For years, I have worked myself to a pulp with the goal of “having it all” and retiring young. But devoting my time and energy to satisfy myself with material desires is finally declining.
For as long as I can remember, our culture has been all about the accumulation of material things. Even though my parents were completely against the concept of “more is better”, somehow I got wrapped up in the whole mess. People who I was surrounded with constantly spoke openly about how much they paid for their houses and cars; something taboo while I was growing up. Even the high school students who surrounded me at work consistently tried to outdo each other with “brand name” items they wore and owned.
Our life is inundated with constant messages insisting that we buy more stuff; larger houses, better cars, etc. We have decided that consuming as much as possible is our right as Americans, therefore we comply and continue swipe the plastic one more time.
But my brief moments of happiness during large purchases and small shopping sprees has come to a stop. Even though humans are conditioned to want to better ourselves and work hard to do so, it doesn’t work out the way we like: we work, earn money, accumulate “stuff”, enjoy it for a short time, then work harder to get something better. Wash, rinse, repeat. I built a lifestyle around this accumulation mindset, but the emptiness from the process has finally come to the forefront. Basically, it has started to feel pretty crappy…and it has to stop.
Don’t get me wrong: I like buying things. I just do a lot more thinking about the value of the stuff I buy as it relates to the life energy I have spent making the money in the first place. For instance: If you make $50/hr and buy a $200 item, you had to make $300 before taxes to buy it. If you asked yourself if the item you bought was worth 6 hours of your life energy before you bought it, it would be interesting to see how often you would follow through with the purchase.
Many of us have been conditioned since childhood to focus on getting things as a reward for achievement (don’t even get me started on Millennials!); a car, a medal, or a promotion are examples. For some time, I stopped enjoying the process and focused solely on the result. More and more, my mind was not in the present. Focusing on the outcome instead of enjoying the activity was not sustainable; I was wishing my days away and not enjoying things right in front of me.
I am not “there” yet, but at least I have become aware of lost time and the potential for happiness in the present. I am aware of the accumulated effect of being in a mental “fantasy land” most of the time; it is a mind that is always one step ahead, on to the next thing, never settling, never content, and never appreciating. This mindset has served me well in my career ladder, but it is unsustainable for true happiness when all is said and done, I think.
Balance is necessary and key. Being content while doing the little things; driving, washing dishes, reading, etc., is crucial. Enjoying the present and throwing ourselves into our activities 100% can lead to true happiness. With this attitude, any work or job we do can become meaningful, and the accumulation of the small daily joys can bring about a lifetime of contentment.