June 3, 2015

A Dose of Tough Love for When you Want it all (& end up with Nothing).


Have you ever wanted it all only to end up with a big fat nothing?

As writer Sylvia Plath once said, “Perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything, it is because we are dangerously close to wanting nothing.”

Nothing? Well that too is relative, right? I’m sure most of us reading this aren’t saving nickels for the bus or hiding under a bridge for shade. For whatever reason the word “nothing” conjures up images of external degradation, filth, poverty and having no one with whom to have dinner.

And yet, we’ve all come across innumerable, bizarre happiness studies pointing to the blissful glee experienced by humans like us.  Humans who happen to live in a small village somewhere, say in Ghana, likely owning less than our children will have accumulated by the age of five and putting in more manual labor in 24 hours than a week’s worth of us dragging our Amazon boxes to the trash.

For a crescendo, let’s also imagine our daily coffee budget (make that a double shot) that likely comprises the entirety of their monthly expenses. Okay, now look at yourself in the mirror and let the visual residue of your life really sink in. And then check out the way these people smile. A mile-long pearly stretch from your cube to the island of Milos—the escape you daydream about only every other lunch break.

There you have it; honest to god, simple and undeniable joy. While having barely anything on the outside, people living in mysteriously barren conditions all over the world are pulling off something pretty substantial, wouldn’t you say?

Surely they must want tons of things. How are they not miserable with so little? We shrug it off as something undesirable or impossible, but doesn’t that make you scratch your head, at all?

Let’s back up for a second. I’m not saying any of this to draw upon the obvious. The obvious being that every culture and part of the world operates withing their own sense of reality and that answers to practical problems aren’t typically found by hopping on a plane to run and til the fields.

First of all you’d burn. Pretty badly. Secondly, after the novelty of freedom wore off, you’d hate yourself and anyone who encouraged the notion that running away from your life ever leads to a permanently greener pasture.

Conversely, switching up environments and being open to new experiences truly does do wonders for virtually all parts of our existence. And of course, there are always the exceptions. You know, the people of “I quit everything and am now selling papaya smoothies on the beach“. But for the sake of the rest of us, let’s assume that’s not you.

(If that is you, you know what to do. Don’t forget the sunscreen.)

So now that we are clear on what this article is not, let’s get to the gist: time is money, and money is the key to unlocking the utopia we want day in and day out. Or is it?

If you’re wondering what’s so wrong about wanting to have a nice house, an attractive and educated partner and of course that dream job, the kiddies, car, perfect abs, yada yada, the answer is: nothing. The Dalai Lama himself said that the purpose of life is to be happy. No joke.

So, I have to ask: Are you happy?

Is all your wanting and having leaving you happy, boo?

Et voila, the issue is served. For most of us, all we’re left is the fantasy of one day being happy. Your name is on the wait list—and boy are you hungry—but time is ticking and you have yet to be called.

Folks, having it all, is an illusion. (And that’s not just the case for women.) Needing to have it all to admit that we are happy sounds like a manifesto written by a toddler, not to mention a cruel and tricky way into cheating ourselves from the joy of living through the lens of something grander than pleasure: meaning.

Sometimes feeling like we have it all doesn’t actually come by literally having it all. (With one glimpse at my bank account, you’d understand.) As someone who’s taking a sabbatical from the addiction of “wanting” and trying to lead a life inspired through service, this is the to-do list that has helped me deal with the mind-trap of compulsive wanting:

1. Make “slowing down” a practice.

Sure, you’re unstoppable. An efficiency machine, a force like no other. You’re also racing to your grave. And while we’re at it, sounds like you might also be a pretty lousy friend, parent and partner. Sorry, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that when you’re ripping through your goals, all you see is, well, yourself. Is that really all you want? Guess what, life is full of urgent and beautiful messages lurking in the stillness in between texts, emails, conference calls, that are dying to reach you, dying to guide you. Hitting pause is not for the faint of heart, but it’s the only way for the noise to settle into meaning and the anxiety to settle into contentment. Go for a walk, meditate, do the dishes, fold clothes, draw your pet, do some yoga, pray, try origami, chop some vegetables.

2. Make “Giving” a practice.

Fact: One of the fastest ways to get happy is to make someone else happy. We’re used to living within the illusion of scarcity; in order to share, we must first have enough. The act of heartfelt giving, however, whether it be our time, care, advice, or a word of encouragement, replenishes our sense of abundance and allows us to feel bigger, stronger and more connected. The more we give the more we feel that we have. Who wouldn’t want that?

3. Make “Nature” a practice.

One of the best if not greatest ways to tap into our inner knowing is through reconnecting with nature. Yeah, that green and blue stuff outside. Painter, Claude Monet, once attributed his becoming successful to flowers. Leave the monkey brain at home. Put the cell phone down. Instagram can wait. Commune with your environment. Get bored. Get curious. Get sweaty. Explore. Listen.


As you practice the above activities, re-evaluate your daily and chronic “must wants”. And then ask yourself, are they motivated by desire and joy or obligation, anxiety and fear? Give yourself some time. Still not sure? Head back outside.


Author: Katerina Pappas

Editor: Alli Sarazen

Photo: Hartwig HKD/ Flickr

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