The Price of Wanting More
We all want more out of Life. More fulfillment, more love, more fun, more travel, more money, more success, more freedom – the list goes on. This is our hardwiring. Without this built-in instinct, human progress would cease. But wanting more has a dark side. Especially when we realise that we can’t have it all. We have limitations and setbacks. For instance, not having enough money. Poor health. Job loss. Divorce, bankruptcy and so on.
No Pain No Gain
A 23 year old school dropout once approached me for help. He hated his job as a waiter and wanted to become financially independent. My answer: go back to school or learn on the job. With no skills, there’s no hope of earning a better income – the basic building block for financial well-being. I challenged him to accept his limitations and take action. But this was a bitter pill that he couldn’t swallow. He wanted a magic button, a shortcut. We all do. And when the shortcuts don’t work, we despair and fall into a spiral of depression, anxiety and stress. We feel that we deserve better, but fate and God have dealt us a bad hand. Such thoughts can have deadly consequences.
The Power of Resilience
An elderly relative of mine is hooked up on life support at home – a result of suffering multiple strokes. He had felt enormous grief after a series of financial losses. After his first stroke, he kept ruminating about his misfortunes until he fell into a state of utter helplessness and dependency. His mental state went downhill from then on.
Contrast my relative with the elderly aunty who keeps my HDB estate spic and span. Sweeping the walkways and clearing litter, her suntanned face would crease into a broad smile as she shouts out “Good Morning!” to residents. Cheerful, despite having a back that is severely bent. We the residents would stop, chat and sometimes tip. When I expressed sympathy for her disability, she replied without a trace of self-pity, “It’s alright, I’m used to it.” This lady doesn’t have much. But she doesn’t want more. The key to her contentment is her ability to just “get on with it”. Life may have handed her some bad cards, but she is still in the game – finding purpose in her work, no matter how insignificant or tough it is.
FOMO-the Disease of Modern Culture
However, many go-getters and internet gurus would reject this idea of contentment. Contentment is Complacency. And Complacency is for Losers. They urge us to conquer our limitations, take hold of our dreams and aim for the stars by following the example of role models like Richard Branson, Jack Ma and Oprah Winfrey. They had all risen from nothing to become millionaires, so why not us?
But we choose to see only the glamourous side and not the sweat that it takes to make it. Instead, we fall into “Fear of Missing Out”(FOMO) mode as we search for magic bullets. The prevalence of FOMO is boomtime for self-help gurus who pedal dreams freely. The young waiter for instance, had spent all his savings on seminars to learn “how to buy properties with no money down.”
The self-help industry is expected to be worth USD13 billion by 2022. But are people any happier? It’s interesting to note that mental health and anxiety disorders have also risen with the tide of the self-help movement. Institute of Mental Health in Singapore in 2016 reported that “1 in 7 people in Singapore has experienced a mood, anxiety or alcohol use disorder in their lifetime.” In the US, anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults or 18% of the population each year.
Anxiety and depression can strike the haves and have-nots with equal force. Korean pop or K-pop has become a worldwide music phenomenon. Yet several of its most acclaimed stars have committed suicide in their prime. It reminds us that ‘wanting more’ and then having all our desires fulfilled may not give us peace, joy and contentment.
We need to deliberately fight FOMO and its power to instill stress and anxiety. Here’s how:
1. Stop Trying to Win all the time
There will always be people who are smarter, more beautiful, more competent, more popular and richer than you. Love who you are – your strengths and your weaknesses. Accept your failures and mistakes with grace and move on.
2. Be Grateful
Start a gratitude journal and intentionally focus and write down what went well during the day. In your journal, appreciate your friends and those you love. Remember how they have made a difference in your life.
3. Take Small Steps
Address your limitations practically. If you lack money, tighten your belt and start a savings plan. If you lack education, read to gain more knowledge and perspective. Learn to do your current job really well or practice a skill until you become an expert. Doors to promotion and opportunity will open.
4. Practice Kindness
Be kind to yourself and others. Practice acts of kindness without expecting anything in return.
Take time out for yourself to relax by throwing away your ‘to-do’ list. Go on a social media fast once a week, by avoiding What’s App, Facebook and Instagram.
6. Be a Minimalist
Stop accumulating stuff constantly or chasing after the latest gadgets and trends. Be deliberately ‘untrendy’ and follow only what’s truly important and meaningful for you.
7. Que Sera Sera
“Que Sera, Sera, whatever will be will be, the future’s not ours to see, que sera, sera…What will be, will be…” This popular hit song from the 60s is a timely reminder of life’s impermanence. Whatever we build or accumulate today will be gone tomorrow. So why not enjoy and live one day at a time and quit worrying about who or what we will be in the future?
It’s not wrong to want more, as long our feet are firmly planted on the ground. It’s not wrong to want more, knowing that we can’t have it all. Knowing that we can only do our best in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.
I am a certified psychotherapist, life and career coach with nearly 4 years of experience. I help individuals develop clarity and self awareness in matters pertaining to their life, money and work. I am passionate about supporting my clients as they take steps towards change after experiencing personal and professional losses. Using a combination of talk therapies – Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Solutions Focused Brief Therapy, as well as Positive Psychology Coaching and art therapy using Points-of-You photo cards; I help them navigate their life transitions and rewrite the next chapter of their lives with confidence.
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