WORDS Joyce Man
Children are generally easy to please. Remember when being fed when you were hungry and being held in your mother’s arms when you were distressed was enough to restore your sense of ease? As we grow older we demand more, we become harder and harder to please. We become more sophisticated to reflect our increasing need to feel fulfilled. Somewhere along the line, the simple pleasures in life cease to satisfy us.
The same goes for parents. Somehow your mere presence, knowing you are safe and happy, no longer brings them the same sense of contentment. Their demands of you increase and they hold increasingly higher expectations of your behaviour and what you ought to achieve. Believe me- this is not just an Asian phenomenon!
[quote]Happiness is a state of inner fulfilment, not the gratification of inexhaustible desires for outward things[/quote]
Somewhere along the way we have grown increasingly difficult to please. We think to ourselves, ‘If only I could go to this gig, I would be happy’, or ‘If only I could take a holiday, that would make all my worries and stresses go away’. But what about when we attain these things? Our satisfaction is short –lived, only to be replaced with a new desire. We foolishly think to ourselves that we focused on the wrong thing the first time around. The next object of desire will bring us happiness; this will be the true panacea (at least for the time being). As a result, we create a never-ending cycle of craving and attachment. Before we can even sit and enjoy what we have, our mind is automatically directed towards the next thing to acquire. How can it be that instead of putting an end to our cravings, attaining our desires only encourages us to want more? This results in a constant state of restlessness and dissatisfaction as our desires never seem able to be curbed. Like an addicted gambler, we are hungry for the next high of a big win. When will we learn when enough is enough? Perhaps we should learn from Matthieu Ricard, Buddhist monk and author, dubbed the ‘world’s happiest man’ who says “Happiness is a state of inner fulfillment, not the gratification of inexhaustible desires for outward things.”
Research suggests that only 10% of people’s reports of happiness can be explained by differences in their circumstances. What determines happiness in fact is largely due to how we think and act. In other words, we are responsible and in control of creating our own happiness. Knowing this, what can we do to change how we relate to the things we want? Take something as simple as a phone for instance. Is it true that an iPhone 5 is needed to make your life complete? If you truly feel this then you have either very skilfully deluded yourself, or Apple sure has a way of brainwashing its consumers. Unfortunately for us, this is what commercialism feeds on- our insatiable desires. Every day we are bombarded by messages that tell us we should not be satisfied with what we have. In actuality, people with high levels of materialistic inclination rated less satisfaction with their life in general. How can we learn to listen to our own voice of wisdom rather than the greedy voice of marketing?
[quote]If we don’t wake up to this awareness, we spend our lives feeding this cycle of dissatisfaction and disappointment[/quote]
Take the people in your life. How can we learn to have fewer disagreements and show gratitude towards what we have? Setting up expectations of others is like setting up a physical barrier between you and the other person. They may be right in front of you, but they are prevented from getting close to you. If we don’t wake up to this awareness, we spend our lives feeding this cycle of dissatisfaction and disappointment. If only we could manage our expectations and practice contentment. The answer lies not in the things we have, but in the relationship we have with these things. In being content with what we have we learn to find joy in the simple pleasures of this very moment. Practicing contentment may not bring you lasting happiness but it may at the very least curb feelings of unease and dissatisfaction. Only then can we break the cycle of this insatiable thirst of desire.
By focusing on the here and now we give ourselves the opportunity to truly appreciate what we have in the present, without thinking of the next object of desire. So before you add yet another item to your online shopping basket, ask yourself ‘Will this bring me lasting happiness? If not, what can I do this very moment that will bring me one step closer to feeling content?’ It is easy to justify wanting the things we want if we want it bad enough. Before we get carried away with our justifications perhaps we should pause and observe where our desires are taking us. Use your wisdom to experience what is already right before your eyes. Maybe then we can finally return to being like children, full of wonder and joy towards the magic of the present moment.