What We Really Need to Be Happy

“The real measure of your wealth is how much you’d be worth if you lost all your money.” ~Unknown

Standing, getting crushed on the metro at peak hour, I look around and my heart sinks. I’m surrounded by sullen faces, their eyes focused intently on games on their iPads and smart phones.

These are the sullen faces representing a world of people dreading going to work, dreading grinding away at a job they hate.

The gadgets they use as distractions during their morning commute are constant reminders of why they must put themselves through this daily hell. They feel they need these things (among others), and their job allows them to have them.

Throughout history humans have always strived to have better “things,” to have more than their neighbors or at the very least be equal to them.

First it was outdoing the neighbor who just upgraded from horse and carriage to a car. Later it was getting a black a white TV, then the cassette player, and years later a CD player.

But in today’s modern world where trends change as soon as they begin, where the next version of the latest gadget comes out seemingly straight away, people are driven to work longer hours to afford to be at the forefront of the trends—the latest gadget, the latest car, the latest fashion.

But lurking behind the lives of shiny new cars, flat screen TV’s and iPhones is a void, is a huge deficit, and it’s not a budget one.

Our world is experiencing a passion and purpose deficit. 

Recently I asked some friends the simple question, “Are you doing what you love; do you have passion for your work?”

The most common answer “No.”

“I hate my job. I have no passion for it, no motivation.”

I can’t count the times my best friend has made this statement, frustrated in her situation, frustrated at being stuck in a job purely because of the money.

She has a passion, she has a dream, but she has two big things holding her back from pursuing it: the courage to take the leap from her secure job and the fear of not having enough money to buy those 10 pairs of shoes she doesn’t need.

More often when people explain why they're doing something they're not passionate about, they say it's because they need the money.

Now in a perfect world we wouldn’t need money and we could all be on our merry life’s journey striving to chase down our passions. But unfortunately our world is not a utopia and money is something we do need.

We need it to pay for a roof over our heads, we need it to pay for the food on our table, and we may need it to support our families.

While I agree that money is a necessity, I look at people who seem unhappy, playing on their gadgets on the metro and pose this question:

“Did you really need that?”

Here’s the thing about “need.” As a society we tell ourselves we “need” possessions, we “need” to fit in.  While in the short term these things make us happy, in the long run there are only two things we really “need” to be happy: passion and purpose.

Think about it, if you ask any parent what the most fulfilling part of their life is, they most likely will say raising their children. If you ask them what the most frustrating part of their life is the answer will most likely be the same.

This demonstrates one fundamental quality of the human character: having purpose, however frustrating it may be at times, is what gives us the most fulfillment. It’s what gives us the most happiness.

At 21 I was not content with following the path I was on—a path toward a career where I would be helping someone fulfill their dream, their endeavors, and their passion while mine were left on the back burner.

I took the leap.

I turned down high paying ESL teaching jobs for a lower paying job with half the work hours.

I turned down the security of having a steady higher income where I didn’t have to think so hard about where I was spending my money.

I turned it all down so I would have the time to pursue my passion, to explore and discover my purpose.

And despite the many material sacrifices I had to make—the expensive nights out with my friends, that cute dress, the nice hotel with the swimming pool—what I discovered was that I never “needed” those things in the first place.

I could survive without them, I could be happy without them, and I was resourceful enough to come up with alternative options.

I swapped expensive nights out for nights in with my friends, I worked with whatever clothes I already had, and I stayed at a hostel where, in the end, I had more fun meeting new people then I would have had alone at a hotel.

But the most important lesson out of this was not how to be happily frugal. It was that pursuing your passion, however frustrating, however challenging, is ultimately the key to happiness.

Muster up the courage, take the leap, and be prepared to throw all those things you don’t really “need” away.

It’s time we start looking at our entire lives as purposeful, passion-filled journeys—not opportunities to collect as many possessions as we can to distract ourselves.

Photo by Bex.Walton

About Sasha Peakall

Sasha Peakall is a dreamer, writer, traveler, graphic designer and laughing enthusiast!Through her company Green Ideas Creative she works to promote non-profits, social/eco businesses, eco tourism, and wellness. She writes about her journey dreaming & traveling through life on her blog

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  • Dee

    That last paragraph is amazingly powerful. Thank you!

