Do Not Want What You Have Not Got: The Secret to Happiness?

When I first heard the title of Sinead O’Connor’s song, “I do not want what I haven’t got”, I thought that she had identified the secret to happiness. Reflecting a bit, though, I realized I’m one of the happiest people I know and I want lots of things I haven’t got.

  • I want to finish the whole 7 Generation Games series.
  • I want us to get the two grants we have under review, and the follow on funding, so that we can hire more people to work on the games, put at least one of our graphics people on full-time and put more money into documentation and marketing.
  • I want our games to be amazingly great, teaching kids math better and faster while they have fun at it.
  • I want to finish the research project I’m working on now for a client.
  • I want another client to get their grant renewed so they can keep on doing good work.
  • I want to finish the database project I’m working on, both so I can get paid and so the staff can have something that works better than their current system and makes their lives easier.

The secret isn’t not wanting what you haven’t got but rather being satisfied with what you have. This might sound contradictory, but it’s not.


Someone who is obviously much smarter than me made the comment,

“Young people are always thinking they will be happy – IF.  If they get a better job, make more money, finish this degree. What they don’t realize is that it’s their choice to be happy now.”

For a long time, I was afraid that if I was satisfied with what I had and enjoyed life that would make me lose my drive, that successful people have to always be somewhat unhappy. Let’s skip over the contradiction in that sentence ….

I can think of four couples I know who I am sure are happy most of the time.

One couple is older, has a very lovely home in an upscale enclave, with his and hers Mercedes in the garage. They are really nice people. After both having very successful careers, they retired comfortably, although he still does a bit of consulting to keep his hand in. They traveled a lot for a while and now they mostly chill out at home, with regular exercise at the country club.

One couple is in their forties and doesn’t own a car. They are really into biking everywhere. They live in a pretty nondescript apartment in a pretty boring part of town and both work at pretty mainstream jobs – that is, enough to pay the bills but nothing to impress the sort of people they don’t care to impress anyway. When I asked what they’d like for a present they both agreed,

“We have SO much. We really don’t need anything!”

While I (and the first couple) certainly have a whole heck of a lot more than them, they look at it in terms of how much the average person in the world has. By comparison, a couple of really nice bicycles, dozens of dishes, even more books, a computer, cell phones and all of the paraphernalia of American life seemed an embarrassment of riches.

The next couple that came to mind is younger, have good jobs for someone starting out, just bought their first car, expecting their first child, and live in a nice-enough apartment in a nice-enough part of a big city.

While none of those couples have children, The Invisible Developer and I have four. We don’t have matching Mercedes. We have a 10 year old mini-van and a new Prius.

What we all have in common, though, is that we think a lot about what we have rather than what we don’t. Today, I received two email messages from people who appear to be only slightly smarter than a rock. I was irritated for 10 seconds before I thought how lucky I am that the great majority of my life is spent working with really intelligent people and how good it is to have a career, family and circle of friends that are so intelligent.

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I am always a tiny bit annoyed when it is a lovely day on the weekend because then the traffic in Santa Monica is such a pain that it is way less trouble to walk than drive. The beach is crowded. The mountain trails are crowded.

So …. I work on the weekend and take Monday off. Except that tomorrow, I have a student who needs help with her dissertation, plus I need to get information to my accountant for the taxes so I’ll end up hiking in the mountains on Tuesday. In the same situation, I can name you six people off the top of my head who would be lamenting and wailing,

I didn’t get to go to the mountains this weekend because it was so crowded and I worked and now I can’t go on Monday, either!

So what? The mountains aren’t going anywhere. I live in Santa Monica close enough to everything I want to go to that I can walk when it’s a lovely day. I have the flexibility to take off during the week.

That’s why I’m happy, right? Sounds great. And it IS great. My point is that I have not once mentioned the things I haven’t got. I certainly don’t look like I did 30 years ago. Some days I think I am the only woman on the westside with her original face. I didn’t look like a twenty-year-old model when I was twenty and I sure as hell don’t now. I could spend all day listing the things I haven’t got, but what’s the point? I’d rather focus on what I do have and be happy.

I will tell you two things that all four of the couples I was thinking about have in common and that is love and work. They are all happy with the work they are doing/ have done and happy with the person they are with. Being happy with the work you are doing doesn’t mean you don’t want to do more, bigger and better things ever – or even tomorrow. It does mean you recognize the good in what you are doing now.

Be happy now. That’s the secret to happiness.

And that is #17 of 55 things I have learned in (almost) 55 years.

On a related note, see #9 – Don’t trade your life for stuff.


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