I was in a store with my childhood friend Andrew tonight, and I was looking through the glass at various beverages. I said, “I just don’t know which to get.”
His reply was worth capture.
On its surface, that’s a simple enough comment: salty peanuts will make you thirsty. But I stripped it down to this:
Need creates happiness. Or, more precisely, satisfying a need creates happiness. Bertrand Russell wrote about this. He said people weren’t happy in his “modern” time because everything was already done for them.
They didn’t struggle to eat, to stay warm, to earn a mate, etc.—and that’s what made us miserable. He said we were born to struggle mightily for basic things. Things that matter.
But back to our peanuts.
I applied the comment to a number of different things.
Food: if you’re hungry, all food tastes good
Drink: if you’re thirsty, all drinks are refreshing
Clothing: if you’re cold, every shirt is a nice one
What I extract from this is that the purest form of existence is one of need. Need makes choices clear to us—you make the choice that relieves the pain, scratches the itch, sates the yearning.
This is why it’s so enjoyable to be obsessed with a project, or to be completely in love with someone, or to be starving after a day-long hike. Absent this clarity of state, one tries to manufacture desires (and their corresponding balms) in order to experience that primal degree of achievement.
This is why Walden was a path to happiness. It’s why cooking from scratch is rewarding. It’s why so many Mennonites claim to be content. In all cases it’s a consumption of salty peanuts combined with self-limited access to a tasty beverage.
Reduce your life to the essentials so that your desires will be at their most pure, primal, and obvious. The pleasure you’ll then feel when satisfying them will be incomparable. Or, to put it another way. Beverages and clothes don’t make us very happy because 1) we have so many options available, and 2) the buildings we’re in are kept at room temperature.
The path to happiness is not having more solutions, but rather remaining in a state where any solution is a deeply fulfilling one.