Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash
Are you struggling with always wanting more and not focusing on the present?
Having more does not keep you from wanting more. And if you always want more — to be more prosperous, more beautiful, more well-known — you are missing the bigger picture, and I can tell you from experience, happiness will never come.
— Mitch Albom
My little Pomeranian, Luke, was the inspiration behind this article. Luke has a demanding personality and is also very expressive about what he wants — and he spends all day vocalizing what he wants. First, when the day starts, he wants his water from his mug.
But not just any mug — he only drinks water out of the one inscribed with “bacon gives me a reason to get out of bed.” He’ll sit and stare at the mug until you hold it in front of him so that he can gulp down some refreshing cool filtered water. Lite-on the ice, please.
Then, within minutes, he’ll be at your side asking with his paws tapping your arm to be let out into his nicely fenced in yard. When he’s back inside, he’ll bark for his breakfast, request a lift onto the bed, and then plead for a belly rub. Naturally, he then asks to go out for a walk. Luke’s wants never stop.
This routine goes on all day, every day. But today, it made me stop and think. Are people any different than Luke? We each have our multitude of wants and desires at any given moment. When you stop and reflect on what you’re thinking about throughout the day, the chances are that your mind is full of wants.
Whether it’s the desire to be something or someone, be wealthier, own a car, be thinner, buy a video game, invest in a house, or be more like someone we admire, we’re always looking for more. While Luke has no problems in manifesting his wants — thanks to the human servants who serve him all day long — a persistent need for more can become a problem for the rest of us.
What is the psychology behind wanting?
If you find yourself always wanting something, you’re not alone. It’s natural to seek out the things that make us feel content, comfortable, and secure. The problem isn’t the act of wanting, but rather, to always want more at all times.
When you’re always stuck on the future, the potential possibilities of what you could have, and the thoughts about what you currently don’t have and you would like to have, and you’re most likely never living in the present.
Why does this happen? One concept which you may not have heard of is the “scarcity mindset.” The scarcity mindset focuses on never feeling as though you have enough and instead plans for what you could gain in the future.
Even when you’re not thinking about the future, the scarcity mindset forces you to think about the present by focusing on what you don’t have rather than what you do. Eventually, we fall into the comfortable — yet detrimental pattern — of never acknowledging our present.
Just like every unhealthy habit, such as biting your nails, gossiping, or staying up late to binge-watch a show, the pattern of focusing on what we don’t have is not only hard to drop, but it also provides us with a twisted sense of control. When we gossip, we feel in-control or above another person.
When we stay up late, we think we’re taking control of our time and making up for all the time we spend doing things we dislike. However, in both situations, we’ve only formed a convoluted sense of control that is detrimental in the long run and doesn’t add to our wellbeing in any way.
Similarly, having a scarcity mindset is a habit that makes us think we have control over our lives — even if that control is all in our heads. We believe, “if only I managed to get this job, I’d finally be happy,” or “once I get enough money to buy my own house and move to another city, I’ll be free to do whatever I want.”
This false sense of control over the distant future gives us comfort that we can somehow be happier later, and we unknowingly develop a habit of thinking this way all the time.
The problem of wanting is that it ruins your life.
Neuroscience says that the act of seeking is a human trait, along with characteristics such as feeling grief or anger. Seeking and pursuing our goals is more satisfying and fundamental to our overall happiness than actually getting what we want.
That’s why you’ll never meet anyone who doesn’t want more in their life. And if you do, the chances are that they feel their life is meaningless and without purpose — because they don’t know what they want or what to look forward to in the future.
However, there is a dark side to seeking. When your need for more transforms to the scarcity mindset, it can ruin your life. Because even when you reach your goals, make the money you wanted, or attain the lifestyle you thought would unleash your happiness, you won’t be happy.
Your mind will have become so comfortable and so accustomed to always looking for what’s missing that you’ll continue to feel a sense of lack even when you get what you thought you wanted. For instance, when you finally get your dream job, you’ll hate that everyone else looks more confident than you. Or you’ll degrade yourself for not getting the job sooner because everyone else looks younger and more energetic.
Having a scarcity mindset causes you to turn cold towards the very things you swore could bring you happiness.
You may have spent months wishing you had more time to spend working on your art or playing with your children. Still, when your boss finally allows you to take some time off, you’ll wonder whether everyone else is getting ahead of you at work or whether your workplace doesn’t think you’re important enough to want you around all the time.
Even in the face of goodness and opportunity, you’ll fall back on your unhealthy habit of seeking what isn’t there.
“Comparison is an act of violence against the self.”
— Iyanla Vanzant
There is a way to break free of the problem of wanting.
It’s human nature to think, regardless of whether we’re thinking about our next meal or about how talented everyone else is in comparison to us.
However, with your mind stuck thinking about what other people have compared to you, you take away from thoughts about the unique, fascinating individual you are. It’s not about forcing yourself to stop having thoughts — it’s about changing the content of your beliefs.
There’s a difference between having a scarcity mindset and genuinely believing that you deserve more in your life. You can differentiate between the two by understanding what you can and cannot control.
For instance, if you feel that your life could use some more genuine connections with people that honestly care about your wellbeing, think about what you can control about that. Can you join groups or book clubs where people hold the same interests as you? Can you go to therapy and learn how to form healthy relationships?
Next, focus on what you cannot control and make an effort to accept it and navigate around it.
For instance, are there family members you have to be around who drain you and fill you with insecurity whenever you’re around them? You will have to accept that you cannot change who your family is — it isn’t in your control. However, you can spend less time with them and avoid gatherings where you know they will be around.
Whenever we feel stuck in a pattern of thinking about what we want, breaking those wants into controllable and uncontrollable aspects helps us make our desires more realistic and achievable. When we know that what we’re seeking is doable, we’re less likely to feel lifeless, hopeless, or worn out from relentlessly wishing for something that we know is impossible to achieve.
Another meaningful and effective way of dealing with a scarcity mindset is to create an abundance mindset. As cliché as it sounds, practicing gratitude is incredibly important in staying grounded, focused, and present in what you currently have.
When we change what we focus our energy on — what we have rather than what we don’t — we’ll start to acknowledge some aspects of ourselves and our lives that we do like. For example, being grateful for your quick-thinking, your ability to see the bigger picture, or the fact that you have a few friends who genuinely listen to your problems can help you teach your mind to appreciate what is there rather than what isn’t.
An abundance mindset is about more than just gratitude, however. It’s also about celebrating your achievements when you do succeed. It’s about genuinely believing that you are worthy of great things happening to you and recognizing opportunities when they come along.
Someone who has perpetually believed they aren’t good enough will have a hard time thinking memorable experiences could happen to them. The reason it is imperative to actively challenge your scarcity mindset and convince yourself that you have what it takes to live the life you want.
Psychologically, it takes time, energy, and intentional effort to be present in the now. When you focus on what you do have, where you are right now, and what currently is giving you joy, you’re less likely to find yourself perpetually stuck in the wanting.
However, for most people, this isn’t an easy task. You might need to work with a therapist or involve a close friend who brings you back on track whenever you lose sight of your journey.
The brain is neuroplastic, which means that it can change, evolve, and form new ways of interpreting and seeing the world all the time.
When we’ve lived a lifetime of directing our energy towards thinking about how life would be better if we were somewhere else, or if we had more, you’ll regularly fall back into this habit even when you’re trying to change — but that shouldn’t discourage you.
The critical aspect is that you are trying to cultivate gratitude and present-mindedness. It’s vital to remember not to beat yourself up over wanting something or desiring more, but rather to catch yourself doing it too often or becoming “stuck” in that state of thinking, and work towards grounding yourself in the present again.
As far as Luke, well, his wants are still being met. He has his masters trained well.
Photo By: Gayle Kurtzer-Meyers-Author
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