I had a stock broker client in my short-lived real estate days, who confessed that he thought that by making a lot of money, it would bring him happiness. But the more he made, the more unhappy he became. He was never satisfied with any job, partner or money he made, and found himself in a bottomless pit, losing control over his life.
Why do we have endless desires — more money, more stuff, a better car, a better partner — when it doesn’t really serve any ever lasting happiness? If we just take a look in our closet, house or garage, I’m sure we can all find too much stuff, most of it’s useless, just sitting there collecting dust, and we still run out to buy more. Lord knows, I’ve had my share of “Sex and the City” shoe fetish days, of which I am ashamed. The more we gain, the more we seek and more unhappiness sets in. Our desire for more is a mirage trap, where we are made to falsely think that if we obtain or seek out something more or “better,” it will bring us happiness. But in reality, it never does. So when we try to fulfill these “false” desires, it only distracts ourselves from our real problems. Like any problem with drugs, alcohol, gambling or shopaholic tendencies, our desire to acquire is a temporary high that lets us leave our problems for 2 seconds. When the high is over, then our problems return, and it becomes a vicious cycle, where we continue to desire more and more.
The Buddha understood the traps of desires. The core of Buddhism is to forego all worldly desires, which even includes lovers. The Buddha was a prince who gave up his palace and all his worldly belongings to meditate under a Bodhi tree. While this may sound extreme to most, the essence of the Buddha and his teachings are profound. When you renounce “desire,” then you free yourself mentally, emotionally, and spiritually and transcend into the state of Being, which is the ultimate state of spiritual fulfillment, i.e, happiness.
On a practical everyday level, the more you desire and possess, the more you will stress and worry. So how do we move toward desiring less? You can start to reduce your desires by just accepting and appreciating the small things in life, perhaps a beautiful flower or tree or the wonderful smile on your wife’s or husband’s face. Accepting and surrendering to the moment of now, whether you’re sitting with a cup of tea or at work putting together a presentation, will provide a sense of contentment where you do not need to seek anything more outside of what you have now. Start out with these small acceptances and you will start to see an internal shift in yourself toward peace.
Another way to reduce desire is by appreciating what is already positive in your life: your good health, a roof over your head, and daily food on the table. Know and realize that your life can be far worse than it is today and for every hardship story you have, infinitely more people have worse ones. Look at your life through the lens of a glass half full, rather than a glass half empty. This will immediately put your life back into perspective, making you appreciate your life more and reducing meaningless desires.
Happiness never comes from the material world, but from spiritual fulfillment, which is when you appreciate your life, reduce your desires, and recognize your life is already perfect as is. So next time you see the beautiful sunset or sunrise, be grateful, thankful, and satisfied with your life. The grass is never greener on the other side, and what you already have is all you will ever need to be truly happy.
By Moon Cho, Creator of Ying & Yang Living