Category: Consumerism

How To Be Happy With What You Have (it’s simple, really)

If you’ve ever been outside, you’ll know that some people just seem to be happy all the timeAnd at first glance, it seems that those are the people who have the most – the most money, the most stuff, or simply more of everything. However, there are also a lot of people out there who seem to be satisfied no matter what – they have figured out that it’s important to be happy with what you have. And it’s no big secret as to how they do it.

The best way to be satisfied with your existing material possessions (and desire nothing more) is to want what you already have.

You may think this is a silly exercise. After all, doesn’t this mean that you have to trick yourself into thinking you’re satisfied? That deep down, you will still feel the urge to go out and acquire whatever you feel would make you happy – is it possible that suppressing this urge can somehow be helpful?

Turns out, it can be. While it may be uncomfortable at first (it will take a few months to adjust to this new way of thinking), the end result represents a major step towards inner peace.

It all begins by recognizing that everything you own is an absolute marvel of engineering and/or human labor.

“There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.” – Albert Einstein

To start building appreciation for what you already own, try to think about how it was originally made, and the journey it took before it became yours. Let’s take denim jeans, for example (just about everyone in the developed world owns a pair):

Be Happy With What You Have - even if you have very little

What if all you own is a pair of jeans?

  1. Jeans are made from cotton, which must first be grown and picked. Picking cotton by hand is tough, back-breaking work (luckily, most cotton is now picked by specialized machines).
  2. Bales of cotton are then transported to a factory where the cotton fibres are separated (seeds, leaves, and other plant parts must be first taken out). Each bale of cotton (~200kg) produces enough fibre for just over 300 pairs of jeans.
  3. The cotton is then turned into denim. This process consists of blending the cotton (to make it consistent), untangling the cotton and stretching it out. The cotton is spun, and is threaded around massive spindles. From here, the cotton is dyed. The thread is then treated with corn starch (to make it stiffer), and dried. In its final form, denim usually consists of a combination of 1 white cotton thread and 3 blue threads.
  4. The denim is then transported to the jean factory (the average pair of jeans is made from 15 pieces). The denim is stacked, a pattern is overlaid on top, and the sheets of material are precision cut. The individual pieces are then moved to the assembly line of (an army of) workers, where they are stitched together to assemble a pair of jeans.
  5. The jeans are then distressed, through a combination of sanding warm patches and grinding frayed edges into the denim. In some cases, a laser gun is used to heat the material to give the appearance of creasing. The jeans are tossed into large washing vats (with buckets of rocks) to add even more wear.
  6. Each pair is then washed, dried and prepared for transportation. A pair of jeans may (and often does) travel thousands of miles before it reaches its final retail location.
Be Happy With What You have - chances are, you're more fortunate than most

Denim jeans being assembled at a factory in Sri Lanka

You get the idea.

Jeans are just one example. The number of steps would be considerably greater for, say, even the simplest of modern digital cameras (or phones). Most electronic items today consist of individually sourced components, designed and rigorously tested to be functional for years (and under extreme conditions). We are literally surrounded by magic.

A lot of work goes into the creation of most things we own. And while many things are mass produced these days, this does not diminish the fact the attention and planning that went into designing and maintaining the manufacturing process.

This way of thinking will also help you realize that, for most product categories, we have long passed the “point of sufficiency.” That is – most things (e.g. cameras, laptop computers, music players, mobile phones, televisions) are beyond “good enough” for consumer purposes. Waiting impatiently for the next digital camera is a futile exercise if your ultimate goal is to become a better photographer – your best bet is to go out and do the most (e.g. take photos) with the gear you already have. Chances are, your existing equipment is just fine for the task.

It’s an important distinction between thinking like an “optimizer” and a “satisficer” – the former is never satisfied with the way things are and is constantly on the lookout for something that could bring in at least 1% more enjoyment, while the latter recognizes that training yourself to be satisfied with what you already have is a far better long-term strategy for happiness.

At the end of the day, to each his own. All I’m saying here is: don’t knock (this way of thinking) until you’ve tried it. 

