“We live in the most affluent culture the world has ever seen. Estimates are that although we have only 6 percent of the world’s population in America, we use almost half of the natural resources. It seems to me that if more were actually better, we would live in the happiest, most satisfied culture of all time. But we don’t. Not even close. In fact, we live in one of the most dissatisfied cultures on record.
It’s not that having a lot of things is bad, wrong, or harmful in and of itself, only that the desire to have more and more and more is insatiable. As long as you think more is better, you’ll never be satisfied.”
Conventional wisdom is any assumption that is believed to be unquestionably true and universally accepted; in our First World culture, busy is good, more is better, success equals wealth, are examples. As author Richard Carlson claims, there is nothing inherently “bad, wrong, or harmful” with affluence, it’s just that once we succumb to the glitter of more is better, it can feel like there’s never enough.
Minister and social activist William Sloan Coffin has opined that there are two ways to be rich, one is to have a lot of money, the other is to have fewer needs. What he didn’t say is how to achieve this less-is-better attitude. It becomes possible to be satisfied with less when we are in touch with our soul, that deep, sacred self that knows intuitively that fewer needs and fewer belongings are the portal to true happiness and deep peace.
Because material possessions are necessary for our survival, dealing with our “dark side” in relation to an abundance of them becomes a delicate dance. Yes, we can become possessed by our possessions, but neither can we do without them. What can enable us to negotiate this dance is the perspective that comes with the awareness of impermanence; this is the lesson in the following story. A spiritual seeker, having heard about a hermit of great wisdom, found his way to the wise man’s dwelling. Upon entering he was struck by its sparse furnishings – two chairs, a bed, and a table. He said to the hermit “Where is your furniture?” The hermit replied “Where is yours?” “I have none,” said the seeker. “I’m just passing through.” “So am I,” replied the hermit!
We’re all “just passing through.” We are all here for a short time. We are all under the influence of affluence. But if we fall prey to the allure of “more is better,” our passing through can become much more cumbersome materially, and burdensome spiritually.