I recently read Ryan Holiday’s new book Stillness is the Key (a book I’d recommend). There was a good story in it about authors Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut at a fancy party. Here’s what Vonnegut wrote about it:
Joseph Heller, an important and funny writer
and I were at a party given by a billionaire
on Shelter Island.
I said, “Joe, how does it make you feel
to know that our host only yesterday
may have made more money
than your novel ‘Catch-22’
has earned in its entire history?”
And Joe said, “I’ve got something he can never have.”
And I said, “What on earth could that be, Joe?”
And Joe said, “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”
That’s a word we don’t hear a lot of today. It’s a word a lot of people don’t want us to hear. Companies spend billions in advertising to convince us that we need more of what we don’t need. The key to our happiness is simply buying their product.
Which brings me to my point – happiness. How do we get it? That’s the big one, isn’t it? Everyone has got their answer on how to get it. I think I have mine, and what it comes down to is contentment. The ability to be satisfied with what you have.
There are two things with contentment in my view.
The first is to not compare yourself to others. One of my favorite quotes comes from Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti:
The primary cause of disorder in ourselves is the seeking of reality promised by another.
Jealousy and envy run deep and toxic and can sour any bit of happiness or accomplishment you have. They are blinding as well and can cause you to look away from all the good things you might already have. It’s okay to get inspired by people who have more if that spurs you to action, but it’s not okay to despise those people just because they have something you don’t.
Besides, who’s to say those people are even happy with what they have? The guy with a new car every year could be riddled with debt. That Insta-couple living a fairytale could be on the rocks off camera. Don’t compare your raw footage to someone’s highlight reel, as they say. Those people you envy might even want the things you have too!
The second is a point I take from Ryan Holiday’s book – understand that there will never be enough. There will always be a newer car or a bigger house or greener grass. But the pursuit of more is a thirst that can’t be quenched, and even after you get what you sought, you’ll probably want something more.
You’ve got to find satisfaction in what you already have, because if you’re always focused on what you don’t have, you will never be happy. It’s okay to want things, but you shouldn’t attach fulfillment to things that are over the horizon. That happiness you seek can only come from within you.
It’s easy to want more out there, but maybe looking inward at your family, your job, your community and your life will make you see how much you already have. And if you can be the type who sees what they have and realizes it’s enough, then you’ve got it all, my friend.