Learning to Be Happy With What You Have

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In some ways, like how they jump in with both feet and enjoy the small things, children are role models who can show us how to live our lives. But many times they teach us in another way, by letting their human weaknesses show as caricatures of us grown ups. They don’t know how to pretend.

My son Oiva, who just turned three in May, is a perfect example of this. He always wants more:

We gather for lunch, and he gets his share, but he can’t start to eat because he thinks he needs more. And if his glass is filled only to the half, he can start to cry and become unable to drink any of it , just because it’s not as much as he’d like it to be.

It is frustrating to keep telling my son that he will get more once he has finished the first plate (and that he already has a lot) when all he can see is that right now the plate is not as full as he’d like it to be. But I have I realized that there is a lesson I can learn from his fear of not getting enough. This feeling of scarcity is something completely human, and it happens to us adults all the time as well.

We dream of all the big things we want to do some day: travel to exotic places, build successful businesses, write books, buy more gadgets because what we already have doesn’t seem enough. When choosing how much food to cook, I even feel the very same primitive fear of running out of food as Oiva does.

Dreaming is not a problem. The problem is when dreaming gets in the way of enjoying what we already have, and when dreaming of dessert makes you rush through the main dish.

Here is what I try to do to stay happy with what I have. My guidelines for abundance:

  1. Realize there will always be something you don’t have. You can achieve a lot in life if you put your mind to it. But you are setting yourself up for failure if you measure yourself only by material success. There will always be someone who has something you don’t: When you finally own your mansion, there comes Richard Branson and tells you he owns his own island!
  2. Be thankful for what you have now. A thankful heart is a happy heart. Take time to think about all the things that are right in your life. This will also be a great exercise for balancing your values: Every time I think about all the things I am thankful for in my life, I realize they have nothing to do with mansions or private islands.
  3. Dreams are good because they give you meaningful things to do. I don’t know if this applies to everyone or not, but for me, doing great things is what makes me come alive. I love having big goals, but it’s not that much because of the goal itself but how the goal guides my actions at this point in life. For example, my goal of making a living through blogging and writing makes me write right now. It’s not a distant event in the future — it’s happening already!
  4. Enough. What a powerful word. I don’t use it as often as I should, yet, but I’m learning. After a meal, when contemplating eating some more, if you tell yourself you’ve had enough, you value the food you already ate. You don’t put it down by saying it was too much or that you shouldn’t have eaten it at all in the first place. You just say it was enough, and that you can be thankful without getting more.

You don’t need more. This too is a choice.

4 thoughts on “Learning to Be Happy With What You Have

  1. I love your first point about acknowledging that you will ALWAYS be lacking something and therefore have a constant urge for something.

    For me, once that urge is fulfilled, another one emerges to take its place. It’s a never ending, vicious cycle.

    I think I’d prefer having urges that I cannot fulfill, so I don’t waste time, and really get what I truly want.

    An ebook reader is a great example — I could buy one of the ones on the market (the Nook is so pretty) but it isn’t exactly what I want, so I’m waiting as long as it takes until I get what I want, for the price that I want.

    I’m all right with continuing to read my books on my heavy laptop balanced on my stomach, rather than to buy something I know I will eventually need to upgrade.

    Wonderful post and thank you for being a great commenter on my blog :)

  2. Veera

    The funny thing is: me and my husband have been thinking the exact same thing. :) Children can teach us so much! If you spend your time enjoying the milk from the half full glass, eventually mommy will fill it again and again and again, until your completely satisfied. :)

  3. It’s a bit contradictory, that right after your statement “You don’t need more”, there comes your automatic “Get more” text. It’s the perfect test of whether the reader has agreed with your text or not.

    Other than that, I have this simple question I ask myself every time when I think about buying something (material): “What will change when I buy this?”. After asking this question many times, I’ve come to recognize the real needs, and most likely they cannot be satisfied with any purchase. The only REAL way to “get” something, is to decide to dedicate time to do something you want. After all, every product you may want to own, aims to some kind of doing. And even if you didn’t own those things personally, there are millions of people who own what you may need to do what you want.

    • This is a great comment! I had to stop and think about it, and I think you’re perfectly right.

      Everything you buy relates to something you hope to do. Sometimes, it’s something you really want to (and are going to) do right now. But often, it’s something you think would be cool, or that you might like to do some day. You should only buy in the first case (assuming that you need to buy this thing to be able to do what you want :))

      And yeah, good catch with the “Get More” text… Because I want people to join the list without contradicting myself, I am now changing it to “Dig Deeper” ;)

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