SUMMARY: Many of us at one time or another in our lives feel that life is passing us by, that we are not getting as much out of it as possible. For most of us who feel that way, there are ready remedies in entertainment, consumerism, and so forth — at least at first. But for others, the desire for something more cannot be solved in such ways. In this post, I look at what I consider the ultimate solutions to the problem of wanting more from life.
(About a 9 minute read)
It’s a curious fact that when a person is down and out, they can be too down and out to want to think there is more to life than their current fate. The thought of a better life can be too painful to contemplate under the circumstances.
But for most of us, there are times in our lives when we are discontent, profoundly discontent, and in search of something more. That sort of feeling is usually accompanied in my experience by boredom with life as it is, and perhaps a sense it will never get much better.
At which point, many of us instinctively turn to entertainments, to consumerism, to self-improvement books and articles, to politics, or religion. Sometimes we switch jobs, buy a bigger house, take a vacation, or even — and I have seen this happen — get married or plan children out of boredom and to escape that feeling there should be something more to life than what we have.
All of which, I suppose, is fair game so long as it is environmentally sustainable and harms no one. But such pursuits often enough come with a hidden cost. Enduring discontent.
They can sometimes be like addictive substances that provide only temporary fixes, then need greater and greater doses in order to achieve the same high as before. It is not enough that our phone or computer works, we must have the very latest tech even if there are no features we’ll use that we don’t already have. Or it is not enough that our politics suits us, we must turn it into a sports game and work ourselves into gratuitous outrages at our political opponents to feel like we’ve gotten our fix for the hour.
An odd thing about us humans is our wants — our wishes — are often greater motivators than our needs, yet — at the same time — we often find ourselves less content when we fulfill our wishes, than when we fulfill our needs. It’s rare, but I have known a few homeless people who were happier with their tents than some folks are with homes that are bigger than their needs.
You might be expecting me now to say that “spiritual” goals do not suffer from the same problem that they can be like a addictive drug. But in my experience, they do suffer from that problem — at least some of them do. For instance, folks who have experienced mystical bliss can easily want more, and just as easily convince themselves that their craving is more noble than the cravings of a millionaire to become a billionaire.
In my opinion, part of the art of living well is to know when to ask or demand more, and when to be content with what one has. When should you demand more affection from your partner and when would demanding more be unrealistic? It can take wisdom to know the difference.
Greed — the craving for substantially more than we actually need (even allowing for a rainy day or two) — comes in all shapes and sizes. To be greedy is part of being human. But the cost is — again — feeding greed leads to ever more greed.
However, simply recognizing that one can become greedy for just about anything one desires is a pretty good way to avoid it. Greed’s hold over us seems to rely in some large part on our failure or refusal to acknowledge it for what it is.
Now, I think most of us know the value to us of entertainments, shopping, bigger houses, and so forth, so I don’t think it is necessary to go into those things here in discussing how to get more out of life.
But there are four spiritual things that I believe can vastly improve the quality of nearly anyone’s life, but which I think are often overlooked. I wouldn’t call them “under-rated” though. They seem to be on the tip of most our tongues, sometimes night and day.
Yet, for all our nominal awareness of them and their value to us, we tend to overlook them in key ways. How many of us, for instance, have accepted a job without thinking of how it might affect who we are as a person, or how passionately we will embrace it?
Of course, there are times — all too many times — when circumstances force us to do just that. But it seems to me that we often enough do that even when we need not do it. So here are the four things that I believe we should take into account as often as possible in order to live more fully.
To be authentic is the same as to be true to yourself. I have blogged about that here, among many other places. If it seems like I harp on it, it’s because I see it as key to almost any other spiritual goal in life.
I can see how someone might not be true to themselves and yet become a millionaire, but I cannot see how anyone — even a millionaire — can feel they are living a fulfilled life without being true to themselves. More likely, they are substituting money or something similar for that self-fulfillment.
Bronnie Ware is an Australian who worked for some time as a palliative nurse taking care of dying patients. Typically, she spent the last weeks of their lives with them. She was in the habit of asking her patients what their greatest regrets were as they approached death.
The most common answer was (as Ware puts it), “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
Apparently, dying people quite often see what most of us overlook during life — that living the life others expect of us, rather than living authentically, is pretty much the equivalent of not living our life at all. I believe personal authenticity is something we should strive to take into account in making life decisions and cultivate whenever we can.
This is different than being loved. Being loved may be a worthy goal, but seeking it comes second nature to us humans. What we are more inclined to forget about — or overlook in making life decisions — is loving. That’s strange because loving tends to renew or refresh us. It is often the source of some sort of rebirth. It can, all by itself, rejuvenate our interest in life.
Unfortunately, most of us have been hurt at one time or another — and often multiple times — when we’ve opened our hearts to people. Therefore, we have erected psychological barriers against being hurt. But those barriers, it turns out, are also barriers to loving.
If one wants the benefits of loving, one must risk the dangers by removing those barriers and making oneself vulnerable to hurt again. That may be tough to do, but there is no other path to loving, so far as I know.
It is my belief that passion — which I have blogged about here — is something we are most likely to find to the extent we can live in the moment. That might not make much sense at first, but it seems to me that dwelling on the past and the future both can reduce passion to mere enthusiasm.
Passion differs from enthusiasm in that enthusiasm relies on its object for its strength. When you get bored with that object, or when something thwarts you from attaining it, your enthusiasm wanes.
Not so passion. Passion may have an object, but it is an inner fire that burns even when one might otherwise become bored with its object, or feel thwarted in attaining it.
By all accounts, this is the ultimate “more” to life. It is reputed to embrace both loving and passion, along with a host of other things, such as equanimity and freedom from unnecessary emotional suffering. Those who experience it do not, apparently, feel life is dull, boring, meaningless, or anything along those lines.
Spiritual enlightenment — which I have blogged about here — seems to me to be an unique form of awareness usually brought about by one or a series of mystical experiences. These experiences cannot be forced to come about. They are like breezes that you cannot force to rise. But you can open the windows of your house, so to speak, and invite the breezes in, should they arise.
None of the four things I’ve mentioned is easy to attain. Spiritual enlightenment alone is notoriously difficult. But the four are perhaps the most powerful cures most of us could have for feelings of meaninglessness, boredom, and wanting more out of life.