I’ve been doing a lot of reading over the last few years and some ideas and philosophies that I’ve come across are nothing new, but they’re just not things that I was exposed to when I was younger, when they would have had the most impact, mostly because when I was a kid things like e-books and Amazon didn’t exist. And I guess the information just wasn’t as accessible even in print. Accessibility creates new markets, after all. Specifically, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about finding meaning in life and moving away from consumerism towards a healthier outlook on how to find meaning in life.
It seems like most of the issues we have in life come from not being satisfied with what we already have or need and constantly falling victim to our cravings for what we want, through one form of acquisition or another. We confuse needs and wants, and we oppress others to acquire possessions, power, or stature that we don’t really need to live truly satisfying lives. Worse, we confuse acquisition with satisfaction.
The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts: therefore, guard accordingly, and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature.Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
The one who has conquered himself is a far greater hero than he who has defeated a thousand times a thousand men.The Dhammapada: The Sayings of the Buddha
I can’t count the number of times that I’ve bought a new thing, looking for satisfaction, only to find myself looking for the next acquisition-triggered dopamine rush a few weeks later. The problem isn’t that I need new things; it’s that I need to find an appreciation for what I have, and that can only happen if I correct my perspective.
This seems like something that should be common sense, and I understand it on some level, but I haven’t fully implemented it in my life. For example, I’ve criticized the small iterative upgrades to mobile phones and other electronics that are intended to keep people spending, but it hasn’t quite hit home, I suppose. I’m not quite there yet. Maybe it’s always a struggle, breaking free from consumerism in the pursuit of inner peace.
But I have donated quite a few things to Goodwill. Probably 1/3 of what I own, and honestly I can’t even remember what most of the items were because I wasn’t using them anyway. I’m simplifying my life so I can focus on the things that matter. It’s a process and only part of the journey, but it’s nice to be taking concrete steps in what feels like the right direction. Downsizing, healthier eating, meditation, exercise, and trying to focus on things that actually bring me joy.
If any of this sounds interesting to you, and you want to know more, then I recommend starting out by researching minimalism and habit formation. If you’re unfamiliar with the idea of habit formation to trigger new behaviors, the book Atomic Habits, by James Clear, is helpful. The Android app, Atom: Build a habit of meditation (For Beginners) is, obviously, oriented towards meditation, but along the way it teaches you a lot of good information about why and how to make new habits stick, and it’s not a bad idea to learn how to meditate anyway.
I picked up these ideas from the reading I’ve been doing on Stoicism and Buddhism. Both of these philosophies focus heavily on letting go of delusions and recognizing that mastering our own minds is the greatest challenge with the greatest possible reward. So, if you want to get into the philosophy (or spirituality/religion, depending on how you look at it), good places to start are The Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius, and The Dhammapadha (avoid the free F. Max Muller translation, it’s outdated and hard to understand), which are the sayings of Siddhārtha Gautama, the Buddha.