Less optimizing, more satisficing

PS. This doesn’t mean you should not have any ambition or stop trying to make more money. It’s all just a part of a larger narrative – that you will likely find more enjoy in experiences (and creating) than in the never-ending race to own the latest and best of everything. In short: you can be rich and lead a simple lifestyle at the same time. 

How To Stop Being Addicted to Computer Games

Do you find yourself playing video games for hours on end? Ever feel like they have taken control over your life? I had the exact same issue, but ended up solving it myself. Below is my story – and a simple method on how to stop being addicted to computer games.

For many years, I was addicted to computer games.

I played games every day, often for hours at a time. I would play first thing in the morning and well into the night. Entire weekends went by without me even leaving the house.

It got so bad that I would do try to do everything else while gaming. Eating, working, finishing projects. Constantly switching between the game and real life, I was not actually giving my full attention to either.

The game that I had been addicted to the most was Counter-Strike. Once the most popular first-person shooter in the world, Counter-Strike (or CS) had me addicted since 2001. I realized I had been playing it on and off for over a decade. My friends had long moved on to other games, but I could not put CS down.

Having sunk well over 5,000 hours into one game, I naturally became quite good at it. I knew the controls inside out, and could navigate around the levels blindfolded. As it was a multiplayer experience, I was always one of the top ranked players on the server. I was winning more rounds, surviving longer and often single-handedly winning the match for my team. To make it more challenging, I would even handicap myself on purpose (e.g. turn off game sounds).

There was just one thing wrong: I was no longer enjoying the game.

What started as a casual game played with friends had, over many years, turned into a full on addiction. I constantly expected more from the game, even though it was a decade old (and free). I   also demanded more from the other players and would lose my temper if things did not go my way.  To me, CS was now “serious business.”

I tried to quit many times.

Uninstalling the game did not work – it was easy to download and play again. Getting myself banned from all the local servers was not effective either, as new ones would pop up every month.

What worked in the end was changing my environment.

Knowing I could not trust myself to just leave the game alone, I changed my environment so that it was impossible to play. I gave away my powerful desktop computer, and switched to an ultraportable laptop with a poor graphics card. I knew that if it couldn’t run CS, it would not support much else. I had now protected myself from any any modern, multiplayer game.

How To Stop Being Addicted to Computer Games: change your environment

Create a distraction-free environment

This worked wonderfully.

After a few weeks, I did not miss the game at all. I lost the desire to play it, and only thought of how many days I had wasted mashing those keyboard buttons. My mind had no choice but to rationalize my new environment.

My life changed. I filled the newly found free time with productive projects and activities. Having let go of games, I found myself getting back into my hobbies (such as photography). I was also spending more time with friends. Most importantly, I started getting more sleep and feeling better every morning.

Are you an entertainment junkie?

Are you addicted to distractions? Aside from video games, there are some powerful ones out there: endless TV series, social networks (e.g. Facebook, Twitter), constant news updates, repetitive blogs, and more. With so much vying for our attention, there’s always something that appeals to our desire for current, up-to-date entertainment.

We are part of a generation that expects to be distracted, every minute of the day.

Think about all the other things in life that you may not have time for anymore. A long dinner with friends, a day spent with family, a neglected weekend project. The addiction to distractions makes it hard to find an uninterrupted chunk of time to do something. No chance to sit, think and focus.

Take control of your life by taking control of your environment.

Make it hard for yourself to be distracted. Some methods that have worked for me and others:

  • Give away the TV, or at least cancel your cable subscription
  • Switch to a less powerful computer
  • Change your browser homepage to a blank page
  • Unsubscribe from every blog in your feed, and delete at least 50% of your bookmarked links
  • Spend more time (or live) with people who are not addicted to distractions – they will have a positive influence on you

Once you have rid yourself of distractions, make sure it stays that way. Make it a game – count the days since your last “distraction” session. Celebrate by filling the hours with satisfying projects that fulfill you.

Take back your time!

Less addiction, more willpower

Have any other methods worked for you? Please share your stories in the comments section.