Everybody wants more. Everybody wants to have the bigger house, the faster car, the nicer suit. When the new phone comes out, we want it. We need it. When we get to six figures, we want seven, and if we’re lucky enough to get to seven, we want eight. Everybody always wants more.
But what would happen if everybody wanted less? What if you offered somebody a mansion and they simply said, “No thanks, my studio apartment is just fine.” What if you offered someone an Armani suit and they said, “That’s alright, I’ve already got all the clothes I need.” Because interestingly, that seems to bring people a lot closer to happiness than you’d think.
When I was a kid, I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. My friends wanted to be firemen, or soldiers or race car drivers. But not me. None of that stuff really jumped out at me. The only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to be rich.
This dream carried through my teenage years and into adulthood. When I started work as an accountant, I would fawn over my clients’ bank statements, mad with envy.
“Bro, come look at this one!” I’d say to my colleague, and we’d huddle around it, staring at the endless zeroes, in awe of these guys who were ordering European cars like Domino’s and living in million dollar houses. I would run through their entire statement, looking at the $2,000 dinners they would buy and the weekend shopping splurges they’d have on clothes and holidays.
“That’ll be me one day,” I would smile to myself.
I was going to upgrade from this shitty job, work at some big bank in London, get a gig on Wall Street. I was going to be that guy who drove around the corner in the $400,000 car and everyone would stop to watch me drive past. I’d be the guy that finally bought that $3,000 bottle of wine on the menu. I had a nice life, but I wanted more. I always wanted more.
My first trip to Africa started to change that. I worked with many vulnerable children and families during my time there, and interestingly, began to admire them a lot more than I’d admired those millionaires in my client folder. It forced me to question the value of my dream and where it was taking me, and I began to wonder why I had been chasing a life of excess when in reality, I already had everything I could possibly need.
I spent the next 3 years travelling the world, and with these thoughts in the back of my mind I started to embrace the simple life. I stopped buying new things, simply because I didn’t have any room to carry them. And as I stopped buying new things, I stopped wanting new things. And as I stopped wanting new things, I noticed that new things didn’t have any effect on my happiness at all.
With only five t-shirts, my body felt the same as when I had twenty t-shirts.
With one pair of shoes, my feet felt the same as when I had five pairs.
Somehow, my shoulders didn’t seem to complain that I wore the same jacket each day.
Instead of wanting more, I wanted less. And slowly, I realised I’d been chasing the wrong things all along. All those years I’d been working 40 hour weeks to buy more and have more, and now suddenly, there was nothing I wanted to buy. So what good was a job after that? What was I supposed to be working for?
I didn’t need to work for anything. I was free.
And just like that my dream had come true. I was rich.
Over the past year, I can count on one hand the physical things I’ve bought that cost more than $100.
A cellphone, and a juicer.
I’ve largely managed to remove “stuff” from my life. And despite not earning a lot of money and not buying a lot of things, the year gone by has been one of the richest years of my life. Without the burden of a job, mortgage, car and house full of stuff, I’ve managed to spend my entire days on more fulfilling activities such as writing, reading, learning, meditating, exploring, exercising, cooking, relaxing, and interestingly, almost all of these things are free. Some would say I’m living like a retired millionaire, and maybe I am, but I don’t have much money at all. I’ve learned that when you stop buying things, you stop needing a lot of money, and when you stop needing money, you no longer need a regular job, and when you no longer have a regular job, you have time, and when you have time, you can literally do whatever you want. And isn’t that the meaning of happiness? To do whatever you want?
In the west especially, we place a lot of value on material things. We often define people by what they have, rather than who they are. Just the other day I remember asking my friend about someone in her family.
“What’s he like?” I asked, to which she responded, “He has a helicopter”. It puzzled me. A helicopter? Is that who he is? I guess a few years back, that would’ve impressed me, but the reality is things are just things. And they have nothing to do with who you are.
Ask yourself, who are you as a person? Who do you want to be? What do you want to learn, to be good at, to experience, to see?
Because what makes you rich and unique is not what you have, but how you have lived. It’s in the stories you’ve collected, the lives you have touched. It’s in the memories you have to take with you.