How Having Few Wants Leads to More Happiness

It’s tough being happy when you don’t have what you want. How do you not want what you want? How can you want to want less? There are three ways to be happier by having few wants.

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“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.”

― Epictetus

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First of all, this reminds me of the Cheap Trick song, so here you go.

Is how to want to want less like how to do what you don’t want to do?

3 Reasons to Listen to Epictetus

First, Epictetus was a Greek Stoic Philosopher

What is a stoic? Probably not what you think. Merriam-Webster defines stoic as*:

“not affected by or showing passion or feeling; especially: firmly restraining response to pain or distress.”


“holding that the wise man should be free from passion, unmoved by joy or grief, and submissive to natural law

Uhm, yeah. I hear ya. Through this magical website, I can hear what you’re thinking right now. Who wants to take advice from a stoic?

That is the definition of stoic, which is entirely different from Stoicism.

Epictetus wasn’t stoic. He was a Stoic. According to the Daily Stoic*, Stoicism is:

“a philosophy designed to make us more resilient, happier, more virtuous and more wise–and as a result, better people, better parents and better professionals.”

My firm belief is that we should heed all the Stoic Philosophers, especially Epictetus.

Secondly, Epictetus was Born a Slave

In 50 AD. His life was a lot rougher than ours. His expectations were probably much lower than ours. The guy never saw a rich kid enjoying an iPhone X at Starbucks and never heard me rambling about how wonderful Disney World is.

If a man born into slavery has advice on treating others well, becoming a better person, and being happy, then that is advice we should heed.

A 3rd Great Reason to Listen to Epictetus

It’s fun to say, “Epictetus!”

3 Steps to Having Few Wants to Want

These two things will contribute to your happiness.

  1. Stop Comparing Yourself.
  2. Practice Gratitude.
  3. Manage Your Expectations.

Stop Comparing Yourself

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Epictetus was never lucky enough to notice that everyone at work has brand new iPhones and Galaxies while his phone was almost two years old.

Epictetus never scrolled through Insta, wondering why he couldn’t have abs and a beach house on the Mediterranean like the models and lifestyle solopreneurs in his IG feed.

Maybe a comparison with his owner crossed his mind, but you can see where this is headed.

As I mentioned in Look Beyond Perfections, those images are faked by people who want you to feel inadequate and buy their products. Don’t compare yourself to something that doesn’t really exist.

Do You Really Need a New Phone?

I’ve upgraded. I’ve been excited as the Apple Genius opened the box and handed me the shiny, new phone. I’ve skipped to my car with my head held high. Then what happens? You start scrolling through and realize it’s pretty much just another thing.

Very affluent people attend my kid’s school. I see lots to be jealous of. Teslas and Rolls, trips to Greece and Bora Bora. I get caught up in comparisons too.

Comparisons are like stress. It feels like it’s going to help somehow, but it just makes you miserable and sick.

When your mind roams to comparison, think about what you’re thankful for—practice gratitude. I mean…

Practice Gratitude

Yes, it def needed a bigger font.

In How Gratitude Boosts Your Power (and in The Happiness Infinity Gauntlet), I wrote how you could make Gratitude a superpower.

Think about what you’re grateful for. What do you have right now that less fortunate people somewhere else don’t have? Millions of people on this planet can’t enjoy the luxury of reading blogs on their three-year-old phone with a battery that drains in just a couple of hours.

Make a list of what you’re thankful for. Keep a list of your biggest four or five with you at all times. Take it out and look at it several times each day as a reminder. Each morning list a couple more things for which you’re thankful.

Manage your Expectations

It probably makes sense that higher expectations are more challenging to meet, and lower expectations are simpler to attain. It isn’t easy to imagine being happier with less.

The famous formula, Happiness = Reality – Expectations, doesn’t indicate anything about the quality of your expectations. If your reality is better than your expectations, then you’ll be happier. Lowering expectations is the tricky part. Eventually, the formula will break down.

The point is not to have unrealistic expectations. You can’t expect that things will always go well, that life won’t frequently present us with challenges.

Expecting always to have the newest gear will disappoint when the upgraded gear releases, and you can’t have it. Being grateful for the gear that you already have will make you happier.

You can still work to improve your reality.

If you have a realistic plan and work on it consistently, you can expect your reality to improve. You might even learn to be grateful for the progress you make.

Then you’ll be on your way to being thankful for what you have, appreciative of the opportunity to improve, then happy with your progress.

It’s a Matter of Focus

Focusing on gratitude helps you realize you’re more wealthy than most others. You and I both probably have sufficient wealth to be happy. We don’t need cool gadgets and expensive clothes.

If your focus drives you to work for the thing you want, then enjoy that work. Enjoy that process of daily work towards your goal.

Don’t let your focus dwell on what you lack. Steer it towards what you do have, what you’re grateful for.


What are your essential “few wants?”

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