  • Criola

    Dear Sasha
    Thank you so much for this great read; I enjoyed it! I however stumbled over two things which I’d like to share. First, I don’t possess any late hip gadgets, such as a smart phone, a big flat screen TV or an ipad, and still have worked long exhausting hours for a relatively low pay. Second, I have been very passionate about my job – I was in social business and social entrepreneurship – and absolutely loved the mission my employee organization has. I however found it hard to cope with the mentality within the team on a daily basis and felt very confused as I felt like being both at the right and wrong work place in terms of my personal values. By sharing this I want to show that things are never black and white – I can work long hours and be very passionate about the work itself – but I still may not have a big bank account or a fulfilling team spirit.

  • Wow! Every time I read a new post, the light in my soul starts to burn a bit brighter.

    Sasha – your post was one of those I’ve needed to read for a long time now. I’ve lived poor growing up and, although we always had to find change in the cushions to purchase 2/$1 cookies at the store on the corner (as a treat), I never felt like I was living without.

    Fast forward to adulthood and, no matter how many material things I had, I never felt like I had enough.

    It’s amazing how much your mind can change when you start to work for things. This has gone on too long in my life and I’m tired of it. I really don’t want the things, I want the human experiences I keep thinking those things are going to give me. However, money doesn’t buy fulfillment.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  • Erik of Ersa

    “not opportunities to collect as many possessions as we can to distract ourselves.”

  • Mindful Searcher

    Thanks for your wonderful post.

  • Lionel

    Its brilliant!

  • Your post highlights how important it is to create our own definition of success based on our core values and build our lives around that. It is all too easy to get sucked into thinking it is “normal” to live a life of mediocrity because so many other people do.
    I did the same for many years peddling the corporate hamster wheel. Then, 10 years ago, I took the leap and became self employed. You can’t put a price on the freedom to live life on your own terms and around what is most important.

  • Mariebeth

    Thank you for that! I certainly needed it.

  • Thanks Erik!!! 🙂

  • Hi Shannon, I’m so glad you found this post inspirational! 🙂

    It’s true that when we start to work our whole mindset changes to money/possessions = happiness.  And it’s a hard mindset to get out of when most of the people you work with are stuck with the same mindset, it’s hard to ever think in a different way.

    Do you know what’s great therapy to change begin to change mindset? Have a big clean up, throw out all those possessions you don’t really need and donate them to charity. The act of throwing away although at first it might be difficult is a reminder that all these things are in fact just possessions, disposable, nothing more.  By giving them away to charity, by giving them a human connection you get more of a sense of fulfillment then you ever would have merely from the act of buying them.

    Shannon, I wish you the best of luck in your journey towards fulfillment! 🙂

  • Hi Criola, Thanks for sharing your story!

    Here’s the thing I’ve learned about passion from starting my own business, passion is not some romantic ideal that makes everything in life suddenly seem perfect.  You can have passion for a cause but if it’s not channeled in the best way for you it won’t lead to fulfillment.

    I work really long hours working on my own business at least 12 a day and at this stage for little or no money and although it’s frustrating it never gets me jaded and here’s why. I choose to work only with positive, passionate people.

    This may sound strange but YOUR passion doesn’t involve ONLY YOU.  Passion is a collective of passionate energy. You can be extremely passionate and motivated by a cause but if the people you are surrounded by are not positive and passionate or if simply there is just a personality clash they can block your path to fulfillment. 

    If you are really passionate about this cause maybe it’s time to think about some other ways you can contribute to it that will lead to fulfillment.  Maybe you could change organisations, maybe you could start a personal blog on the topic or maybe you just need a change and to find new, inspiring, positive and passionate people.

    Change may lead you to discover that your work is only one element of your passion.

    I was really passionate about travel, I lived and breathed it, I studied it, I worked in the industry, I blogged about it, I talked about all the time, I watched Travel shows, read travel books but after a while I got passion burnout.  I got passion burnout because I was focusing so entirely on that one element I couldn’t see the bigger picture.  Once I took a step back and saw the bigger picture I discovered what my passion really was, Eco friendly travel and living.

    Take a step back, find positive passionate people and you will be well on you way to finding passion with fulfillment!

    Good luck!

  • Thanks Mariebeth! I’m glad you got something out of it! 🙂 

    Good luck!

  • Absolutely Ali. At first it’s really scary going out on your own and the beginning is tough but the payoff of freedom, of having ownership, of having something that’s truly yours really pays off tenfold!

  • Thanks Lionel! 🙂

  • Thanks Dee, live by that statement and the world starts to look like a whole, new, amazing place!

