Each of us should enter the world with a warning label attached: “Beware! I am forever destined to long for what I don’t have.” The desire to have “more and better” is intrinsic to the human condition. And I am convinced that it is the cause of much human misery. In most cases our unhappiness isn’t the result of what we don’t have. Our discontent stems from our belief that we must have more, e.g., a better relationship, better looks, more money.
I am reminded of a lovely and highly intelligent patient who graduated from top schools to become a physicist. Phoebe was convinced that if she were just a bit brighter or more talented, she would then be content with her life. What she would discover is that the peace of mind she sought would not come from more of anything. Instead it would develop from an internal adjustment a change in attitude that would allow her to feel content, no matter what her circumstances happened to be.
The steps that Phoebe took to feel good regardless of life events do not spring from a new philosophy. In fact, the path she discovered has been traveled for centuries, most often by people who could never hope for improvement in their day-to-day existence. But the idea is quite new to those of us who have lived lives of relative ease and comfort, and who have the resources to create significant change in our circumstances.
A Word of Caution
Adopting this approach will demand your full attention. It will require that you make the following attitude adjustments:
- Accept what is. Assume that the present moment is all there is. Rather than looking toward some future time when you will have more, accept yourself (and your circumstances) as you are at this moment, without judgment.
Initially this will cause you discomfort. It will feel as though you have given up on your life and admitted defeat. But accepting things as they are now does not preclude future change. It simply means that you are free to experience, and possibly even enjoy, the here and now.
- Enjoy (and even capitalize on) the present. If now is all there is, what aspects of your current situation are positive, rewarding and meaningful? Begin to focus your attention on these things, rather than on what you are lacking. Even during times of pain, disappointment and loss, there are lessons to be learned, moments to be cherished. Taking this idea a step further, what opportunities exist in the present that you may have overlooked while you were busy struggling to be somewhere else?
- Appreciate now. Become aware of all of the things around you, large and small, that bring you satisfaction: that first cup of coffee in the morning, the look of delight on your child’s face, or the feeling of getting into a comfortable bed at the end of a long day. Stop, periodically, and acknowledge your appreciation for these things.
Express gratitude to those who contribute to your happiness, and give back to them. When you are busy reaching out to others it is difficult to feel dissatisfied about what you don’t have.
You may find that by letting go of the insatiable desire for more, positive change begins to occur. Somehow, new possibilities start to develop where bitterness, greed and envy previously flourished. And no matter what the future holds you will find yourself in a much better position to notice the good things that are happening right now, this very moment.