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How Much Stuff Do You Need To Feel Happy?

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How Much Stuff Do You Need To Feel Happy?

    He slowly counted the stack of $100 bills out loud and stopped at every thousand to confirm the number as he handed me the bills. It was a silly process but he seemed to find it useful. I wasn’t thinking about the money. I was thinking about the significance of bidding farewell to the last of my cars. He stopped counting. I signed the final paperwork. It was done. My earthly value had finally transitioned from a mass of tangible things to a list of mostly-intangibles. That was three years ago.

    A finance guru would refer to my transition as one between fixed and liquid assets. I see the process as a removal of many things that distracted me from the relationships and activities that made me most happy. Sound crazy? Let’s work through it a bit and see what happens. Start with 4 questions:

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    Why do you have so much stuff?

    When it comes to household belongings, I am not the type of person who enjoys organizing things for the sake of the organizational process. I can come up with a place for things and keep them in their place until I have more things than I have places. Once that happens, you’d be correct in referring to me as a “messy person.” I found a solution in reducing the number of things I owned to where I could easily manage them without much effort.

    There was no struggle in realizing that if I had less stuff I’d have an easier time of managing it. The hard part emerged as I worked through the reasons why I wasn’t getting rid of all the extra stuff I had. In thinking things through, I came up with some reasons why I kept so much stuff around.

    • To avoid the discomfort of empty space– Just like an empty social calendar is never considered a positive opportunity for increased interaction, the space left in your garage after you sell your collection of golf clubs may feel lonely and unused.
    • To meet the expectations of a social group – I owned a bunch of furniture even though there is just one of me because I felt badly when friends stopped by and didn’t have a place to sit. The bigger house, the boat, even a special set of dinnerware for special occasions can all fall into the group of things you own just because your friends expect you to.
    • Because procurement is enjoyable– Buying new stuff is fun. The smaller objects that clutter up most of our lives are the easiest to stock up on because their price point is low enough to make purchases excusable. “It’s just $20” you say as you bring home yet another set of beer mugs.

    As I learned that the empty space I’d so feared was actually freedom, I started celebrating newfound spaces and gaurding them fiercely. While my previous actions and purchases pointed to the contrary, it turned out that my friends weren’t actually visiting me just to sit on my furniture. They wanted to hang out with me and didn’t really care if that meant sitting on a plush couch or sprawled on a wood floor. Procurement turned out to be my all-in-one answer to a creative urge and was easily replaced by helping others make, fix, and imagine things.

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    What makes you most happy?

    As I figured out why I had so much stuff and focused more of my energy on social interactions, I found myself digging deeper into what it was that made me most happy. We are too easily convinced that happiness is a recipe one needs riches, fame, and power to create. Such things have their uses but I was unable to tie my personal experiences to any sort of happiness. I eventually settled on three notions that seem closest to “happiness ingredients” as I can find in my own life. I am most often happy when I am able to:

    • Be Useful – I am happier when I can help others.
    • Love – I don’t just mean love in the deranged romantic sense that causes one to make poor financial decisions and hazard life and limb. I also mean the sort of abiding interest in ideas and pursuits that keeps one up and night and makes it worth leaping out of bed in the morning.
    • Recognize and Share Beauty – There is beauty in kindness. There is beauty in the unexpected smile of a stranger. There is beauty in the flower growing on the rubble of a war-torn district. Being able to recognize that beauty and share it with others always makes me happier.

    Notice that none of those things directly involves tangible things. Money and high-tech gadgets might be extremely helpful in my pursuit of usefulness or sharing. But there’s no direct necessity for most of the stuff I had kicking around my house just a few years ago.

    What belongings allow you to pursue that happiness?

    Figuring out what I truly needed in order to pursue happiness was much easier once I figured out the things that made me happiest. As I went through my belongings I asked myself a few questions that made simple work of deciding what to keep and what to push away.

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    1. When did you last use this?
    2. Can you find another one of these easily?
    3. Could somebody you know use this more than you?
    4. Would any of your relationships suffer if you got rid of this?
    5. Would you run back into a burning building to rescue this?

    I enlisted the help of a trusted and mildly sarcastic friend to help me in my stuff-busting adventure. Just like shopping with somebody else’s money is fun, getting rid of another person’s stuff seems like a good time, too. At least she seemed to enjoy it! It was very helpful to have a friend nearby to cut through the fog of the inexplicable emotional attachments I had to some belongings. She also helped scan in a lot of the necessary but bulky paperwork I’d been towing around for years. Now that I had an idea of what made me happy it was easy to get rid of extra stuff. It had all gone from being a part of my life to just being stuff I lived near. I felt free.

    What will you do with the rest?

    If you don’t have friends willing to snap up your extra belongings, you might consider one of the following options:

    • Craigslist – Sell or give your stuff away to willing locals.
    • eBay – Sell your stuff.
    • Freecycle – Give your stuff away.
    • Yard Sale – Sell, Give, raffle. Up to you!

    If you know of another website or have an idea I should add to the list of ways to get rid of extra stuff, drop me a note in a comment and I’ll update with it!

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    How much stuff do you need to feel happy?

    Image: Visual Panic 

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    More by this author

    Seth Simonds

    Seth writes about lifestyle tips on Lifehack.

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    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

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    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

    How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

    Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

    When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

    Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

    What Makes People Poor Listeners?

    Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

    1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

    Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

    Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

    It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

    2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

    This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

    Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

    3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

    It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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    I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

    If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

    4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

    While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

    To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

    My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

    Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

    Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

    How To Be a Better Listener

    For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

    1. Pay Attention

    A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

    According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

    As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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    I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

    2. Use Positive Body Language

    You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

    A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

    People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

    But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

    According to Alan Gurney,[2]

    “An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

    Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

    3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

    I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

    Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

    Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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    Be polite and wait your turn!

    4. Ask Questions

    Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

    5. Just Listen

    This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

    I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

    I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

    6. Remember and Follow Up

    Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

    For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

    According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

    It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

    7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

    If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

    Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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    Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

    Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

    NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

    1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
    2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

    8. Maintain Eye Contact

    When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

    Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

    By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

    Final Thoughts

    Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

    You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

    And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

    More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
    [2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
    [3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
    [4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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