Tag Archives: wants

More, more, more

I read this post by Angie and had enough thoughts surface that I wanted to respond in post. I’ve touched on these topics before but have more to say.

We live in a culture that encourages us to want more, more of everything. It’s our siren song. It is very difficult to resist its pull and stay a functioning, reasonably respected member of society. People who truly resist, who refuse to run the races, climb the ladders, collect the prizes, aspire for more of everything, and who live on the periphery and beyond, are not looked on kindly. Something must be wrong with them. And truth be told, oftentimes – at least sometimes – there is.

I wonder too, is it essentially part of the human condition to be dissatisfied? To want? Philosophers and social scientists and religious scholars have long devoted their work to these questions. I know how all that desirin’ and covetin’ is said to be the root of unhappiness. For me though, the questions remain unanswered. I’m too entrenched in my Western, first world point of view to know how much is in my DNA – and subsequently more difficult to shake – and how much is culturally driven when it comes to wants and satisfaction.

I tell you this. I recognize these things in myself and others. A certain amount of wanting can drive a person to get things done, be productive, and improve their lot. We get into trouble, though, when there’s no joy to be had, no pleasure in living and life is always focused on the end zone or what’s next. Or simply, on what’s wrong.

Some years back people, mainly women, started talking about and writing “Gratitude journals.” The idea being to shift one’s focus from a litany of complaints, grievances, and dissatisfactions to the good stuff that is often overlooked and/or taken for granted. The idea is that where you put your focus, your experiences will follow. I.e., what you think about is what you’ll get more of, so you can retrain your brain according to the theory, and consequently change your circumstances (or at least how you feel about them).

I never kept a Gratitude journal; it wasn’t quite my style. Instead, I came up with my own little practice that I do from time to time. In that (ideally) brief period of wakefulness before going to sleep, when one’s mind looks over the day or revisits grievances or whatever else it is inclined to do, I ask myself to mentally list ten good things in my life. They might be events or people or tangible things. They need only be positive. It’s an interesting exercise. It doesn’t preclude having whatever unhappy or worried thoughts I might have, but it must minimally be done in addition to them.

Knocking out five or so isn’t too hard. But as the number gets higher, sometimes I must stretch a bit or repeat ones from a previous accounting. “My bed” and “a refrigerator full of good food” are frequent listees. That’s okay. There’s no harm in acknowledging and appreciating such basic parts modern life. In fact, it’s good. Not everybody has those things. They are marvelous gifts. I need to remember that.

This links to something else from the original post. The fear many of us have of not having enough, not being enough. It seems insufficient – or so the message goes – to be thought of, or consider ourselves and our lives as “ordinary.” Ordinary is clearly nothing to be proud of; one must be constantly defending their own existence. Heaven forbid you just go about your quiet business and take up space. My thought here is that statistically speaking alone, most people are bound to be ordinary. How many “extraordinary” people do you know?

Unfortunately, too many people feel a pressure to “puff themselves up,” to sell themselves like mad in an effort to compensate for this ordinariness they feel within themselves. They are SO busy, their lives are jam-packed, they have SO much going on, they say. The virtuousness of the busy. I do think some people thrive on constant motion, activity, and chaos, but not nearly so many as who live by these practices. Scrambling all around does not seem to make them all that happy or peaceful. It just makes them occupied.

“Stuff”

I think a lot about stuff, things, and consumerism. Both how they play in my life and on a broader scale. It is easy in America, to fall into tunnel vision, where the focus is on gobs & gobs of possessions, forever trading up, keeping current, going bigger, and god forbid, not getting left behind. I live very simply; I don’t have money or things by the standards around me, yet even I am susceptible to the desires perpetually stroked by our consumer culture. I don’t know when exactly happiness and possessions became so inextricably linked here – likely further back in time than I’d guess, but linked they are.

At times I intentionally force myself out of the limited tunnel of vision, and think about how my life and possessions might appear to someone in the second or third world. It’s almost embarrassing to consider, especially when I’m feeling deprived in any fashion. I see an abundance. Food, clothes, entertainment. I see the positive effects of lifelong nutrition and dental care. I see plants, greenery and the upside of nature. I see education and access to books. And access is a great word here, because that may be the one thing, access of all stripes, that stands out in relief. This kind of reflection jogs my thoughts out of wanting mode and makes me see that what I have is enough for a happy life. That is, I’m reminded that if I am not happy, or more accurately, satisfied, it is not the fault of my possessions or what my life affords me, literally and figuratively.

Within the last couple years, I have put my hands on every last thing I own. There are no “mystery boxes,” no “what is this part for?” conundrums, no “I haven’t worn this shirt in 10 years but dagnabbit I’m keeping it anyway” stances. If I’m hanging onto anything extraneous or illogical, I know what it is and where it is. I’ve moved a lot of junk on down the road. It’s outta here. A woman I know told me that you spend the first half of your life collecting things and the second half getting rid of them. I’d never heard that before! It sure sounds like what smart people would do. I can’t exactly sign on for that plan though, because I never really had much in the first place, and what I mean by that are nice, quality things. I don’t have any family heirlooms, no good China, no investment pieces. What I’ve sent packing was detritus, even if it took awhile, in some instances a long while, to see that.

There are still things I want, still cravings and wishes. However, I can catch myself and decipher what’s motivating those urges. I think carefully before bringing anything into my life. There has to be room for it in every sense. I now buy smallish things that make my life easier or more enjoyable, that I did without in the past (whether I opted out, they didn’t yet exist, or I just didn’t know they existed), but even they are subject to standards. It’s a bit of a cliché that when you get rid of old things, space is freed for better things. I gotta admit, cliché or not, I’ve found it to be true. Habit, fear, and imagined senses of obligation (“I must hang onto this!”) drive much of what keeps a person stuck. And what I’m saying applies to objects yes, but it’s shown itself beyond that as well. I hadn’t figured on that. The thinking changes I’ve made are broad and philosophical in scope. You have to clear the decks of all the crap and clutter, create space and then consider what you want to fill in the spaces with, if anything. That’s where I’m at anyway.