I recently spent ten days at Texas Tech University, where I subjected the faculty of the psychology department to a round of video blog posts.
As the second part of a four-part series, I asked Associate Professor, collaborator, and friend, Jeff Larsen:
Is happiness having what you want or wanting what you have?
I recognize that the answer “both” may leave you wanting (no pun intended), but as I see it, the question is more important than the answer. The question provides a framework by which you could thoughtfully consider the strategy that is best for you to improve your happiness – either by addressing your wants, haves, or both.
Jeff, who is lucky enough to have what he wants and wants what he has, recently published a paper on the topic:
Rabbi Hyman Schachtel (1954) proposed that ‘‘happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have’’ (p. 37). In two studies, we tested Schachtel’s maxim by asking participants whether or not they had and the extent to which they wanted each of 52 material items. To quantify how much people wanted what they had, we identified what they had and the extent to which they wanted those things. To quantify how much people had what they wanted, we identified how much they wanted and whether or not they had each item. Both variables accounted for unique variance in happiness. Moreover, the extent to which people wanted what they had partially mediated effects of gratitude and maximization on happiness, and the extent to which they had what they wanted partially mediated the effect of maximization. Results indicate that happiness is both wanting what you have and having what you want.