas. At the moment, we have very little. And yet, I have never been happier in all my life!

Thanks for the reflection.

Jack said...


thanks for the comment. how lucky you are. It's funny, I think I am hoping to find something that you probably found a while ago.

Good luck and take care,


Anonymous said...

just found your blog via your comment on "et tu?". What an interesting journey you are undertaking! It will be cool to watch it unfold. I go through spurts of purging, usually when I'm feeling anxious or stuck, and it always makes me feel better, lighter. The problem is, I acquire more stuff ("possession bulimia" so to speak). I'm especially bad about books and cd's. I have given away books and cd's, only to go out and buy certain titles again (used, of course!). At least with the advent of mp3's my cd collection is actually shrinking for good. Are things that doesn't take up any physical space (like blogs, or mp3s) still considered possessions?

Jae Jagger said...

Psychologists are starting to believe that the level of happiness is relatively predetermined in the brain at an early age.

However, the elasticity of the brain is not disputed.

It's just a problem of getting the neurologists to agree with the psychologists.

Or you can believe Voltaire, who said work was the only way to make life bearable.

Jack said...


Yeah, books and CD are/will be a problem, but I do think that an ipod can resolve most of the music issue. And with books, I like to give those away to people I love, so I will always know where they are...

And yes, mp3s and blogs are 'possessions' but are only to be rejected if they are holding you back in some way. Not so in my case.

Take care,


Jack said...


Umm...i've heard that. It's also applicable in the context of lottery winners. Apparently, people who win the lottery have an initial increase in 'happiness' but come back down to where they were before the win within a year.

On the other hand, at least in my case, while happiness may be somewhat static, it is true that there are things that can prevent you from reaching the highest level of whatever pre-determined happiness you can reach. For me, 'stuff', debt, et. al., are things that are preventing me from getting to that point.


Anonymous said...

Hey Jack,

Amazingly I just undertook the same venture you are on, and am glad to run across your blog here.

Simplicity. Simple is definitely not always easy. But it's simple!

I have been boxing up, selling, clearing, shredding, tossing, dusting, breathing better, and balancing my accounts more often. But I just started too, a few weeks ago.

Am looking forward to your progress.


Jack said...


Do you have a blog yourself? Always good to follow along and get motivated by others.


Anonymous said...


I dont have a blog, but I may very well start one. The motivation would be a good..... motivator. Heheh.


Anonymous said...

Oh, Jack. Don't you think you might need food? Do you need to be able to cook it, or are you happy on a raw diet? What about refridgeration, are you going to need that?

Jack said...

Hobo stripper,

Absolutely. I think I was just listing bare necessities if I were to be on my own, without owning a house. Picture someone constantly traveling and staying at hostel or with friends. But hey, this is only one scenario....