To Want But Little

| 11/21/2014 9:11:00 AM

Erin SheehanWith the holidays right around the bend it seems like the drumbeat of commercialism is hard to escape. It’s not even Thanksgiving but the bombardment of messages to buy, buy, buy seem to have already ratcheted up. If you’re like me, it’s hard not to fall into the trap of thinking that happiness lies in acquiring more things and remembering happy moments from Christmas past, opening presents by the tree.

Inevitably, as December approaches, I start thinking about what I think I need or want to buy.

holidayThis week I’ve been eyeing an electric pressure cooker that doubles as a slow cooker and a rice cooker. Of course I already have a perfectly good stainless steel pressure cooker (a long-ago Christmas gift) and a serviceable slow cooker that I inherited from my mother-in-law. So why am I eyeing an electric pressure cooker? I don’t even really know, other than I think I want to have one!

I can’t help but to think of Henry David Thoreau in Walden, “My greatest skill in life has been to want but little.” It deserves emphasis that one of the greatest American philosophers and writers says that his greatest skill is to keep his wants to a minimum.

Thoreau's assertion was backed up recently by researchers at University College London, who determined that our happiness doesn’t depend on how things are going, but rather if things are going better than expected. The study’s authors concluded that lower expectations have a positive impact on happiness. Lower expectations, wanting less ... I think they are related.