Finding satisfaction in what I already own

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.

Being happy with enough

A lot of the problems we have in the world right now are because people want things that they don’t need, like a new phone every two years for example, and it creates a constant dissatisfaction with the present.

I wonder if this is why rich people kill themselves? They have so much, and not knowing what to do with it and not having time to use it must create additional layers of dissatisfaction.

The focus on living in the present moment that Marcus Aurelius wrote about reminds me of Buddhism. Aurelius even says that we shouldn’t worry about the past or the future because they do not exist.

Man’s life is as a point… ever flowing

The time of a man’s life is as a point; the substance of it ever flowing, the sense obscure; and the whole composition of the body tending to corruption. His soul is restless, fortune uncertain, and fame doubtful; to be brief, as a stream so are all things belonging to the body; as a dream, or as a smoke, so are all that belong unto the soul.

Marcus Aurelius

This is an interesting quote. I haven’t finished reading The Meditations or much about Aurelius’s life, so I don’t think I understand it fully, but it seems as though he’s saying that who we are physically and mentally changes from moment to moment and that we are all moving inexorably towards death.

I think it’s important to remember that people change over time and that the total time we have is fleeting. I’m not the same person I was 25 years ago and I won’t be the person I am today in 25 years, or even tomorrow. I do wonder if we should be struggling to make sure that every little thing we do is incredibly meaningful, though. I don’t know if that would make life more meaningful or just stressful. Sometimes it’s good to relax and enjoy frivolous things.

This art called life…

True understanding is to see the events of life in this way: ‘You are here for my benefit, though rumor paints you otherwise.’ And everything is turned to one’s advantage when he greets a situation like this: You are the very thing I was looking for. Truly whatever arises in life is the right material to bring about your growth and the growth of those around you. This, in a word, is art– and this art called ‘life’ is a practice suitable to both men and gods. Everything contains some special purpose and a hidden blessing; what then could be strange or arduous when all of life is here to greet you like an old and faithful friend.

Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor from 161 to 180 and a Stoic philosopher

This is a really cool and healthy way of looking at life. As much as possible, I’d like to cultivate this attitude in myself.

Trying to Approach the Day with the Right Mindset

“Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil.

But for my part I have long perceived the nature of good and its nobility, the nature of evil and its meanness, and also the nature of the culprit himself, who is my brother (not in the physical sense, but as a fellow creature similarly endowed with reason and a share of the divine); therefore none of those things can injure me, for nobody can implicate me in what is degrading.

Neither can I be angry with my brother or fall foul of him; for he and I were born to work together, like a man’s two hands, feet or eyelids, or the upper and lower rows of his teeth. To obstruct each other is against Nature’s law – and what is irritation or aversion but a form of obstruction.”

Marcus Aurelius, The Meditations, ~170 – 180 CE

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on Stoicism and came across this quote by Marcus Aurelius. It’s a very grounding message.

We should understand people’s bad behavior to be a normal, inherent part of life and living in a society. Rather than be affected, we should make sure that we continue to do the right thing and press on, understanding that people who behave badly are coming from a place of ignorance. And rather than retaliating or getting into a confrontation, we should continue to do our best because it is in the best interest of all involved, including ourselves.

Or at least, that’s what I understood from the quote. I’m not there yet, but it seems like a nice goal to work towards. Basically, not letting other people’s BS affect me and continuing to strive for excellence.

Things to be Grateful For 4/12 – 4/18

Last week, I added a section to a blog post I made where I listed a few things I should be grateful for in the previous week. It seemed like a pretty good exercise, given the situation. I think it’s something I’m going to try to continue on a regular basis with once a week lists. Even after this pandemic is over, I think I could benefit from reminding myself of all of the good things that happen over the course of a week and meditating on them for a bit.

  • I reread The Red Badge of Courage and it made a lot more sense to me now as an adult and an Army veteran.
  • I’m continually grateful that the New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library have such a large catalog of audiobooks and eBooks that I can borrow through my phone.
  • I discovered free online courses from Harvard. The certificates aren’t free, but it still seems like a pretty good deal to me.
  • The cat we rescued, Mama Cat, is finally starting to improve. She is suffering from some kind of skin condition that we’ve been treating with antibacterial/antifungal wipes. We gave her a bath and she’s finally getting fluffy enough to pick up and pet. She’s super grateful for the affection.
A 9" round cake pan half filled with fresh baked brownie.
Fresh baked fudge brownie in a 9″ round cake pan.
  • I baked some kick-ass brownies.
  • I found a really cool horror anthology on Amazon Prime Video called Hitokowa: The Killing Hour that is kind of cheesy, but in a great way.
  • Honda Financial Services allowed us to defer our car payments for two months, so we’re relieved of that burden until June.
  • My wife and I are both healthy and we’re eating well, which is more than many can say right now.
  • We have lots of toilet paper.
  • Our cat, Dapper, is super happy that we’re around all the time.
One of our cats, Dapper, trying to get attention.
  • I’ve been reading more by Stoic authors and the stuff makes sense. Here’s a quote by Epictetus that is still very relevant:

There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.

Epictetus

There’s an element of this in Buddhism as well, where you’re encouraged to live in the present moment. Or maybe I’m mixing that up with Western mindfulness? I’ll have to do some more reading.