“Don’t Forget: He has most who needs least. Don’t create needs for yourself.”– Josemaria Escriva, 1928
My husband asked me what I want for Christmas. To “make it easier” for him, I decided to list a bunch of things I would like to have and let him choose what to buy. Immediately the following things came to mind: Apple Watch, new pajamas, and comfortable outfit for working from home. Over the weekend I continued making the list, looking out for “Things I Might Want.”
I watched Bri McKoy on her Instastories using what she calls her “Magic Wand” to mash sweet potatoes, and since we eat a lot of potatoes, this kitchen tool went on the list. I saw a “Home Office Checklist” in a business publication, and since my laptop is perched up on a yoga block during video calls, I added a laptop riser to my list. I saw a Black Friday ad from Apple, and since my wireless headphones are currently held together with tape, Airpods went on the list.
Now I sort of wanted the whole list…but hoped he would choose from the first three.
Then on Thanksgiving, after slicing the pumpkin pie, we rummaged through the utensil drawer, looking for the pie server. An armload of kitchen utensils had to come out of the drawer to unearth the pie server. I thought to myself, there is no room for a “Magic Wand” in this overstuffed drawer – we can’t even find what we need right now!
Just this morning, I read an article from the Atlantic, titled “The Three Equations for a Happy Life, Even During a Pandemic.” The third equation caught my attention, especially as we all shop for Christmas:
SATISFACTION = WHAT YOU HAVE ÷ WHAT YOU WANT
The author of the article quotes Josemaria Escovia: “Don’t Forget: He has most who needs least. Don’t create needs for yourself.” Then he cites scientific research confirming this equation as an intensely practical formula for living.
“Many of us go about our lives desperately trying to increase the numerator of this equation; we try to achieve higher levels of satisfaction by increasing what we have—by working, spending, working, spending, and on and on. But the hedonic treadmill makes this pure futility. Satisfaction will always escape our grasp.”
According to this research, the key to satisfaction is to focus on the denominator of the equation. Don’t obsess about your haves; manage your wants, instead. Don’t count things you want (or money, or prestige, or friends, or followers) and try to increase them. Make a list of your wants and try to decrease them by narrowing to the essentials. The fewer “wants” rattling around inside your brain and dividing your attention, the more peace and satisfaction will be left for the highest value parts of life.
You can probably think of more important ways to apply this principle in 2020 — to our work, our marriages, our friendships.
After we struggled to find the pie server, I added “utensil drawer purge” to my list of to do’s. We love having drawers that open and close easily because they are not stuffed full – and contain only our favorite things. Having an unstuffed utensil drawer might even make me happier than being able to mash sweet potatoes like Bri McKoy. (But Jamie – if you’re reading this and already bought it…I absolutely love it.)
So next year, I’m going to make a list of the first few things that come to mind – things I’d absolutely love – and stop right there.