Is Happiness Having What You Want, Wanting What You Have, or Both?
April 28, 2008
Psychologists discover age-old question can be tested and has multiple answers.
Some argue that happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have.
This maxim sounds reasonable enough, but can it be tested, and if so, is it true?
It turns out it can be tested. Texas Tech University psychologist Jeff Larsen and
Amie McKibban of Wichita State University asked undergraduates to indicate whether
they possessed 52 different material items, such as a car, a stereo or a bed.
Their results, which appear in the April issue of the Association for Psychological
Science’s journal, Psychological Science, suggest people can grow accustomed to their
possessions and thereby derive less happiness from them.
They also suggest, however, that people can continue to want the things they have
and that those who do so can achieve greater happiness.
"Simply having a bunch of things is not the key to happiness," Larsen said. "Our data
show that you also need to appreciate those things you have. It’s also important to
keep your desire for things you don’t own in check."
If the students owned a car, the researchers asked them to rate how much they wanted
the car they had. If they didn’t have a car, they were asked to rate how much they
Larsen and McKibban then calculated the extent to which people want what they have
and have what they want. Their findings show that wanting what you have is not the
same as having what you want. While people who have what they want tend to desire
those items, the correlation between the two was far from perfect.
The researchers found that people who want more of what they have tend to be happier
than those who want less of what they have. However, people who have more of what
they want tend to be happier than those who have less of what they want.
CONTACT: Jeff Larsen, assistant professor, Department of Psychology, Texas Tech University,
(806) 742-3711 ext. 234 or firstname.lastname@example.org.