I have a confession to make.
I like things. I like stuff. And I spend way too much time thinking about other stuff that I would really love to have. I don’t think I’m incredibly high maintenance (well, compared to my wife I am), but I realize that I have a long list of things that I want.
- a new pair of Merrell shoes
- a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited with a built-in roof rack
- a better camera (one that has extra lenses and you can take pictures of the moon)
- a working laptop
- a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy named Stella
- a bigger house in a better neighborhood,
- a job that pays more money
- nicer clothes
- to be skinner, better looking, have better skin, etc.
- more money so I can take my family to Disneyland, skiing, Europe, etc.
I would like all of these things. But I am working on something that I’m not sure I’ve really been able to acknowledge before now.
It starts with admitting my big secret:
I think I believed that getting these THINGS would make my life better, make me happier. I would spend time thinking about these things I wanted and even…gasp…feeling like I was missing something by not having them. Simply put, I equated my level of happiness to what I had or what I was lacking.
What I’ve learned is:
I was wrong.
Now, this giant revelation may be old news to some of you, but it came as a little bit of a surprise for me. I’ve heard the saying “money doesn’t buy happiness” no less than 1,799 times in my lifetime and I would nod and smile and think to myself “well, it sure as heck would make my misery more comfortable.”
But, I do really get it. I’m not saying I’ve perfected this yet by all means. I mean, I still do WANT all of the things on that list (along with world peace, of course). However, I am working on something within me whereas I don’t correlate my level of contentment, worth or just plain happiness on the acquisition or attainment of these things.
One of the absolute best articles I’ve read in a long time was THIS. And I think what was the most effective “A-HA” moment for me was when I really, really read it over and over again, I thought about all of the $$ I’ve spent on books, podcasts, etc. in the “search for happiness.” I thought about all the times words came out of my life to the effect of “if I only had ____, I would be happier.”
Now, I’m starting to cringe when I hear the same things from my kids. They have a little playroom that seems to have an abundance of toys, but they’re not happy with it. They get a video game system for Christmas but now crave the newer and better one and “will only be happy if they get it!” (This may sprout an entirely different post down the line about wanting to buy things for our children so they won’t be sad or disappointed.)
I think most of us do like our things – even those of us who totally believe that “money doesn’t buy happiness” – we like things that are more fun, make our lives more comfortable, entertain us, etc. But how often do we find ourselves thinking that having something new (job, car, home, etc.) would bring your contentment to the next level? My question then is this:
When we attribute our happiness to these things, honors/achievements or relationships, how do we cope when our favorite shoes are discontinued, our job changes, our camera breaks, our car gets totaled, or when real tragedy strikes and these things cannot numb the pain?
I don’t want my children to grow up thinking that their happiness will come and go with such frequency as external things often do. I’m never going to be perfect and I’m never going to be as low maintenance as my wife, but starting now, I have a new promise to myself and to my kids:
I promise not to let my happiness grow or dissipate by external things. I will hold myself accountable when I say “I’m happy BECAUSE I have THIS” or “I’m happy BECAUSE I accomplished THAT.” I promise myself and my kids that together we will learn that happiness doesn’t come from things turning out the way we want, or the things we get to have, it comes from us.