I like stuff as much as the next person, maybe more than some, definitely less than many, but lately I've been wondering what it would be like to live in a culture of conspicuous contentment rather than conspicuous consumption.
At the heart of the average American discontent is often an unquenchable desire for more—to have more, do more, be more. We want more money, more time, more meaning, more connection. We want more of what matters to us—and of course, what matters is often in flux. But the wanting—well, that seems to be constant.
It seems it is rare to have enough, do enough, or be enough without the curious yen for more arising. Ironically, it seems that "enough" is somehow lacking. Yet, how can "enough"not be enough? After all, the very nature of "enough" is sufficiency and satisfaction.
Too often, it seems that we've convinced ourselves that we need more, that more is better, so we seek to have more, do more, and be more of whatever matters, but this relentless pursuit of more is an empty promise, a culturally sanctioned addiction. Pursuing more is like eating empty calories that feed our hunger without the requisite nourishment for true health. Most often, our pursuit of more results in nothing more than more work, more stress, more debt, and more desire for what else? More.
And who can blame us? The promise of more is seductive and addictive: when we have more, do more, and become more, we will have more, do more, and be more of what we really want. It sounds good, doesn't it?
Except that even when we get what we want, if we believe that more is better, it is never enough, which means that we are always somehow wanting. If more is better, in order to have more, do more, and be more, we can never feel content with what we already have, what we already do, and who we already are.
Yet, you may well ask, if we don't want more, won't we become complacent and passive? Isn't progress, development, evolution served by this very desire for more? After all, doesn't our pursuit of more motivate us to have, do, and be...well, more? If we don't want more, won't we have, do, and be less?
Maybe, but I wonder what if less really is more? What if less is already more than enough? Since we've indoctrinated ourselves to think that more is better, we often devalue what we already have, do, and are, but I think that if we're honest with ourselves and each other, we might discover that most of us already have, already do, and already are more than enough.
We might discover that emptying ourselves of our discontent begins with embracing this simple truth that often eludes us in our quest for more—that contentment lies not in having, doing, and being more, but rather in simultaneously wanting less while appreciating the abundance that is already ours. In so doing, we might enable those who truly need more to have enough, and we might begin to shift the culture of conspicuous consumption to one of conspicuous contentment. And what more could we really want?