2 Questions to Simplify Your Life, Become Happier, and Get Better

Be a minimalist to be a maximalist

A good amount of research says expectations drive happiness; that it’s not so much our actual condition that determines how happy we are, but rather, how our actual condition compares to what we expect. This is why individuals that are, by all objective measures, “worse off,” often report being happier than those who are better off but living in environments where they feel like everyone around them has more. For example, rural villagers in China living under what many would consider “poverty” may report being happier than a top 1-percenter living in Palo Alto who feels like they can barely keep up with their neighbors.

It follows that if we want to increase our life-satisfaction, we ought to decrease our expectations. At first this sounds rather dark and dire, but in reality, it’s actually an empowering and quite positive proposition. In the words of Intermountain physician Dr. John D. Day, “When we strip away the inessential elements of our lives and focus on what really matters most, it’s a lot easier to feel content.”

In his book, The Longevity Plan, Dr. Day suggests that we ask ourselves two simple questions that will help simplify our lives, and by extension, our expectations:

1) Do we have what we need?
2) Do we need what we want?

These two questions apply to everything from the physical (food, shelter, clothing) to the emotional (friendships, romantic involvement), to even the virtual (email, social media, digital entertainment). When we reflect on the various elements of our lives using these questions as a guide, we ensure that we — not those around us — are determining our expectations, and thus our happiness.

An additional benefit of answering these questions is that they prompt us to focus on and devote our energy to what matters most. In Peak Performance, this is called becoming a minimalist to be a maximalist. Doing so increases both fulfillment and performance.


In an age of more, more more, the more we declutter and simplify our lives, the happier and better off we’ll be.

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Brad Stulberg writes about health and the science of human performance. He’s a columnist at Outside Magazine and New York Magazine.