I enjoy a glass of champagne at the Ritz as much as anybody but there’s no chance of my thinking that this pleasure is something I MUST HAVE! Something I can’t live without. Having a glass of anything at the Ritz is so much of a luxury that few people would think of it as something they needed. But when the idea of luxury is absent, when you look at what it is you REALLY need, it’s not all that simple. In fact, in our everyday overcrowded lives, it’s quite difficult to tell what is a necessity and what is a desire. In other terms, what is a need and what is a want. It is easy to confuse the two and get hooked on what it is you want, mistaking it for something you need to be happy, to be fulfilled, to feel good, to feel safe.
So when I decided to cycle across France with my husband and a tent, it gave me a useful insight into what it is I really need. We went through beautiful landscapes and pretty villages, camping in nature, a field, a forest, with only the challenge of finding a source of water to spend a perfect evening and night in the wilderness. In France in the plains, there are no dangerous animals that will attack you in the night. There aren’t an awful lot of people roaming the countryside either so there’s very little chance of your coming to any harm. Instead of thinking about what it is that we could have had, had I been sitting at the Ritz, sipping my champagne, it was a good opportunity to think about how little it was I really needed: I didn’t need champagne but water, I didn’t need the organic wholemeal variety of food that I normally eat; I just needed the food I could get in whatever shops were available in the quaint little villages that populate the French countryside. I didn’t need a palace with designer furniture or a soft bed, just a shelter or a sleeping bag.
Now I’m not saying that you should go out and spend time in the wilderness or that you should get rid of all your possessions, but what I AM saying is that it could be useful for you to have a look at what you DO have in your life.
“The richest man is not he who has the most but he who needs the least.” Anonymous
When you start looking at your desires as just that, desires, not needs, life gets to be really simple. Instead of feeling frustrated for not obtaining what you want, you can now let go of this feeling, in fact you can let go of the whole thing! You don’t need it. If there’s something you CHOOSE to have, it’s a choice, not an obligation. So no need to get worked up about it.
Let me just illustrate this with an example. Let’s say you’d like to have a swimming pool in your garden. You like water, it makes you relax to have a swim when you get back from work. You like spending time with family and friends at weekends, enjoying barbecues and drinks in your garden. A swimming pool would be just the thing, you think. In fact, you get to think so much about it, how wonderful it would be, how you’d enjoy it, how friends and family would enjoy it, that it becomes something of an obsession.
You can see that the more you start cultivating the idea of how wonderful a pool would be for you, the more frustration you’ll be feeling as long as you’re not getting your pool! You’ll soon be saying to yourself: “If I don’t get my pool, I’ll just be so unhappy! I won’t be able to relax after work, I won’t be able to entertain friends and family at weekends. I’ll grow lonely and stressed out!” You’re now thinking that the only way to a relaxed and enjoyable life is a swimming pool in your garden. You connect the swimming pool to enjoyment and happiness, to a lot of good feelings that you want to have but that the absence of a swimming pool is preventing you from having!
If this sounds ridiculous to you, take a moment to think: are you turning luxury items into a need? Are you thinking: “I need a bigger flat”? “I need more money”? “I need to lose 20 pounds”? Adding “before I can be happy”.
Going back to my example of a swimming pool, a person desiring a swimming pool but who’s unable to get one could choose to focus on what she did have: a house and a garden. She could still be desiring a swimming pool but not letting the absence of one spoil her joy. She could be going to a public swimming pool after work, perhaps not every day but however often she’d like. She might have friends with a swimming pool she could go to, enjoy their company AND a swim. She could organise picnics at the beach with friends and family to enjoy their company, water and food in a different surrounding. In fact, there’s no end to what the combination relaxation, swimming, socialising and food could look like so why get hooked on the idea of a swimming pool? If you develop a too restrictive view of what something should look like, it gets all the more difficult to get it.
What I prefer to do is to keep an open mind. You could keep your desire of relaxation and company but discard the idea of it all depending on a swimming pool. You could think instead of ways of cultivating more relaxation and company in your life. When you look at what you want, it’s not a swimming pool, it’s relaxation and company. These don’t depend on a swimming pool but come in all sorts of shapes and sizes!