  • Good points. I must say though, I do need my iPod Touch — well, I DID need it, before it was lost and stolen….Now I “need” a new one! 😉 — because it has helped me to pursue my passions with purpose much more conveniently than carrying around a pen, notepad, cameras, camcorder, calendar, alarm clock, WiFi and several maps — When used at once, all of these items can weigh a person down, especially when you’re trying to navigate the hustle and bustle of events in a big city….sometimes gadgets make it easier to pursue the things that we are most interested in. It just depends on the field that you’re working in that determines where the “need” is, I suppose.

  • Hi Nicole, cheers for the comment!

    I completely agree, gadgets certainly can make life easier and can make pursuing your passions easier.  I need my Macbook, it is a tool I need to pursue my passions and stay connected.  But the lesson to be learnt really is not what gadgets or possessions you can live without but rather what is it that you need to really feel fulfilled and happy in your life.

  • Carrie

    I understand the point but cannot relate to this.
    I am 32 years old. I don’t enjoy my job, but it pays well, my Husband doesn’t enjoy his job but he has a good pension and it pays decent. We live in a tiny house that is falling apart. I never go shopping and buy 20 pairs of shoes or clothes, I barely have any even though I should have decent work clothes for what I do. Our cars are falling apart too, my car has 200,000 miles on it and I drive 50 miles one way to work every day. We don’t have the latest gagets, the only cell phone I have my company pays for. We can barely pay our bills as it is. We never go out to eat or go on trips etc. etc. We have 1 child and he is on a swim team which my parents pay for.
    There is no possible way I could pursue my passion unless you know of somebody that would purchase our house for 3 times what it is worth and have to totally remodel it too, so I can buy a farm and board horses.

  • Criola

    Thanks a ton Sasha for your open and thoughtful advice!

  • I was forced to look at “what I really need” when I got divorced and suddenly had to live strictly off of my very small income.  At first I really mourned the forced cut-backs, and it was painful having many decisions made for me instead of choosing them outright.  After some time, much adjustment and perspective, I was able to realize that I didn’t miss most of the things I had to give up nearly as much as I’d assumed I would.  I reprioritized my “needs” and what I spend my little extra money on now is completely different from what I used to spend it on.  I’m constantly amazed at what I’m able to live without and still be perfectly happy!  I am so grateful to be able to afford any luxuries at this point (occasional meals out, a new bottle of nail polish, a used book etc.) and that I am able to pay my bills.

    I know I’ve only focused on one small point from your post, but that part struck me as I’ve experienced that personally as well.

    Thanks for sharing this piece here – I enjoy your writing!  Best to you.

  • Hitman316

    Wow, when I read others’ blogs on this site, I sometimes wonder if they can read my mind.

    Like you, I wasn’t content with the path I had initially chosen and so I didn’t take a 60-hour week job in order to have more time to look for my passion. And with that sacrifice I realized that I don’t need an iPhone, I don’t need to spend money on a lot of alcohol when I’m out and I don’t need to travel every weekend.

    I started finding my passion and the more I committed myself to it, the more I fell in love with it. This sense of purpose can make you very happy because you know who you are. Now I’m about to pursue it even further, and I have do admit that I’m a little scared because it could cost me my current job. But I have faith that if you follow your heart, things wil work out.

    Just last week I was catching up with a friend from college who took a high-paying job at a bank but looked miserable. Because of all the hours he’d been putting in, he doesn’t have much time to do anything but work. He actually asked me ‘how do you manage to keep smiling?’, even though he has a lot more than me ‘materially’. This is a proof that having a lot of money can buy you comfort but it doesn’t necessarily buy you happiness.

    P.S. By ‘metro’ do you mean the Paris metro?

  • Fabulous post! 
    “This demonstrates one fundamental quality of the human character: having purpose, however frustrating it may be at times, is what gives us the most fulfillment. It’s what gives us the most happiness.”
    I couldn’t agree more.  It’s when we put ‘our all’ into something, which naturally includes work, stress, sometimes heartache, that we derive the most satisfaction and fulfillment.  It becomes a source of pride.  All that good stuff creates the good feeling known as happiness. It’s all about the experiences and endeavors that yield high dividends.  That’s what creates the rich and vibrant fiber of life.  Not the ‘things’ that are so transient and unsatiable; it’s good enough till the next new things comes out, and then the next….. It fills nothing but a bottomless pit to continuing filling with ‘stuff’. 
    Such an important message here.  Thank you.

