What Do You Really Need for a Happy Life?

We have so much crap in our lives. Look around. Do you really need all that? Why do you own it? Ex -Studentin asked the question “What do I really need?” That’s cool, because we wanted to write about that sooner or later anyway. And here’s what we think about it.

Mr W

When we started our lives here in Germany we were quite frugal, but we still went and bought new furniture, a new TV, decorative shit, useless presents and many things that we would never buy today. So for us it was a process as well. We were quite consumerist to start off with. And, to be honest, we still own/buy things that we don’t really need…we’re getting closer to the minimalist nirvana though…

Ex-Studentin asked a really fundamental question. When you truly try to answer it, you start a process in your brain that has the potential to clarify your thoughts and your priorities. Answering the question will not only help you find out what’s really important to you, but will also have a major impact on your wallet.

For me, all the things we need in our lives can be divided into a mere three categories. Before I buy something I ask myself the following questions:

  • Is this thing essential to my life?
  • Is it practical, i.e. will it save me time, help me be more efficient, help me stay healthy?
  • Will it genuinely make me happy?

If the answer to all of these questions is no, I won’t buy whatever it is.

So let’s look at these categories in more detail:

Things that are essential to your life

This list is very short in my case. It includes air (which is still free), clean water and any kind of food that has enough nutrients. No folks, an iPhone is not vital. And you can’t eat it either. People keep forgetting that when they say “OMG, I HAVE to have that new smartwatch” they’re not talking about an object that their life depends on.

Things that are practical

These things are tricky mofos. They like to lie to you whenever they can. They want your money. And they’re not afraid of telling you lies so they can get access to your bank account. Or, even if they’re not lying, they just don’t tell you the whole truth.

What the crap am I talking about? Let me give you an example:

I really enjoy driving motorbikes. I don’t mean those powerful, big things. I just mean those little Vespa-like 50cc scooters. Since I live in a hilly area, it would be better to have an engine under my ass to make it easier to ride uphill. So I wanted to get one but something told me I shouldn’t buy it. Not that I didn’t have the money. Those things are fairly cheap. I don’t mind spending 300-600€ for a used scooter that improves my life. But that’s exactly the point. Would it really improve my life? Well, I guess it would, in a couple of ways:

  • It would save me time.
  • I wouldn’t have to sweat so much going uphill anymore.

So yes, it would make me more efficient. But since I don’t move very much and I sit in front of my computer for most of the day, getting a scooter would actually be detrimental to my health.

So, should I buy something that would give me some efficiency improvement but would at the same time make me move less and in the long term be unhealthier? For me, this is a clear NO! I will ride my bike uphill with a huge, badass smile on my face!

While there are many things that improve your life (I’m a technology freak, I love new things that save me time or improve my efficiency in any way), there are others that you don’t really need. Do you really need to buy a special “spaghetti taster fork”, or a “garlic peeler”? Do you need champagne glasses? Do you really believe that champagne tastes better from fancy glasses? Or what about wine? Do you need five different types of glasses for different wines? Well, I am telling you: that’s bullshit! Wine tastes exactly the same in any glass!

In fact, we threw out all our champagne glasses one day after we realised how much time we spent cleaning them after we use them. Having them was of no benefit, only a waste of time while cleaning them. Out you go boys! And no, I don’t feel like a bad person drinking champagne from an IKEA water glass.

Things that genuinely make you happy

Note that I highlighted the word “genuinely”. These things are often debatable. I mean, who am I to tell you what makes YOU happy? (That’s your mother’s and MMM’s job :)).

Often, things that you think will make you happy actually only give you some excitement for a very short time before you get bored of them. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a brand new smartphone, a luxury car or fancy clothes. You can say, “Oh, but I bought them because it makes me happy”. I believe it does. But most probably only for a very short time. The money:happiness ratio is generally quite shit.

My trick to satisfy my need for playing with new gadgets is to rent them. When I have the feeling that I really want to play with that new smartwatch, I just buy one from an official online shop, try it for a couple of weeks and if I get  bored of it in that time and it didn’t make me any more efficient, I’ll send it right back. At most, I lose the postage fees which I’m perfectly fine with. If, on the other hand, I don’t get bored of it or it improves my life in such a way that the price:life improvement ratio (that’s a complex psychological and mathematical problem to solve :)) makes sense for me, then I’m happy to keep it.

Seeing your partner, parents, and children healthy and happy is a different kind of happiness, isn’t it? I wouldn’t put that feeling in the same category as buying the latest iPad. Nor would I compare the “happiness” you feel when you buy a 200€ dinner in a posh restaurant to your feelings when your 20-year-old child tells you “Dad, I love you and I’m proud of you”.

We’re talking about two different animals here, aren’t we? In my view:

One major step towards a happy life is understanding the difference between genuine happiness and superficial, short lasting excitement.

