Updated: Nov 9, 2020
The idea of living with intention in regard to material things may sound a bit counter-intuitive, but I believe there is merit to it as well. For most of my life, I lived by barely getting by. I never made much money, and I never really had "nice" things. I say that in quotes because it's a subjective statement. Nice is a perception through the eyes of the beholder. For someone who doesn't have a car, a twenty-five-year-old beater is actually quite nice when compared with taking the bus every day. What I mean is, I was never in a position to purchase anything extra. I felt as though I had what I needed but nothing I wanted. Over time a person starts to feel as though they do not deserve to have "nice" things above and beyond their needs. I remember a ten-year stint where I worked for a millionaire as a ranch hand. They were great people and treated me very well, but it was difficult to watch people constantly have whatever they wanted. It started to affect me personally because I was not able to live in that way and what did that say about me? I kept finding myself trying to live in the same manner, on a much smaller scale, but I was always broke and not even living paycheck to paycheck. A person's self-worth can be negatively affected by their inability to live well even from a material standpoint.
Looking back at my life, it is pretty easy to see one of the reasons I was always broke. I constantly tried to fill a hole with things. The hole I was trying to fill was quite large and no amount of alcohol, things, friends, love, or experiences could fill it. It was a losing battle because the way in which I was trying to fill the hole was all wrong. If you are an addict, you know exactly what I am talking about. I remember having visceral feelings of needing to buy something to make myself feel better. It didn't even really matter what the thing was. As long as I was able to purchase it, I instantly felt better. When that thing arrived, I felt better about myself, for a little while. Then, that thing would lose its luster, and I would lose interest. Soon after, I would develop another need to purchase something else to feel better. This went on and on until my garage was so full of shit I couldn't park my twenty-five-year-old beater in it. Even my closets were full of stuff. All of the things filling up my apartment and my life were unnecessary temporary fixes for a problem that needed an entirely different approach. I was empty and nothing I could purchase was going to fix that fact.
What do we need? This is the age-old question when we look at life from the perspective of living well. We need food and water. We need shelter. We need love and connection. We need a job, and our job may require us to own a vehicle to get to it without wasting a lot of our life in transit. We need clothes. What we need is not a very big list. The problem we run into in regard to our needs generally revolves around the quality of the things we need. Depending on our job and lifestyle, the quality of the things we need differs greatly from person to person and family to family. One of the worst concepts we can ever fall victim to is the concept of keeping up with the Joneses. We see our neighbors with a new car, and we want a new car. We see our neighbor's boat, and we want a boat. We see our neighbor's eighty-inch television, and we want an eighty-inch television. We somehow convince ourselves we have to compete with people and their things to define our self-worth. All the while, we are engaging in negative self talk about why we are unable to keep up. What is wrong with us. It's a merry-go-round of self-perpetuating unworthiness. Why can't we just be happy with what we have?
It goes back to the hole. Whatever or whoever created it, it is a life-sucking, soul-draining entity for an eternal self-loathing existence. We cannot fill the hole externally, It has to be filled internally. We have to find the initial source of the hole and begin there. Otherwise, the hole just gets bigger and bigger and deeper and deeper until we lose ourselves in it completely. One of the easiest ways to begin understanding the source of our emptiness is to get rid of one of the root causes. The entire purpose of alcohol, drugs, and negative behaviors is to mask true feelings. We do not like to feel pain, suffering, loss, sadness, or anger, so we seek out and use substances we know will squelch those feelings. The feelings and their causes don't disappear, they simply fade temporarily. Unfortunately, once the feelings return, they generally do so in a heightened and more pronounced way and the circle of addiction and abuse begins. When we allow ourselves to feel something and effectively deal with our feelings, our holes close up just a little. Each time we successfully negotiate negative feelings, the hole closes further. Over time we learn and understand the hole was self-made and we no longer need to try and fill it. We realize the hole is simply a mirror of our emotional state. The more emotionally closed off we are to ourselves, the world, and the people around us, the bigger the hole. The more emotionally open we allow ourselves to be, the smaller the hole. Living emotionally open allows us to see our needs through a different lens. We judge the quality of our lives through internal fulfillment rather than by external things. We are at peace.
