What is your satisfaction ratio?

Sep 14, 2023
What is your satisfaction ratio?

Find Your Superpower newsletter 027

Read time: 4 minutes

Topics covered: Satisfaction, happiness, mindset


A refreshing idea I recently learnt from bestselling author and Harvard professor Arthur C. Brooks is the concept of a have-to-want ratio.

According to him:

Satisfaction = What you have ÷ What you want

In a nutshell, are your haves more than your wants?

Someone with a have/want ratio of > 1.0 is likely to be contented and happy with their life.

Someone with a have/want ratio of < 1.0 is likely to be frustrated and dissatisfied with their life.


Unpacking the ratio further

There are a few ways you could get to a high have/want ratio: 

  1. You could HAVE a lot: You could scale the career ladder towards a senior, well-paying job leading a regional or global team

  2. You could WANT very little: You could lead a modest and minimalist lifestyle that doesn't require much to maintain

Surprisingly, both groups of people could end up very satisfied and happy. There are many possible roads to Rome!

To extrapolate this ratio further, it could also mean that people with powerful jobs and high salaries may not necessarily be very satisfied, assuming their wants exceed their haves.

On that note, I think that “smiling in my Toyota is better than crying in my Ferrari” is a false dichotomy. Why?

The person in the Ferrari could be rather happy if their have/want ratio is >1.0, whereas the person in the Toyota could be rather unhappy if their have/want ratio is <1.0. At the end of the day, how satisfied you are with your life is deeply personal and unique to you.

“Happiness is not based on external variables or things that happen to us, but all very much within our control,” says Brooks.


Hacking the have/want ratio

Now that we know about this ratio, it is potentially a gamechanger for all of us in our pursuit of life satisfaction, because it is no longer an absolute number or a target of “I need X to be happy,” but simply a ratio that we can modulate internally.

Here's some ideas for how we could hack the have/want ratio:

  • Redefine our haves: Instead of measuring our self-worth based on our annual income and job title, we could value ourselves based on how much impact we unleash on the world and how much goodness we create for our target community.

  • Remind ourselves of what we already have: We could create a daily gratitude journal to list everything we are grateful for today. Instead of a bucket list, we could create a “reverse bucket list” of all the things we’ve already accomplished that we are proud of.

  • Re-evaluate our social circle: If our social circle is always comparing and posturing about what they have and who they know, then perhaps it is time to find a group of friends who care less about material success.

  • Recalibrate our wants: There are lots of hobbies and activities we can do with our friends and family that don't cost nearly anything, such as swimming at the beach, playing frisbee at the park, and going on a hike.

  • Downsize our travel plans: Instead of dreaming of a five-star vacation to Paris, how about renting a RV camper and driving cross-country? If we are creating memories together, then it is the people that matter.

  • Avoid discovering new wants: Social media is catastrophic for happiness, Brooks says. If you are doomsday scrolling on Instagram and feeling envious of influencers leading glamorous lifestyles, remember that it may not represent reality and that FOMO is real.

“The secret to satisfaction is to focus on the denominator: Don’t obsess about your haves; manage your wants, instead,” Brooks says.

I just want y'all to remember... happiness is an inside job!

Thanks for reading issue 027 of my weekly Find Your Superpower newsletter.

See you next week. 



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