As humans, we always want something. Yet being dissatisfied rarely serves us. How do we reconcile desire and contentment? How do we learn to live in, and love, the moment?
The philosopher Epictetus said: “My will is always to prefer what comes to pass.”
A couple of millennia later Sinead O’Connor sang: “I do not want what I haven’t got.”
What they were both saying, in slightly different words, is that the key to happiness is to want what we already have. In other words, to be grateful.
This sounds mundane, but it is actually radical. Our whole consumerist society is based on wanting things we don’t have. We’re supposed to crave new phones, clothes, holidays, partners, jobs, cars, bodies, even minds.
Modern life is obsessed with improvement and progress, which is just another way of saying, we aren’t happy with what we have.
When we are happy with what we have, it changes the whole atmosphere of our life.
It makes us feel secure, nourished, abundant. If we already have what we want, what reason is there to worry or wish for more?
Learning this takes practice, and yoga is an excellent tool for cultivating this mindset. Here are four ways to speed up the process and start wanting what you’ve got.
Know what you need
What do you really need? Be honest. Food, yes; shelter, yes; friends, yes; a sense of purpose, yes. But the rest of the things we give so much importance to (promotions, mortgages, interior decorating, expensive gadgets) are wants, not needs. When you begin to consciously acknowledge all your needs that are being met, it shifts your energy. Instead of focusing on what you lack, you concentrate on what you have.
Resist with mindfulness
Part of breaking free of the cycle of dissatisfaction is resisting the constant messages telling us we need more. Advertising is designed to make us want more and these days, practically everything is advertising. You can’t escape it, but you can recognise it and label it as what it is: a sales pitch. When you are mindful of the power of marketing, you can resist the impulse to buy your way to happiness (which never works anyway).
Don’t wait to celebrate
Every single day is worthy of joy and celebration, for the simple fact we are alive in the world. Don’t wait for a birthday or anniversary or reunion to celebrate the good things in your life — do it now. Whether you relax alone with a cup of tea and count your blessings, or fire off an invite to a spontaneous barbecue, seizing the day will help you cherish what you already have. And when you’re rich in love and activity, who needs more stuff?
Share the love
One of the fastest ways to get over your own worries and hangups is to reach out to someone else. Time with friends, volunteering, or catching up with family members, is a great reminder that we are not in this alone, and that relationships are more important with things. Make the effort to connect face-to-face — phones just don’t have the same emotional charge.