How to Want Less in a World That Screams More
“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.” ~ Epictetus
One of the things I aim for is to live a simpler life. Not too long ago I wrote about eliminating the unnecessary. The thing with elimination though is: it has to be a conscious choice, not a reaction to the complexity of today’s world and demands.
Throwing out stuff feels good, as long as I don’t try to fill the void with more stuff a few months down the road.
I’ve been conflicted about wanting less. I keep looking around me and everything screams bigger, larger … more!
Forbes magazine publishes a list of billionaires, not a list of the most contented people. Success is measured by net worth, earning power, popularity, and reach. And among nations progress is measured in productivity, a higher standard of living and military might.
Search engines reward sites that publish more frequently with better ranking and visibility. Site owners boast their high subscribers’ count and page views. Social media success is determined by the number of followers and shares.
We’re expected to move towards more—more possessions, more education, more stuff, more gadgets, more content, more friends, more presence on social media. Just about more of everything.
It’s one thing to eliminate the excess, but it’s another to go deeper and want less in the face of relentless consumerism and materialism.
How can we want less and still grow?
How can we want less and not feel like social outcasts?
Can we want less and feel complete and contented—not inadequate or lacking?
I wish I had a conclusive answer. I don’t. The only thing we can do is examine what we think we want and determine what we can eliminate.
The best way (at least for me) to study an issue is to go back to the beginning. Look at a newborn and how she changes as she grows over time.
A healthy newborn has basic survival needs. As she grows, she wants to explore and interact.
Most toddlers will be more than happy to satisfy their curiosity with whatever is in front of them. They’re more attracted to boxes, cupboards, food, and other household items than toys. They just want the freedom to experience the world around them. They don’t look for tools and gadgets to do that. They rely on the gifts they were born with—their bodies and senses.
Is it fair to say that even as adults, that’s what we truly want—to sense the world around us—without much fanfare, commentary or restrictions … to feel life … to be fully awake?
To me that’s the ultimate desire—to awaken to life. I want to be fully immersed in what I’m doing right now, without much thought to what things I can buy or do to enhance the experience. Take life one sensory moment at a time without judgment and wishing for a better one. So the next question would be:
What would make us wake up and feel the world?
Each one of us has to answer this question for him/herself. We may all want the same thing, but we each have our unique way of getting it. And down the road we may even change the answer. We also may not have an answer, and that’s okay. Not knowing is part of waking up.
The only thing I can tell you is waking up has nothing to do with how much money you have in the bank, what kind of car you have or want, your formal education, the computer you own, the places you go, or the games you play.
I’ve never been more asleep and dazed than when I focused on upgrading my life and striving for more work, activities, or gadgets. The cycle of doing and having is a distraction most of the time.
If you’re open to the idea that most wants are a distraction, it’s time to trim the fat.
Want less in practice
“Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it.” ~Epictetus
Talking about wanting less and doing it are two different things. Consider these steps as an exercise in awakening. From there you will be able to experiment with wants and choose a path that suits you.
The first step is clarity. What do you think you want?
The biggest problem I have is the things that float around in my head all the time. I want to clean this, or repair that. I need to write and finish this work project. And hello music, what have I done with you lately?
Fuzzy thoughts and dreams are a nightmare. They’re not exciting. They’re draining.
The first step is to make a list of everything that nags at you or you dream of accomplishing. Write everything down. Don’t hold back. Write whatever comes to mind—family and relationships, work, hobbies and new skills, finances, health, travels, adventures, material possessions (home, car, new couch … anything).
How do you feel about your list? Does it comfort and excite you? Or does it stress you out?
What have you done in the past to work on these wants?
Look at your list and on a scale from 0 to 10 determine how much effort and focus you have poured into each item. Zero means you’ve done nothing, and 10 means you gave it your best.
For material possessions, rate how badly you want something and how it would make you feel, 10 being the highest.
How many tens do you have?
If you got all tens, you’re on your path. I got no tens. I have a lot of 5s and 6s and a few zeros.
What does that mean?
My scores mean I’m half-assing it most of the time. Trying to juggle more than a few things means that things get dropped and picked up again, only to get dropped for something else. And the cycle repeats itself.
To do things differently and create space, we need to eliminate the distracting wants.
Remove all the zeros without thinking. You haven’t worked on them for as long as you’ve been thinking about them. You’re better off clearing your mind and letting go.
Go through the list again and cut out everything with a score of less than six. If these items were important, you would’ve spent more time on them in the past.
Look at the items with six and higher. If you have five items or less, you’re in good shape. If you have more, pick the most important 5 to you, the ones that you would really regret not doing.
The avoid list
I got this idea from Passion Coach Scott. Move all the items you have not chosen into an avoid list. Whenever one of those pops in your head, remember that it is on your _avoid at all costs list _and refocus on your true wants.
Revise as you grow
Life is beauty shrouded in mystery. It wouldn’t be fun if we had all the answers. We need to carve our own authentic path and be free to change it as we grow.
There are no mistakes here, just different choices. If you choose something that doesn’t work out, remove it and replace it with another item. Or better, have one less thing to want.
When we consciously want less, we start paying more attention to what feeds our entire being. What we give up in wants, we gain in peace of mind and clarity.
To want less is to connect with our inner truth … to wake up to who we are and what gives us joy and that usually is much less than what we think.