If you’ve ever been outside, you’ll know that some people just seem to be happy all the time. And 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To start building appreciation for what you already own, try to think about how it was originally made, and the journey it took before it became yours.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):
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.