Contentment with Less

Is it possible to heal from an addiction to possessions and learn the secrets of contentment?

Recently I heard the phrase “be more with less”, and it rang true to me. My relationship with stuff is not always been a healthy one, but I believe that contentment does not come from an abundance of possessions, but from riches within.

Recognise the Risks

A word of caution: contentment isn’t to be found in simply getting rid of everything! I had a friend who did just that, and the result was disastrous to his emotional, physical and spiritual health. Simply disposing of my things would do nothing to address my underlying discontent and would, if anything, leave me less satisfied than I am at the moment. I need a certain amount of stuff to look after myself. Instead, I need to develop an inner sufficiency that makes it possible to make outward changes. At the same time, I need to let my discomfort at letting go of things motivate me to nurture the inner riches that will enable me to grow in my sense of contentment.

Understand that Contentment with Less is a Journey

We shouldn’t underestimate the challenge of adjusting to a lifestyle that de-emphasises stuff. For many of us, acquiring stuff has become a major focus of our lives. We work to earn cash to buy the things we need. We spend hours browsing the internet looking for the latest bargains. We spend time with our friends discussing our latest purchases or the things we’d like to buy. And for many of us, our hobbies and social activities depend upon having the right equipment and materials.

It doesn’t help that getting new stuff is addictive. I love buying new things (I’m a sucker for gadgets), but I often find that the high is short-lived. In the long term, the stuff that I own often becomes a burden; I become responsible for storing, cleaning, maintaining and eventually disposing of everything I obtain. All too often, when the burden of stuff becomes too much, I give myself a boost by buying more stuff.

So, for these reasons, contentment isn’t going to just happen. It is something to which we need to learn, and the learning won’t always be easy. Nevertheless, I am convinces that, through conscious effort, it is possible for us to adjust our values, our ideas, our desires and our lifestyles. Learning contentment may not be the easy road; it is probably a road whose end I won’t reach, but the journey can be a fulfilling one. Moreover, it is the road we must travel of we’re to make the most of our potential.

Adjust Your Value System

The first step to learning contentment is to recognise that we don’t need half the stuff we already have, let alone the stuff we want. The truth is that our well-being depends on very few actual things. Instead, true happiness is mostly based on things like:

  • Healthy relationships
  • Doing something that we consider worthwhile / that we’re good at / that we enjoy
  • Inner peace

I need to focus on growing these things in my life rather than developing my pile. I’ll undoubtedly come back to these topics, but in the mean time, some experiments you can try:

  • Feel the rain on your face
  • Watch a sunset
  • Make someone smile
  • Encourage someone
  • Pray
  • Read about someone who lived a simple, contented life
  • Sing
  • Go for a walk
  • Forgive someone
  • Dance
  • Share a simple, nutritious meal
  • Meditate

Sort Out Your Stuff

When it comes to deciding what we do need, there is no universal list of possessions that we all need. After all, our circumstances and therefore our needs are all different. Each of us must work that out for ourselves, based on our value system.

As we re-evaluate your possessions, we realise that there are some things we need. and others we don’t.

To maximise the benefits of this process, there are a number of experiments we can try:

The Stuff You Really Do Need

  • Be thankful for what you have
  • Enjoy what you have

Stuff You Thought You Needed

  • Enjoy simple pleasures that need few possessions to enjoy
  • Find things that you can enjoy without owning them
  • Enjoy the creativity of making what you have serve you more effectively

The Stuff You Realise You Don’t Need

  • Develop sources of joy that are not based on ownership
  • Take joy in giving
  • Get rid of stuff, and enjoy the freedom of not having to store, clean and maintain lots it all

Applying these simple ideas may take us a little closer to contented living; to become a little more because I desire a little less.