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Choosing Less: An Astounding Way to Have More

4 questions to help you manage your wants and feel happier with what you have.

Key points

  • Wanting more is part of being human, but there are other ways to interact with what you have.
  • The questions you ask yourself can guide your thoughts, choices, and actions.
  • Pausing, listening, and reflecting before you act may help you discern what truly matters to you.
Marzena P. / Pixabay
Source: Marzena P. / Pixabay

Glancing up from my computer and out the window of my second-floor office, I spot a duck—maybe a female mallard—floating down the steps of our backyard pond.

At first, delighted by the unexpected surprise, I quietly enjoy her beauty and behavior. Then, I look more carefully. One by one, she is methodically gobbling up all the small goldfish that reside—well, used to reside—in my pond.

Source: 119798/Pixabay

And then I take a breath. She is beautiful and probably hungry. She is a resident of the natural world following her instincts. I wonder if she may need nourishment to ready her body to lay eggs and bring new ducklings into the world. Perhaps she is simply enjoying herself and feeling satisfied at her wondrous find.

I don’t know. In this moment of awakening, I’m aware that there is so much I don’t know about many things. And, yet, here I am on this beautiful spring morning in midwestern suburbia: Blue sky. Gentle breezes. The scents of newly blooming daffodils and emerging tulips.

Another breath. Another moment. Is this my space or is the duck simply finding food in the natural world? It dawns on me that I have a choice—to dwell on my fish being stolen away by this tan-winged interloper or to notice nature’s beauty and the good fortune that enables me to observe these occurrences in my backyard while I work.

In that flash, I realize I have choices—and I hold the keys to choose my response:

  • To the situation: how I perceive and experience it
  • To myself: what I value, what really matters in the big picture, and how I view my life and my circumstances
  • To the natural world: how I view the earth and other living things vs. my own individual wants and needs

You also have choices. Your thoughts, desires, and behaviors are influenced by your mindsets, the cognitive frameworks you carry about yourself, other people, and the world (Sanderson, 2019). Your mindsets may tell you that happiness is just beyond your grasp. Are there other options? Can you experience greater satisfaction, right here, right now?

Harvard University social scientist Arthur Brooks explains that the secret to experiencing satisfaction is not about the next thing we get or keep—not about piling up accomplishments, money, or objects—but about managing what we want (Brooks, 2022). We often attach our wants and needs to unnecessary and inadequate things. According to Brooks, the equation goes something like this: Satisfaction equals what we already have divided by what we want. And the answer is to level off our wants—to simplify them so they are manageable. Think of a lump of clay that you can bend and manage to create something that can work for you.

Wanting more is human nature. We’re biologically wired to experience dissatisfaction, and recognizing our dissatisfaction can help us survive in some dangerous situations (Brooks, 2022). But in many aspects of contemporary life, we may not benefit from wanting more stuff that we don’t need—buying more things, winning at the expense of others, thinking of ourselves to the detriment of other living things and our planet. Brooks reminds us, “The secret is to manage our wants. By managing what we want instead of what we have, we give ourselves a chance to lead more satisfied lives” (Brooks, 2022).

You hold the keys to your own assessment—your needs, wants, values, happiness, satisfactions, and enjoyment. The questions you ask yourself greatly influence the paths of your thoughts, choices, and actions. Here are four questions to ask yourself:

  1. What is truly meaningful to me?
  2. What are my needs?
  3. What are my wants?
  4. How do I discern between needs and wants?

These five steps offer a process for mindful noticing and discernment (Berns-Zare, 2020):

  1. Pause. Simply notice the flow of your breath.
  2. Listen. Tune into your inner voice. If you choose to, take a few moments to ponder one or more of the ideas and questions offered in this post.
  3. Reflect. As you sift through your awareness, what thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and experiences arise?
  4. Discern. Where do you feel called? When you’re ready, consider what direction you may want to reflect on or move toward.
  5. Act. What’s the next right thing? Mindfully choose your next steps for reflection or action.

Copyright © 2023 Ilene Berns-Zare, LLC, All Rights Reserved.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. No content is a substitute for consulting with a qualified mental health or health care professional.


Berns-Zare, I. (2020, November 20). Five steps for greater perspective and a positive shift: This 5 step awakening process may help you re-energize, reduce negativity, and gain greater clarity.

Brooks, A. (2022, February 8). How to want less: The secret to satisfaction has nothing to to do with achievement, money, or stuff.

Sanderson, C.A. (2019). The Positive Shift: Mastering Mindset to Improve Happiness, Health, and Longevity. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books.

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