Happiness is having all the ducks you want

Throughout my service, I’ve been thinking about what makes me happy. And pared down to a generalized equation, it seems that my happiness is a direct function of the disparity between what I have and what I want:

Have = % Happiness

The math is simple. In a world where the only things that exist are you and ducks, then if you have nine ducks but want ten ducks, you are 90% happy. This is a ridiculous example, but so is trying to quantify happiness with an equation. Bear with me. The point is that the closer I am to having what I want at any given point in time, the happier I will feel.

New achievements, acquisitions, and experiences all help to increase what I have. Makes sense. Being in the Peace Corps certainly gives me a boost in the new achievements and new experiences end, and judging by the ridiculous amount of chitenges and football jerseys I’ve acquired it’s safe to say I’m not exactly lacking in the new acquisitions department, either.

However, the other half of the equation is just as important. My level of happiness can also rise even if what I have remains the same, if what I want decreases. Introspection, appreciation, and contemplation all help to shift my perspective on the things I already have and increase the value I derive from what I already possess, which thereby decreases what I want.

And a Peace Corps service is in large part about foregoing the accumulation of “haves.” I no longer expect to have water available at the turn of a faucet or electricity running at the touch of a button, so by comparison other creature comforts like a new iPad or watching the latest installment in the Hunger Games franchise drop significantly on my list of wants. Even the less tangible “have” trump card of “I’m living in Africa” fails to maintain its initial value because the visceral intensity of the experience of living in a new country fades over time. What is at first novel and exciting soon becomes, simply, everyday life.

But by focusing instead on turning my gaze inward and assuming full responsibility for my own fulfillment, my own reservoir of self-worth, I hope to actively work on becoming a happier person. And in the process, to learn how to want fewer ducks.


Emi's ducks, before they had ducklings and the male killed several of them and Emi cooked and ate him in retribution. (There's no moral to this anecdote, I sincerely hope.)


2 thoughts on “Happiness is having all the ducks you want

    • Thanks Mom. I think we’ve all got a pretty good handle on “getting more things = being happier” (or at least trying to be happier). The harder part for us to wrap our brains around is that what we want, or think we want, is just as much if not more of a self/social construct, and is often easier to control!

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