Satisfying Wants

This is a guest post by Robert, who lives in Calgary and worked as a financial adviser before retiring at age 35. He is married, has three kids and has returned to school with the goal of eventually living and working overseas.

Why do we spend most of our waking hours at work? We all have needs and wants to satisfy, mostly through earning money and buying things. Our efforts can be shown as an equation like this: What we want = Enough – What we already have. As an example, how much food I need tomorrow is the difference between enough food and how much food I already have. On the surface, this seems like a pretty straightforward equation.

One major problem that I’ve noticed, though, that it’s really hard for people to define how much is enough. Because we aren’t always good judges of how much is enough, “enough” becomes a moving target. I have shared before my experience stepping on a bathroom scale last Christmas (a little over a year ago) and weighing in at 212 pounds. Obviously, I overestimated how much food I needed each day. I don’t eat much less now, but I exercise more with the effect of increasing the amount of food that’s enough. With my kids, it’s easy to underestimate how much attention they need. My 8 year old son doesn’t want a hug at bedtime anymore, and hasn’t for the past year or two. But my younger son, the 6 year old, still likes a hug at bedtime. I simply stopped giving hugs because the older son protested so much and I no longer thought about it. I’m glad I realized my mistake.

Once we figure out how much is enough, there are two ways to go about getting enough. First, we can get more (or less), just like my younger son gets more hugs. Using the equation, how many hugs he wants = enough (a couple a day) – how many he’s already gotten. That seems to be how we go about meeting most of our wants. If I want more food, I eat more. If I want to go on another vacation, I earn more money and pay for another vacation. Using the equation I gave above, having more results in wanting less, because it brings us closer to “enough.” Strangely though, with cravings (and addictions) getting more leads to wanting more. When a person craves a cigarette, they can meet that need, but it doesn’t go away. It only comes back, possibly stronger (I assume; I’ve never smoked). So having more of something isn’t always an effective way to want less.

As I pointed out earlier, we’re not very good at determining how much is enough. Another method for meeting a want is simply to want less. Find a way to bring “enough” down closer to “how much we have.” This can be done in a number of ways: cold turkey (with a craving), finding something you want more (retirement instead of more income), or comparing yourself to people who have less (ancestors) instead of those who have more (neighbours).

We can meet our needs either by having more stuff, or by being satisfied with less. Do you have a way to make it easier to be satisfied with less? Is it necessary to suffer if you can’t have everything you want?


2 thoughts on “Satisfying Wants”

  1. Knowing how much is enough is very hard for most people who haven’t figured out how to live within their means.

    How much is enough for a lot of people means how much you can charge and still make the minimum monthly payment.

    Working very hard at living below my means in Canada tonight and trading weather updates (-13 celsius here) with a friend who paid cash to sit beside a pool in Florida (26 celsius).

  2. I’d say living on less is entirely based on your frame of mind. I lived on an entertainment budget of $10/mnth while at University and never felt deprived or bored. Then again I was more then happy to attend local festivals and read through the local library rather then go out drinking many times a week.

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