By Elior Moskowitz
Happiness is often defined in terms of getting more of what we want: “If only I had a big house, a new phone, or more savings in the bank...” But this drive has diminishing returns: The more we get, the more we want. This force is known as the Wanting Mind. It insists that something needs to change in order for us to be happy, and it keeps us from feeling financial peace.
The problem? We are wired to want. All beings in nature have a biological imperative to survive, and it is this drive that is at the very core of the Wanting Mind. But it doesn’t have to be this way. With a little practice, you can break the cycle. Here’s how:
1. Dig Deeper What you think you want is often just a distraction from what you need. A common misconception is that your “surface” desires are superficial, but these can actually serve as directors towards a core need that, when met, will feed your wellbeing in more enduring ways. Brent Kessel, meQ’s Financial Wellbeing expert and host of the Financial Wellbeing track, says that “we’re better off seeking more lasting satisfactions—the kind that relieves our wanting at a deeper level and connects with the fundamental desires that fuel those guilty pleasures.” For example, if you feel you need that new fancy gadget, dig one level deeper. Ask yourself why. Maybe you want to impress your friends. Now see if you can dig any deeper. Why do you need to measure up to your friends, or why do you feel like you aren’t already enough for them? Digging to the root cause of your desire will help you understand what need actually needs to be addressed so that you can satiate it for good.
2. Let it Go The Wanting Mind makes it so that indulging in desires characterized by “childlike urgency” (“I need this new thing, right now!”) will only make you happy for a short period of time, until that feeling wears off and you are drawn to the next desire. In other words, there’s no such thing as “enough.” To counter this, you can resist the pull to give into that urgency. meQuilibrium has an activity to practice this called Let it Go. It involves creating a pause between sensing your want and acting on it. Over time, you can actually relieve your tendency to give in to every impulse in favor of pursuing those that actually matter and make you feel good in the long run. “By becoming less reactive to the desires of the Wanting Mind, and more aware of the tricks it plays, we can gradually learn to take more pleasure in the abundance all around us,” says Kessel.
3. Practice Contentment Kessel says that “the great mistake we make is that we attribute our temporary feeling of happiness to the object itself...the reality is that the absence of wanting is what gives you pleasure.” Practicing mindfulness is a key way to ground yourself in the present and savor what you have right now, rather than seeing the moment as flawed or needing more. Repeating a mantra such as “I have everything I need right now” can anchor you in the moment and help you embrace what you have, rather than looking for what you don’t. Mindfulness can even help you appreciate that which you don’t have: Challenge yourself to appreciate things that others possess without feeling the need to own them yourself. An added bonus? Wanting less has actually been shown to make you feel more generous, so the cycle keeps on giving.
The key is to separate your wants from your goals so you can focus on what is truly meaningful. Kessel says that our most meaningful goals are marked by three characteristics: “They’re beneficial to others, we’re willing to work and wait for them, and they are things we feel that we have to do before we die.” Challenge yourself to connect with these goals and pursue the things that deserve your desire.
Elior Moskowitz is the Content Coordinator at meQuilibrium. She is a frequent Cup of Calm contributor and writes about leadership, lifestyle, and wellbeing. She holds a B.A. in Psychology and English from the University at Albany.