Conclusions

The problem is that people don’t know what to do with their money. Most people don’t realise that with every cent they spend, they lose time. With every cent they save, they buy time. Life time. Time they can use to do whatever makes them genuinely happy. The world would be so much better if people would start to think about these things.

If we have enough to eat now and in the forseeable future, we’re healthy, our family members are healthy, we have social connections/friends that we love spending time with, well, then there’s not much else we need. It’s perfectly OK in such a  situation to just run out into the street shouting out loud with joy!

Financial independence or generally making money cannot be the ultimate happiness goal. If you think financial security alone makes you happy, you’re very wrong! Money is just a tool that buys you time to do whatever makes you happy!

Ah, and the most important thing for a happy life is a fresh, crispy Butterbretzel for breakfast every morning!….mmmmm….heaven!

Mrs W

When I think about happiness, I don’t think in terms of what material goods I do or don’t need, but rather on abstract things. Basically, if the following areas of my life aren’t working out, no amount of great food or nice clothes is going to make me feel happy:

  • Relationships (with Mr W, my kids, my parents and my extended family, and my friends)
  • Spending time every day working on things I love and seeing the progress I’m making
  • Doing useful things that help my family both on a day-to-day basis and in the long term

Relationships

If I don’t take the time to just hang out with the people I love, I feel isolated and unhappy. There have been times when I’ve been so focussed on something else that I’ve cancelled meetings with friends or told Mr W I didn’t have time to watch a film with him in the evening. While I then felt great about all the progress I’ve made on whatever project currently had my attention, I also felt guilty and unhappy about isolating myself. Even if I have a tonne of housework waiting for me at home, now I prioritise my family and friends because those are the times I feel the most connected.

Things I love

I’ve recently been stuck in a rut where every day all I do is work through my to-do list, which is always unrealistically long, and at the end of the day I’m exhausted by all the running about, stressed that I haven’t done everything on my list, and annoyed that I didn’t spend any time doing anything I enjoyed. My mistake was to prioritise all the random chores and admin stuff with the idea that I’d get round to the fun stuff afterwards. Turns out “afterwards” never arrived. Now I’ve flipped my approach around. Now I start my day with the fun stuff (like blogging, playing music and working on improving my written, spoken and sung (!) Hungarian) and then see how much time is left over for all the drudgery that comes with running a household. I will change the bed eventually. Until then, it’s not the end of the world if we sleep in the old sheets for just one more night. When I spend time on things I love, I feel uplifted and when I see that I’m making progress, it gives me even more motivation to keep going.

Feeling useful

While meeting friends and playing my flute are fun, I still have a fundamental need to feel useful, i.e. do things for other people. Right now that means planning and cooking the meals, making Little Miss W a bee costume for Carnival and dealing with all the little day-to-day administrative things that appear in our mail box and land in my e-mail inbox. I wouldn’t be happy doing only this kind of stuff, but it’s still an important part of the mix for me to feel happy.

Conclusions

The way I see it, happiness is all about finding the right balance between the different areas of your life that fit together to make the bigger picture. Concentrating too much on one area at the expense of another won’t make you happy in the long term. Unfortunately, finding the right balance can be tricky and the balance can change depending on your circumstances. Sometimes you’ll have no choice but to concentrate on one area more than the others (like if your kids get ill and you need to look after them all day and don’t have time for anything else), but if you make sure to balance things out again as soon as you can, you should be ok.

  • Oliver

    I pretty much agree with your approaches. Another thing that comes with “always having the latest stuff / tech gadget” ist that they do not only take your time indirectly (in terms of the money they cost), but also directly: The new things always come with new functions that do not work as they should, new bugs and time you have to spend setting everything up, customizing the device or even sending it back when it breaks or does not please you as much as you initially thought.

    • oh yeah…I just tested some smartwatches…I really wanted to have one, but they’re so buggy or just simply useless. Was an easy decision to send them back. No I’m done with my smartwatch cravings for at least a half a year 🙂
      I don’t mind the time a spend with these gadgets though cos I enjoy doing that…

  • Knowing your little lovely family, I can only appreciate your priorities in life. Kids grow so fast, so it would be a shame, not to participate as much as you can. (Will there be any bee costume photos except at instagram? :D). And beside that, you don’t forget your relationship, your friends or your family. Life and freetime isn’t easy, when you live far away from yor loved persons.

    By the way: Some of my glasses are mustard glasses, so it doesn’t matter, when they broke. As long as I eat mustard, I will have a full cupboard. 😉

    • the mustard glasses are a good idea! A lot more mustachian than our ikea glasses.
      You can see biene maja live the next time you see us 🙂

  • Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Can’t wait to get to know the both of you in person.

    I love to try out new tech gadgets as well. Basically I’m going the same route as you do, but I keep them a little longer and sell them later on. But I kept my smartwatch so far cause I really like it :-). Do I need it? Sure not. But as long as something satisfies me I’m fine with having spent the money.

    • that’s it! as long as it really makes you happy or more productive (and you can afford it), why not?

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