Are You Covering Up Unhappiness with Material Possessions?

Oct 29, 2019

Nice things are, well, nice! I love nice things just as much as everyone else. My most favorite place is my house, and after growing up in a small lower-middle class row home in Baltimore, I fully appreciate the space and comfort that my home offers. In fact, my family has lived together in three time zones, and each time we’ve moved, we purchased a larger house. I’ll repeat that: nice things are nice!

As human beings, we get to experience the best of what life has to offer when we create the life we desire. We get to experience the creations and visions that other humans have created in the cars, boats, houses, and experiences they’ve designed. Someone, somewhere, had the dream of creating that thing that you desire to experience or own, so how can that be wrong? Desire is a healthy part of our humanity, and it’s desire that keeps the wheels of evolution turning. Without natural, healthy desire, life wouldn’t be as adventurous as it is. 

The American Dream

As I ascended the ladder of corporate America, my salary continued to increase and bonuses got larger. About two weeks after I began receiving a higher level of income, I began to think about how good the next increase would feel, and the opportunities and comforts the next level of pay could provide my family and me. Looking back, I was never satisfied, and the hunger in me to ascend the ladder faster and higher kept burning hotter so that I could experience more and more. My homes got bigger, my cars nicer, my savings account grew, and our vacations got longer. But with each increase, my hunger for more grew as well. I was living the American dream. More, bigger, and faster equals better.

When we first moved to Oregon, we were walking our neighborhood and met some really nice neighbors. They were cleaning out their boat in front of their house, and my wife Angie and I struck up a conversation with them. We learned that they had just purchased their boat a few weeks before, and that day was the third time they had taken it out. They were cleaning it up to put it back in their garage. I never thought about buying a boat until that day, but over the next month, I felt a such a strong craving for a boat that I couldn’t get it off my mind. I researched boats from the time I woke up until the time I went to bed—at home and at work. The craving was so powerful. I needed it. I convinced myself I couldn’t be happy without it. 

Angie and I went to the dealership and bought a boat soon after. I was so excited to have the boat in my garage that I sat in it every day, and Angie and I even had dinner in it one day – in the garage. That first summer, we put the boat in the water 12 or so times. The next summer about 10, and it decreased each summer afterwards. In our sixth year, the boat never touched the water, and it sat in the garage winterized for a few seasons. I moved on to want a new car, a sports sedan that I’d had my eye on for a while. I had to have it. Eventually my desire to be on the water went away and we sold the boat before we moved to Missouri in 2013. 

When we moved into our new home in Missouri, my next door neighbor had an even bigger boat, and when I began to talk to him about it, my craving began all over again. I began talking to Angie about buying another boat but she helped me remember how fast the magic of the boat wore off the first time, and I quickly came back to earth. I moved on to wanting to upgrade our patio, and that burn didn’t stop until I eventually invested in the patio. I couldn’t get the patio off my mind. 

Craving vs. Desire

Desire is natural and healthy. Desire helps us get out of bed each morning. We possess the desire to live, create, love, serve, and experience new things. Desire is encoded in our DNA as a means of survival and evolution. We are born with desire to achieve our highest potential, to feel significant, and to impact humanity in a positive way before we die. We desire to leave a legacy. Desire is not driven by an attraction to experience more, without disrupting happiness and peace in the present moment. Desire allows us to want to create more and still be satisfied with what we have now. 

Craving is a deep internal pull toward more and creates the illusion of happiness and satisfaction with the next thing. Craving will convince us that we can’t be happy until we have what we crave, and that we will be complete with the object of our craving—whether it is a relationship, a bigger house, cars, boats, or anything else. 

If you feel an internal dissatisfaction with where you are, who you are or what you have in life, that is craving, not desire. Desire does not rob you of happiness now. Craving provides the feeling of delayed happiness, and as soon as that need is filled, another will take its place. Craving promotes the belief that “as soon as I have [fill in the blank] I’ll be happy.” These two are much different. Desire creates, craving slowly destroys through insatiability and the erosion of happiness. 

Happiness Is Now

I’m sure you’ve heard the cliché that happiness is now. I used to think it was a bunch of garbage that Buddhists threw around and I would dismiss it quickly. They didn’t understand that I needed the boat, and that’s the only thing missing in my life. They didn’t understand that I deserved and worked hard for the thing I wanted, and when I got it, I would be satisfied. The problem is when I got that thing, I would be as satisfied as a kid on Christmas, but as soon as I had played with all the toys and the newness wore off, the cycle started all over again. 

Happiness is now. It’s true. If you feel you can’t be happy until later, or you just look to the next thing to allow yourself to experience happiness, you are causing your own pain. You are trapped in a cycle of craving. Your happiness has been overrun and robbed by the discontented nature of the pains of society—not the beneficial nature of desire. 

Happiness is available right now. All you must do is choose to appreciate what you have more than what you want. If you are reading this, you have plenty. What you already have has just been taken for granted, underappreciated, and underutilized. You can be happy now, if you so choose. Happiness is not later, and certainly not in material possessions. Nice things are nice, and you can experience anything you desire. But are you just covering up your unhappiness with material possessions? Only you can tell.

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