Finding what you need and what you want inside of you is a surer way of getting both your needs and your desires met. If you’re looking for an outside source to your fulfilment, you’re very vulnerable to disappointment. Once you’ve found out that the pool wasn’t really necessary, you can concentrate on finding ways to relax after work and on cultivating closer friendships and connection. None of this depends on anything outside yourself.
“The more you satisfy your needs and wants by something inside yourself, the stronger you’ll be and feel”. Katrine Horn 😉
If you’ve got everything inside you, well, you no longer depend on anything outside yourself. You no longer have to wait for something to fulfil you, you’ll have it right there. You don’t have to accomplish anything before you get to feel satisfied or fulfilled because you’ve already got everything you need! Can you feel how powerful this is?
But, it’s easier said than done, isn’t it?
It remains true, though, that the less you need the more possibilities are open to you. In the example from above of my cycling trip, had I NEEDED a shower every morning, I wouldn’t have been able to go because there was no guarantee of a shower every morning let alone day. Had I not been able to let go of my desire for healthy food, I wouldn’t have been able to go either because there was no knowing what there’d be available. Had I wanted to be sure that I would be able to pedal for 6 to 8 hours a day and that I would reach my goal, I wouldn’t have gone either because there was no way of being sure. So I had to let go of my desire to be sure.
Letting go of wants and desires, letting go of what you think something should look like, opens doors for you, inviting in things, people and places that you might not even have dreamed of! Don’t be a prisoner of your own imagination! Let go, open the door and let in…. what comes in. Then ask yourself if it’s something you want. If not, get rid of it!
If you’re not convinced yet, think about this: we often say that all we want is to be loved. I believe that we all NEED to be loved so I’m with you on this. Only, you might get so fixed on what this love SHOULD LOOK LIKE that you won’t recognise it in any other form. You might think that your partner should be offering you flowers or jewellery as a token of his love for you. You might even get upset if he doesn’t provide these in sufficient amounts. But can you say that if he doesn’t ever give you flowers, if he’s never bought you jewellery, he doesn’t love you? Now that would be absurd. It’s not the outside manifestation of love that IS the love. It’s just an expression, one expression of love among many others. It’s very easy to ignore somebody’s way of loving you because it doesn’t correspond to what you think it should look like. If you’re expecting jewellery and you’re not getting it, you could get really frustrated, but you’d be frustrated for the wrong reason: not because you weren’t loved but because it didn’t look the way you wanted or expected it to.
“To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness”. Bertrand Russell.
So let’s just agree that you will NEVER have all the things you want. You just need to concentrate on what it is you NEED. Deciding on what it is you need can be a daunting task but if you choose not to become aware of it, you might be spending your life chasing after “bright shiny objects”, that is, choosing all the wrong things, the swimming pool, the jewellery.
I like to think of life as a journey (please feel free to hop over and read my article in the Huffington Post Life as a Journey). If you think of your life as a journey it quickly becomes obvious that what you take on this journey is of the utmost importance. When I left with my husband for our cycling trip, we had put some thought into what it was that we NEEDED for our trip: very few but practical clothes, one saucepan, two forks, two knives, tent, sleeping bag etc. We didn’t bring perfume, crystal glasses, a lawnmower nor roller-skates. Nothing wrong with roller-skates but we just didn’t NEED them.
So can I just invite YOU to think about what you’re bringing along with you on your life’s journey? Are you sure you need everything you packed? It’s not because you left with it that you have to keep it. You can throw it out AND you can get some new stuff. The choice is yours. Can I also just point out that it is so much easier to decide what you need when you know where you’re going? You’re not going to bring the same things to Australia that you’d bring to Greenland. So a good place to start is to ask yourself: “Where am I going?” and then decide what you’d like to bring. No need to get upset if somebody else is bringing a down jacket and you’re not. He might be heading for Antarctica and you for Sri Lanka!
Enjoy your trip!