Q I recently spent some time visiting friends in a small town. They live a fairly simple life and don’t have many of the things I do. At first I thought I would miss all my fancy gadgets and services that I am so used to and work hard for. But after a few days, I started to relax and appreciate the slower pace and simpler life. It’s hard to believe that my “poor” friends are actually more content and satisfied than I am. This was a rude awakening. I felt sick to my stomach when I realized that so much of my day is spent on wanting more. I don’t understand how to deal with this and worry that the next business deal will make me forget what I discovered on my little trip away.
A Sounds like you had a very important epiphany! This is a significant opening into understanding where your deeper happiness lies and how you are distracted and seduced by achievements and acquisitions. It’s powerful that you allowed yourself to feel sick to your stomach and then reflected on it. This is the key to shifting your values. Given that we are so externally oriented—defining ourselves by how we look, our education, financial status, relationships and family, most of our values come from what family and society deem important. Some of it can help us lead satisfying, meaningful, and stimulating lives. However, this value system can be time consuming and leave you feeling dissatisfied. Greed is a way of dealing with our inner feelings of emptiness. We cover up our dissatisfaction with all kinds of activities, people, and pursuits. We then get embroiled and identified with this lifestyle—we think we are that lifestyle. Without it, who would we be? Additionally, the culture rewards the obsession of having more, so there is a lot of positive reinforcement for it.
You are right that the next business deal will entice you back into your accustomed ways of being. The first big step is letting yourself be seduced and seeing where it leads. Second, see if you can allow yourself to let these feelings of dissatisfaction, emptiness, and even anxiety to arise in you. With a better understanding of your reactions, you give yourself the opportunity to get in touch with the inner truth that more stuff doesn’t make you happy. This practice will also help you build the capacity to tolerate a range of feelings.
This is a big step in your personal growth. You will not always look for a fix when difficult emotional states arise. You won’t be as driven by emptiness and greed. Beneath the discomfort of “feeling sick,” are feelings of wellness—relaxation, slowing down, reflection, and peace. We all have them if we take the time to look.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com