  • Raji H

     Hey Sasha,

    Thanks for this lovely post.  We have definitely become too dependent on materials, and the “need” is greater today than it ever was.  It’s articles like yours, that bring me back to life, real life.  It’s these stories and observations that remind me that money really isn’t everything, that good companionship and genuineness are the key to being happy. 

    I’m a believer that things are meant to be.  For example, I have set this website as my homepage (very recently) but never really read it, bypassed it to get to Facebook (Which I joined last year after boycotting it for a couple of years!!).  Anyway, I read your post today because I was (have been) having a low day.  I feel a little better having read what you had to say, and as I said earlier, I have been reminded of the more important things and people in life.  So, thank you, from the bottom of my heart x

  • Wee

    You know when you read something and it felt like the answer you’ve been searching for all these times? That’s exactly what I felt when I read your post… 
    Thank you Sasha for these beautiful and inspiring words 🙂

  • Gaiaartinc

    There was a great radio show broadcast the other day, here in Cape Cod on this subject. Worth a listen … great insight about the changing values of success

  • SarahAnnieSummers

    Thank you so much for this post Sasha!
    I am currently in my 3rd year of Uni and am trying to figure out what I want to do in my life.
    I have always put happiness above material goods and wealth but outside pressure to be ‘financially successful’ has always made me question my decisions.
    I really want to be a Teaching Assistant when I graduate as I love working with children and want to explore where my passion lies, however, it seems uncomprehensible for others that I am choosing to do this who think I should be doing something more academic which earns me a better salary!
    Your post has reinforced my beliefs and helped me know I am making the right decision so Thank You!!!

  • Prerna Poojara

    Thanks for this post. I exactly managed to do what you have posted. And yes I am truly happy. Happy to know I am not the only one who felt like this.

  • P.Callychurn

    What a magic worded quote, and  what a conclusion! The quote is as good as a book of wisdom and phylosophy. The conclusion? Do your best and leave the rest, and rest.

  • Took the leap a few weeks ago.  And I’m having a blast working on my site and whatever else I love.  Cheers for this!

  • Samantha Smith

    I hear you, Carrie. I think it’s especially tough for we horse folks sometimes, to follow our passions. I wish I could help you, I only found my way back into my horse-filled passion recently, having believed I would never be able to afford it. No jobs with horses pay as well as we need them to pay for us to follow our passion and survive; I’m lucky, at least, that I don’t have anybody but myself to support and my paying job is at least something I do enjoy and within the animal welfare world. I’m sending you hopeful thoughts, though, that you can find somewhere to find your equine refuge, even if it’s just volunteering once a month.

  • morgan

    It was a meaningful post… living in a modern society really do push us to work for money… and even though i’m poorer than the people around me, i guess i just need to be happier! 🙂

  • GBMR

    I too appreciate the sentiment of the original post, but I totally relate to your situation and how so many proposals like this feel so idealistic. Many such threads seem to act under the premise that people who feel demotivated and passionless towards their career can either make a wholesale switch to something they love or make more time for it through partially sacrificing their main employment.
    There is no way I could afford to earn any less than I do or do any less hours than I do….a child, a mountain of debt and a house in poor condition that is borderline negative equity simply don’t allow for it.
    Plus my biggest passion is probably motorsport, which is horrendously expensive and difficult to get into in any aspect; certainly in terms of driving, I’m over 30 years too late to start laying the foundations for that as a career.
    Out of my other interests, I’m not sure I want to do them for a living and they certainly don’t pay the amount needed to cover my outgoings.
    I’m sure this comes across as negative, but I’m hoping it resonates with a few people who find a touch of realism lacking in such threads as I so often do.

  • Karthikeya Acharya

    People around the world are just bored about what they have. Problem with everyone is that they “imitate” others. eg: It can be the culture of a country.etc. Self happiness is within ourselves 🙂

  • gomes

    And despite the many material sacrifices I had to make—the expensive nights out with my friends, that cute dress, the nice hotel with the swimming pool—what I discovered was that I never “needed” those things in the first place. When u mentioned this how did u go thru dat feeling when u traded dose night outs with boring lonely ones, when u couldn’t buy that expensive dress, honestly even i wanna follow my dreams nd find a purpose in life….but da only thing i dream is to b happy nd not sure wat i actully want ..but i guess dat wont help me survive in dis world, nd i dnt know my purpose in life what should i do……????