Happiness is not having what you want but wanting what you have.

S itting in a hotel lounge this week-end, I overhead a conversation in which a grandparent was describing her grandson and his wife moving to Nashville. She talked about the young couple, their relocations, his expanding career, and ended that part of the conversation by saying “he’s never satisfied.” Her words echoed in my head for a few minutes. In this context, she was describing her grandson as ambitious; striving for more. That’s positive, right?

However, there was a subtle note of sadness in her description. Not judgment or disapproval per se, her tone held more of a shrug born of wisdom. The experienced conviction of one who has some familiarity with the pitfalls of what she described.

All of us have experienced the challenges of “never enough.” Our hyper-competitive, obsessively secular society makes it virtually impossible to avoid the empty promises of “more.” We start our adult walk through life in build mode. Building our career. Building our family. Building our life. Along the way, we accumulate more: more money, more stuff, more burdens, more expectations. The strange thing about “more” is that getting it only feeds the need for more of it.  Along the way, “more” simply becomes a habit. An addiction that hopefully fades with time and wisdom.

Where else have you heard someone described as “never satisfied?” The need for more also raises its ugly head in our relationships. We need more attention, more validation, more time, more affection, more devotion, more. Our growing needs bring dangers on all sides because they tend to spiral out of control. And yes, we also need more control. Rising expectations become their own addiction as our definition of “enough” grows parallel to our accumulation of what we seek.

Rising expectations become their own addiction as our definition of “enough” grows parallel to our accumulation of what we seek.

The crazy thing about wanting or expecting more is that these are not bad things in and of themselves. We are called to aspire, to reach toward something more. We are built for achievement and the quest for success is healthy and proper. Having expectations of yourself and others is necessary and healthy to a point. As with many good things, these virtues tip to vices at the outer edges. The problem comes when our consumerism overpowers healthy ambition and we tip into greediness. Left unchecked, our desires and expectations build into a destructive pattern of taking that bleeds into every area of our life.

How would your grandparent describe you? Would she end her story by concluding that you are never satisfied? What about your spouse, mom, brother, co-workers, or children? As Americans, there is little chance that we will be able to avoid all of the pitfalls of wanting more. The edge between aspiration and avarice can be subtle at first and we are blessed and cursed to be part of an incredibly wealthy society that offers every possible trapping at the press of a button. At that edge, we face the choice. Again and again and again.

Ultimately, we find that our desire for more may be unavoidable but the choice to pursue it will always be belong to us. And like most habits, our attitude toward and approach to managing those desires will crystallize through a thousand small choices. Time and experience may provide some support but most of us will make the same mistakes of those before us if we don’t recognize the dangers and apply self-discipline long before our need for more becomes destructive.

Today, let’s look at our lives through the lens of “enough.” In this moment, can you find the peace of contentment with all you have and all you are? Look long and hard at the gifts in your life and take some time to acknowledgement your good fortune in whatever form it may exist. The blessings are there. Perhaps by spending a few minutes with “enough” we might finally see “more” as  the imposter it truly is.

 

If you like this post, you might like my new book, Every Day is Game Day. Now available for pre-order: