DLW is an occasional blog about how people spend the time of their lives (every moment) to enable health, balance, meaning and fulfillment. As a blogspot about doing, it draws from personal stories and from studies of everyday living. It's main idea is that to be well, people must be involved fully in what they do. The activities that occupy our days help to connect us to the world, define who we are, and keep us healthy.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Life changing books: "How to Want What You Have".

We readers, every once in awhile, stumble upon books that have a profound influence on us, often in subtle ways, as though they planted an idea in our heads that needed marinating or slow cooking before it truly delivered its "full flavored" goodness.

How To Want What You Have by Timothy Ray Miller is one of those books. My take away from the book included the inescapable thought that we are "conditioned" by culture to be discontent, to constantly want more— to want to be happier, prettier, wealthier, smarter, or more popular. Miller provides an explanation for this, describing that the nervous system is wired for stimulation, and that we adapt so quickly to new circumstances that we are often soon looking for something different to counteract our boredom. We truly believe that more is better—and perhaps because we are optimists— we tend to think that just around the corner there is a better situation, a nicer car, a more beautiful partner (or self), or a bigger house that will make us happier. Of course, because we adapt so quickly to change, that new house soon becomes inadequate in our insatiable quest for happiness based on more, bigger, or better. Believing that more will lead to happiness is akin to thinking that the mirage of the green oasis in the middle of the desert will quench our thirst. Of course, it is an illusion, it has no water at all.

The "bigger house" habit pattern exhibited by millions helped get us in the economic situation we are currently in—but I digress. Dr. Miller makes three fine, life changing recommendations for addressing these insatiable (and we'd now have to say potentially destructive) habit patterns. It turns out that they are interconnected—each tends to reinforce the others.

First and perhaps most importantly, Miller recommends that we learn to adopt and practice the essential characteristic of attention, or being in the moment. There is so much good and beauty in the world, so much to appreciate about living, that we cannot hope to live it fully, to breathe in all of its goodness and wonder, without paying attention to what is around us to appreciate. Perhaps like many others, during my youth I was always focused on the days ahead, impatient to move into the future with the over confident swagger and naivete of a sophomoric boy scout who knows a little, but does not appreciate how inadequate that "little amount of knowledge" is, or how many more important lessons are waiting to be learned in the world "out there". Attention is at the heart of many eastern philosophies, and described well in "The Power of Now" by author Eckhart Tolle. To be attentive, Tolle points out, usually means counteracting the tendency of the mind to fill itself with unnecessary concerns and distractions beyond the immediate.

Second, since we are paying attention to what's around us, we should practice being grateful for what we have, what is around us. We are now learning that things can get worse and it a good principle never to take anything for granted in this life. We have multiple examples every day about the fragility of life. This makes obvious the importance of gratitude, or appreciating what we have now and not squandering the moment worrying about what we do not have.

Finally, Miller recommends that in recognizing that things happen unexpectedly, any one of us can find ourselves in "deep sneakers" before we know it. We all make mistakes, live in proverbial glass houses, and are human (at least for the time being, before the androids depicted in A.I. begin to be manufactured!). Therefore, it is an expression of our humanity for us to recognize that we are one among many others, and that we live in the shelter of each other (love that Irish proverb!). If we display compassion for others, we demonstrate that humanity. Compassion is an essential ingredient in a supportive community. It is at the heart of charity and philanthropy, a key basis for volunteerism. It is a moral foundation for kindness and the cooperation that is necessary for group living humans to survive. Compassion, in my view, has been in short supply in some parts of the United States for many years. Hopefully, it will see a comeback in the coming days and months when we really need to be in top form as we support each other.


So, the essential message here is: attention gratitude, and compassion are important characteristics, and they are linked to each other. When we practice these, good things happen— in many ways—and in ways that are good for us as well as for others. The bonus, however, is that these greater rewards cost us nothing and have the power to make us happier while making our communities stronger!!! And in these times, we all can use a bargain that leads us to greater happiness!

"When the student is ready, the teacher will appear."—Buddhist Proverb

About Me

I am a writer, lifelong student, former academic and new blogger. My passion continues to be everyday living. I am interested in what people do, how, when and why they do it, and what it means for their their understanding of the world and hence, their well being.