There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting more. The problem comes when your happiness depends on having more.
I recently posted on LinkedIn that we seem to be always striving for more. More money. More time. More enjoyable work. More.
One of my friend’s comments on that post really got me thinking. She said she found this constant striving a “fascinating cultural phenomenon.” She didn’t grow up in the U.S. and didn’t suffer from the same feelings of constant hustling for more like so many of us.
It made me wonder why so many Americans and others from “western” cultures feel the constant need for more. I did a little research, and I think part of the issue has to do with our cultural attitude toward time — our so-called “time orientation” toward the past, present or future.
Americans and Other Western Cultures are Future-Oriented
When we are oriented to the future, we tend to live by the clock. And when we are lawyers and other legal professionals who work with the billable hour, we live in six-minute increments defined by the clock. Add to that our near-constant fear of running out of time: court filing deadlines, end-of-quarter tax requirements, contracts with impending due dates, and the like.
Our dependence on the clock and our perceived lack of time lead us to value busyness over stillness.
And this can create the belief that more is the most important measure of success and importance.
Of course, there may not be anything inherently wrong with wanting more. We can want to have more skills. We can aspire to have more things: more money, more clients, or even more shoes. And who doesn’t want more time on the weekend to relax with family or friends?
The problem comes when our happiness depends on having more. Why? Because more is never-ending. There could always be more.
Climbing Out of the Trap of Always Wanting More
Here are five ways to live in our future-oriented society yet escape the trap of more:
1. Be Content.
Many of us high-achievers believe contentment is synonymous with complacency. That’s a misunderstanding of contentment. To be content means to be fulfilled in the moment. We can have everything we need in the moment while simultaneously wanting an improved future.
But why is contentment important? Because when we are content, we feel grounded and present, which gives us the strength and courage to take risks, learn, create, and grow.
2. Be Grateful.
Being grateful helps us shift our focus from what we lack to what we have. It doesn’t erase any deficiencies. Instead, it helps us look at the positives and appreciate them.
So why is gratitude important? Because joy is grounded in gratitude; if we don’t appreciate what we have, we cannot enjoy it. In other words: without gratitude, there is no joy. As Brené Brown writes, “In 12 years of research, I have never interviewed a single person with the ability to really experience joy, who does not also actively practice gratitude.”
3. Be Present.
In our future-oriented society, it is difficult to be present in the current moment. We are often thinking about what comes next rather than focusing on the task at hand. We experience this when, for example, we don’t listen to others but instead think about what we will say when they stop talking.
To be present, we must “get out of our heads” and focus on what is in front of us. Pay attention to what is happening around you. Listen and look at people when they talk.
We think we are more productive and will achieve more when we are always looking to the future, but the opposite is often true. When we experience the present moment, we can better determine what to do in the moment to positively affect the future.
Why is this important? One reason is that being present improves our relationships — with colleagues, with clients, with family members, with everyone. The person who truly listens is highly valued and listening only occurs when we are present.
4. Learn to Enjoy Simple Pleasures.
When we are busy and future-oriented, we often think only in terms of big and “important” things. A two-week vacation! A new car! Those may be pleasurable, but they also take a lot of time, energy and money to enjoy. When we don’t have the time, energy or money readily available, we end up delaying our enjoyment. To enjoy every day, we need to enjoy the simple pleasures of each day.
Why is this important? Because enjoying the simple pleasures in daily life increases our joy, which increases our life satisfaction and motivation. So, savor that cup of coffee, relish a bedtime story with your child, and enjoy the cool breeze on a hot day.
5. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
Theodore Roosevelt famously said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Social media is the worst culprit for many of us. No matter how great we are doing, we can always find someone else doing better or who has more. Instead of putting energy into viewing other people’s lives, focus on what matters most to you. If you feel you need comparison or competition to improve, compare your current self with your past self.
Why is this important? Because when we compare ourselves to others, we don’t have all the information. We may be comparing our beginning to their middle. We may see only the good parts because they are hiding the challenges. Compare yourself to yourself by focusing on you and what you want to achieve. Stop using others as the measuring stick for success.
Incorporate these tools into your day so you can enjoy the present and have a great future!
Have You Read Jamie Spannhake’s Bestselling Book?
In “The Lawyer, the Lion, and the Laundry: Three Hours to Finding Your Calm in the Chaos,” lawyer and certified health coach Jamie Spannhake helps you learn how to CHOOSE, ACT and THINK in ways that will clarify your desires and set priorities so you can reclaim your time and enjoy your life.
Available in the Attorney at Work bookstore, here.