How Quality Over Quantity Can Make You Happier

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

I am not a minimalist.

I run a shopping blog, I can’t seem to stop buying shoes, and I have two dining room tables and two china cabinets in my home. Granted, I’m working on getting rid of dang near everything I own, but that’s mainly because I want to be able to travel full time. No, I am not a minimalist in the true sense of the word.

I can, however, appreciate how choosing quality over quantity consistently makes me happier.

The idea of choosing quality over quantity is not about having less, but about having more of what matters most. When you stop racking up numbers and start looking at substance, you’ll find a life that’s deeper and richer and, yes, happier.

But those are vague statements. Purposefully so, in fact, because “quality over quantity” is a concept that can be applied to many facets of your life with similarly positive results.

That’s the idea. This is how it works.

3 Places Quality Over Quantity Brings Happiness

1. Relationships

Let’s start right off with the tough one. Thinking about people in terms of “quality” or “quantity” makes me uncomfortable, and many people have told me it was difficult for them as well. But the end result of that awkward mental struggle is worth it.

Focusing on fewer relationships leads to more meaningful and satisfying relationships.

The concept is simple enough. Maintaining relationships requires time, attention and energy. Each of us only has so much time, attention and energy to give. Obviously, there is a limit to how many relationships we can manage well.

But what is the limit? And how do we go about enforcing it?

Do we divide the weekly hours required to maintain a friendship by the number of free hours we have left after work and family time? Do we keep a list of Top 5 Friends and rotate names in and out as necessary in order to make sure we don’t go over our limit? Do we send a mass emailing letting the world know that we are closed to new friends? Sorry, all full up here! I have enough friends!

Um, no. That would be weird.

Focusing on quality relationships over numerous relationships is not about closing yourself off to new people or doing complicated math. It is about recognizing your limitations, learning to let go, and nurturing what you have.

For me, learning to let go was the most crucial step.

I let go of the guilt I had about not nurturing friendships that didn’t grow organically. I let go of the guilt I had about not being closer to people I thought I “should” be closer to. And, most importantly, I let go of the need to keep pushing relationships that were just not working.

As soon as I let those hang-ups go, the most rewarding relationships in my life blew up like inflatable bounce houses to fill up the space that was left behind. It also made room for healthy new relationships to grow.

Make room in your life for the people that encourage, inspire and enrich.

2. Stuff

The bulk of what I read about minimalism is focused on getting rid of stuff. Some minimalists will even set a limit on how much stuff you can have. In the near future, I’m going to have to think long and hard about the exact amount of stuff I can have, but that’s an unusual situation. Most of you probably won’t find yourself living with a family of four in an RV. Therefore, setting some random number on how many things you can own is a cool but not wholly necessary exercise.

But there are still plenty of benefits to having less stuff. There are even more benefits of having less crappy stuff. The less you have, the less you have to:

  • clean
  • fix
  • store
  • pay taxes on

Cleaning, fixing, storing and paying taxes do not make me happy. At all. Cleaning, fixing, storing and paying taxes also costs money, which I would much rather spend on things I actually enjoy.

Having stuff means maintaining stuff. Having crappy stuff means spending valuable resources maintaining crappy stuff. Stop doing that.

Instead of focusing on having less stuff, start by focusing on having less crappy stuff. Resolve to only spend your time and money on really great stuff. The pickier you are about what constitutes “really great”, the less stuff you’ll have and the happier you’ll be.

3. Time

Of all the resources we have at our disposal, time is the most finite. We can’t make or buy more and we can’t save it. We all get the exact same amount every single day.

How do we apply the concept of “quality over quantity” to our time?

Think about how you spend it. It’s fascinating how differently we each spend our equally allocated amount of minutes. Some people seem to do so much more with their time, while others do remarkably less.

But remember, this isn’t about quantity or how much you can get done in a day.

Being super productive is not necessarily the key to happiness. Sure, tearing through a long to-do list might give you a temporary sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. But is that enough for you? Is that happiness, or a short-lived high?

Choosing quality over quantity does not mean getting a lot done.

What it does mean is spending as much of your time as possible doing what makes you happy. There are two ways to accomplish this.

  1. Be more efficient. By more quickly completing tasks you don’t love, you’ll have more time left to spend doing things you truly enjoy.
  2. Doing less of the things you don’t love. While this is the path less traveled, I think it’s the most rewarding.

Take a closer look at how you’re spending your minutes. Are you operating under the myth that completing more tasks is the same as a day (or life) well spent?

Choosing quality means challenging your norms.

The concept of “quality over quantity” is a simple one and I don’t know very many people who wouldn’t at least profess to believe in its value. But in reality, it’s quantity that is consistently rewarded in our society. More money, more bedrooms, more horsepower, more years, more accomplishments. We have been conditioned to strive for more.

But time and time again, we prove to ourselves that more does not bring happiness.

Challenge yourself to rethink how you measure success each day. Consider the energy you have invested in avoiding less. Have more relationships, more stuff, or more time made you happy?

Perhaps it’s time to try better instead.

Get Happy Updates!

Join the Pursuit of Happiness newsletter and get happiness updates straight to your inbox each week!

  1. FireMom says:

    I’ve been struggling with the people one as of late. Or, I have been for years but didn’t know what to do about it. Thank you for this. I’ll be thinking about it over the next few weeks as I reevaluate some friendships.

