Always wanting ‘more’? Our minds may be programmed that way - but it can cause us unhappiness

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"Why I'm giving the future me the best chance at motherhood." Photo: Getty Images
"Why I'm giving the future me the best chance at motherhood." Photo: Getty Images
  • True contentment could lie in needing less and not having more, researchers say.
  • In a new study, they found that constantly wanting more modern luxuries and rising aspirations can leave us dissatisfied and unhappy.
  • It's also leading us to consume Earth's natural resources at a worrying rate.

Whether it's for the latest smartphone, the newest car model or the fanciest holiday, we're always wanting the next best thing - and there's nothing wrong with that. 

In the past, this craving for "more" offered us evolutionary advantages. But in today's modern world, it could be to our own detriment. We all want to be happy, and getting the things we want can grant us that happiness - temporarily.

This is the focus of a new study which incorporated statistical modelling in its analysis.

According to the research team, we have the propensity to keep wanting more, even if it leads to depression, materialism and overconsumption.

Apart from causing depression, overconsumption is "an extremely pressing issue that severely threatens future generations", they caution.

"Constant habituation to modern luxuries and ever-rising aspirations are leading us to consume Earth's natural resources at an alarming rate and resulting in rapid deterioration of our planet," they write.

READ MORE | From kissing to getting some sunlight, here are 20 ways to be happier starting right now

The paradox of choice

The researchers refer to people having the "paradox of choice", a phrase coined by psychologist Barry Schwartz. It suggests that when we have an abundance of options to choose from, more effort is required and it can ultimately leave us feeling dissatisfied with our decision. Schwartz, too, said that too much choice can bring about feelings of less happiness, less satisfaction and even lead to paralysis.

READ MORE | How science says you could be happier

In the current study, the researchers write:

Sensibly or not, people often find it hard to remain happy with what they have. One enjoys a newly bought car for a time, but over time it brings fewer positive feelings and one eventually begins dreaming of the next rewarding thing to pursue.

The result? We keep getting lured by "the promise of unfathomable future happiness", instead of simply enjoying what we have at present.

The lessons to take

"Paradoxically, people in modern societies are hardly more satisfied than previous generations, yet we keep becoming caught in the rat race of consumption and continuing the modern obsession of growth at all costs," the authors write.

For us to avoid becoming trapped in a cycle of never-ending wants and desires, large-scale interventions that can help us tackle our biases are urgently needed, they say.

READ MORE | Don't put your money on buying happiness

In their paper, they offer an important lesson to take from their results: when presented with many similar choices, consider that you may be better off when you don't rely on having all these choices. 

This is in line with the view that when we are given an abundance of choices in the modern world, by learning to settle for "good enough", we will not only increase our satisfaction but also simplify our decision-making.

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