Wealth consists not in having great possessions but in having few wants.
- Epictetus (Acquired)
We love to accumulate things, some of them we inherit, and others we either buy or get gifted from others. With the rise of the consumerist mindset, the market made the narrative very strong and attractive.
Non-stop advertisements, marketing campaigns, and influencers hold significant weightage over our buying choices. Think carefully how many buying choices were your own decisions, unaffected by the market? The answer might be none or very few, or maybe you are unable to distinguish between the self one and influenced one. The market has a product for everyone, whatever we need or desire. Even what do we want is also decided by the market.
What is the problem with buying things? Don’t they give us comfort and a feeling of fulfillment? The problem with buying is that it is a never-ending, never fulfilling process. Your want of having more only increases with getting more. That more and more is a vicious cycle that ends up consuming you physically, mentally, and economically.
Now, the question arises, what can you do to become free of unnecessary desires? Let us try to find the answer using the approach of minimalism.
Epicurus was an ancient Greek philosopher born in 341 B.C. He spent his whole life trying to study what makes people happy. Philosophers before him tried to tell what makes people good and virtuous and how to lead a good life. Having studied happiness for decades, Epicurus came up with remarkable and revolutionary conclusions.
Epicurus identified three kinds of desires
- Natural and necessary wants like shelter, food, healthcare, and rest.
- Naural and unnecessary wants like fancy clothing, luxurious food, ornaments, etc.
- Vain desires like power, extreme wealth, and fame.
Epicurus believed for survival, we need to focus on natural and necessary desires only. Focusing too much on the rest two will bring suffering and pain. I will try to explain with the example.
What do you value more? Water or Diamonds? While water is necessary for human survival is valued less than shiny stone. Why is it so? Because water is in abundance while diamonds are scarce. Our life is like this only; we tend to value later aspects because they are sparse, unlike the first one.
What is the problem with scarcity? Shouldn’t we strive to get possessions that are scarce or tough to get? Yes, but the problem with scarce resources is that they are tough to get, and everyone will try to get them at any cost. To try is not a bad thing, but the outcome obsessed mind is. We, humans, are more outcome obsessed than outcome and process-oriented. When we want anything, our mind starts imagining scenarios where we would be enjoying those possessions: we dreamed of before. Consider a situation where you see your crush as you see her; your mind begins imagining the beautiful and happy future with her.
This mind is a ruthless debt collector that can’t be stopped or bargained with, unlike worldly ones. What it wants, it wants; unless it gets that, it will haunt you like anything. Once, we plant a desire within our mind. It only gets stronger with time and forces us to do menial jobs, face burnouts or stress. Although worry is a waste of time, our minds make us suffer through it. Once we get what we wanted: we want more of it. It leads to a never-ending cycle of indulgence, only to make us suffer in the process.
The more you want to get content, the more struggle you do. Many times the pain of the flounder overwhelms the pleasure of getting it. The less you desire, the lesser flounder you face. The less you struggle, the less you suffer, and less suffering will lead towards more happiness. In short, desiring less will give you more and vice versa.
Desiring less doesn’t make you lazy or weak: alternately, it makes you strong. People who want more are generally not able to control their minds and become a slave to them. This mind then creates millions of possible scenarios of the future. Some are of our liking while others are not. We favor some while we are disinclined to the others. Our favorable scenarios lead us to a utopian world that is far from reality. Aversive situations lead to the world of fear of losing what we have or what we could have. In both scenarios, fear dominates our minds and gives rise to anxiety.
Let me share a story with you from the philosophy of Taoism -
Once, there was an old farmer in China who lost his horse. When neighbors told him that bad had happened. He replied,” maybe or maybe not.” The next day, his horse returned with two other wild horses. When neighbors congratulated him on his fortune, he said maybe or maybe not. The next day, his son broke his legs while trying to ride a wild horse. Neighbors came to express their sadness to him, but again he said,” maybe or maybe not.” After a few days, the royal army arrived to commission the farmer’s son into the royal army but returned after seeing his broken legs. Again neighbors came to congratulate him, but he said the repetitive words, “ maybe or maybe not.”
What does the story teach us? It explains that do not attach your value to the events. You do not know whether they are good or bad. Farmer remained calm because he did not mix his happiness with the outcomes. Every outcome was neutral to the farmer because he did not know how the events would unfold. On the other hand, neighbors saw high volatility in their state of mind because they were trying to attach value to each event without knowing anything about them.
Desiring less or desiring abundant and necessary resources free ourselves from the struggle of achieving others. When we do not worry about the outcome or remain value-free that helps us get more focused and calm; a calm mind can think better and act better than the volatile one.
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