Who doesn't want things? Let's be honest. We all have wants and desires that fall well out of the range of our basic needs. On some level, I am sure it is part of our survival instincts, part of our internal need to grow and achieve. If we didn't want things, how as a species would we have ever evolved? Want creates motivation and drive, and motivation and drive facilitate action, and action is the catalyst for change. The problem with want lies in its foundation. From where is the want derived? If a want is in response to the extrinsic need to fill a hole, then want is as damaging as the hole itself. It only preserves the forever growing and self-perpetuating cycle of emptiness. If a want is in response to an internal need for growth, then it can motivate us to achieve more, to be better, to find the best version of ourselves. Want, in this regard, is one of the healthiest gifts we can allow ourselves to enjoy.
Let's look at an example of each type of want. The first is the want in response to the extrinsic need to fill a hole. I remember times before I quit drinking and finding my peace when I would have a bad day or something negative happened. The negativity invigorated loneliness within me. I felt uncomfortable in my own skin, and I felt as though I needed something to make myself feel more normal. Sometimes I would drink, use nicotine, or lean on bad behaviors to try and feel better. Sometimes, I would try to make myself feel more comfortable by buying something I wanted. Most of the time, if I am honest, the thing I ended up buying was completely unnecessary and even barely wanted. It didn't matter what I purchased, it only mattered that I wanted it at that moment. For the sake of visualization let's say, after a bad day, I decided I wanted another microphone for my podcasts. I did not need one, everything I had was working fine, but at that moment I found a way to convince myself how much better my life would be if I just had a new microphone. I hit the purchase button on the computer and instantly feel a little bit better. Then, for the next couple of days, I anxiously await its arrival because I know how good it is going to feel when it finally arrives. The anxiety created in this waiting period should be enough to tell me I am on the wrong path toward easing my discomfort. Nevertheless, I wait, and when it arrives I receive an enormous amount of pleasure opening up the package and using it for the first time. As time passes, the novelty of the new thing wears off and I no longer receive enjoyment from its place in my life. Later on, I have another bad day and begin the cycle over again never truly feeling any relief from the discomfort.
The second want is the want in response to an internal need for growth. This is what I have found to be the majority of my life's desires since I quit drinking. I have allowed the hole to close, for the most part, and I no longer feel the need to fill it with external rewards. It is not fully closed, I am still human, but it has closed enough for me to see the difference in the way I approach dealing with discomfort, negativity, and bad days. Here is a perfect example of how my life has changed in response to living out of a desire for growth rather than a desire for things. For the longest time, my wife has been trying to get me to create a vision board. I don't know why it has been so hard for me to do because I love the idea, and I have fully bought into the idea of the secret. I believe we can use our thoughts to effect change, to materialize things, and to create positive outcomes. I just never took the time to create a vision board. Since I quit drinking, I finally have and the result has been staggering. I did not realize what had happened at first. It took me a few weeks to pick up on it, but when I finally did I was amazed. One day, I was looking over my vision board and I had an epiphany. Everything on my vision board was not of material nature. There were no things on my board. Everything I want in my life consists of growth, movement, experience, and living. There is nothing on my board tangible. In the past, my board would have been filled with things. Now it is filled with hopes and dreams.
It was this realization that inspired me to write about living with intentions regarding the material world. Is it wrong to want a nice car, a big home, a large television? No, of course not. What is wrong, is to want those things as a way to distract ourselves from our own realities. Instead of going in debt to purchase the sports car, set an intention to own one in the future. Then, begin to take steps to make it happen in an organic way. Do not force it because it will not mean the same, in the end. We all deserve to have everything we want, but we do not deserve to end up owned by those things. Set intentions for a better job, a bigger home, a nicer car but be patient. We must open ourselves up to new opportunities as they arise, or make opportunities to help us achieve our goals. Most importantly, we must believe we deserve what we want because what we want is to grow, to be better, and to become the best possible version of ourselves.
Start small but start realistically. Set an intention for something you have always wanted. The day I quit drinking I set the intention to write professionally. I am not quite there, but I am on my way because I believe it to be true, and I am taking the steps necessary to actualize my goal.
You can too.