    • Miss Britt says:

      If it’s any consolation, the “letting go” usually happens more on your end as a decision rather than as a declarative statement. I’ve never had to call anyone up and say “so, I’m going to go ahead and let this relationship go now”.

      Although ONE time I sent an email. That, um, was not easy. And did not end well. At all.

  2. Lisa says:

    This is so timely for me. I just had to end an important friendship because it wasn’t working. It’s breaking my heart, but I need to stop pushing it. I need to re-evaluate what makes a quality relationship for me.

    Thank you for being one of my bounce houses of friendship.

    • Miss Britt says:

      “Thank you for being one of my bounce houses of friendship.”

      Back at you. ;-)

      And, yes, I had to re-evaluate my own guidelines. I decided I wanted to focus on friendships with people that I respected and admired. Being friends with these people makes me – and my life – better.

  3. Poppy says:

    “Doing less of the things you don’t love.”

    Can you elaborate on this? Because I’m sitting here thinking you just told everyone something awesome but didn’t give any suggestions for how to implement it.

    • Miss Britt says:

      I should think about making that into post, because it didn’t really occur to me that this would need elaborating.

      For me it’s about asking “do I REALLY need to do this? Is there someone else who can do it? What will happen if NO ONE does it?” I guess it’s a combination of lowering my standards and delegating.

      • Poppy says:

        That’s a good concise answer. I think a lot of people don’t see a way of not doing the things they don’t love, because why would they be doing them in the first place? I think you have an awesome opportunity here to open people’s eyes to the idea that you really can eliminate many tasks you don’t want to do through delegation or simply no longer finding them important to your existence.

  4. Megan says:

    I’m beginning to think I was born a minimalist. I’ve practiced this stuff my whole life without ever thinking about it. For a long time I though there was something wrong with me because I couldn’t have a ton of friends for didn’t find it necessary to spend time on things that I didn’t really like to do. Some people still find it amazing that I don’t own a TiVo or DVR.

  5. Clair says:

    I think I’ve always been a relationship minimalist. Thanks for putting into words what I often have a hard time explaining.

    • Miss Britt says:

      You’re welcome. :-) And I think you should consider yourself lucky, because a lot of women I know struggle with a TON of guilt before getting to “relationship minimalism”.

  6. Mandi Bone says:

    I am struggling coming up with a comment. I really have a hard time with this because of how I grew up. I try to keep to this idea in mind when I commit to things or buy things. I am not always perfect at it but I am improving daily.

    • Miss Britt says:

      I’m trying to remember for sure – but do you have the same “I grew up poor and so now buying stuff makes me feel like I’m in control of NOT being poor again” thing as I do?

      And honey – there is no such thing as perfect. People who think they’ve reached perfect have just stopped looking for ways to improve.

  7. the muskrat says:

    Great. I guess this means you won’t be nurturing our friendship any more then? Not cool!

  8. Kate says:

    Yes. Thank you Miss Britt. I think you are totally right. We (I) struggle with this all the time. My mother was a child of the depression, which means she is inclined to buy 10 of something, for five dollars, instead of 1 of something, for fifty. Which means I work every day against believing I don’t deserve quality instead. We live in a culture where we watch ‘hoarders’ at least in part to feel better about our own chaotic lives. I’d argue that this is a collective problem now.

    This concept is hard. Thanks for articulating it. And I’d love to read the post about believing it’s ok if people think you are poor.

  9. Back To Wow says:

    Great post, eliminating clutter (physical and mental) is a perfect way to stay on track. The power of “no,” for me is helping a lot also. Trying not to over commit as I have in the past.

  10. Elaine says:

    The stuff is what I struggle with because both hubs and I like to SHOP! I try to subscribe to the “if you buy a new pair of shoes, get rid of an old one at the same time” but it hasn’t really worked out that way. We do clean out periodically (toys, clothes, etc.) but we still have too much. Thanks for making the point about quality stuff. I’m gonna focus on that.

    • Miss Britt says:

      Research has shown that there is actually a physical response in the brain to acquiring something new. It’s similar to the response to drugs, sex, blah blah blah.

      So that love to shop thing? Totally normally and kind of a bitch to break.

  11. “Make room in your life for the people that encourage, inspire and enrich.” Beautifully said! It’s kind of amazing to stop, look at your life, and consider which relationships are healthy. Super freeing. Love you friend!

    • Miss Britt says:

      Yeah. It’s really amazing to do it AFTER you’ve done a lot of letting go, blah blah blah. Because then you can say “oh, look at that, my friends are so awesome!”

      It’s probably a little less awesome if you look at your life, consider which relationships are healthy, and think “well… shit.”

      Love you too, amiga. ;-)

  12. [...] of time with my husband and children.  Yes, I will enjoy a sense of freedom that is rare in this culture of stuff and debt.  Yes, we made this choice because we believe it will be better. [...]

  13. [...] of the country.  I’ve always wanted to do this. Maybe someday we will.  Check out Choosing Quality over Quantity – at first glance, the concept of quality over quantity is a no-brainer for me, but I had not [...]

  14. [...] Now I’m a girl who wants to be free of the burden of a closet full of shoes, purses and clothes.  Now I’m a girl who wants to be able to travel lightly and far.  Now I’m a girl who saves her money for doing rather than possessing and holds on only to what’s most precious. [...]

« « 31 Ways To Stretch Yourself On My 31st Birthday | Pooping Your Pants May Be The Key To Happiness » »