Better to fulfill many small wishes than no big ones. Â That’s just the beginning, but it is a beginning.
Misunderstand me right: I am not saying that we should not be grateful for the good things in our lives. I am saying that we should not be ungrateful for the good things we don’t have.
The human mind is a generator of desire. As long as it lives and is left to its own devices, the vital mind has no limit to its wants. If you were given a billion years to live and a benevolent fairy that would fulfill your every wish, you would not only be bored out of your mind. You would also end those billion years with as much desire as you had when you began.
I mean this literally. There is no end to our wanting, wishing, desiring and coveting. You may or may not believe that we humans are proportioned to the divine, to eternity and all in it. But do not doubt this, that our capacity for desire is at the very least greater than the visible universe. If every planet around every star was ours to do with as we wanted, we would still not be satisfied when the universe came to its natural end.
The human mind is like a wellspring that overflows with longing, and the human body is only like a cup to take that longing away. We just don’t have the capacity to keep up with our wishes: They always run ahead of us, like the headlights of a car or the rainbow ahead of those who chase it.
It is natural that we believe in fulfilling our wishes. After all, if we never did, we would be dead. We are the descendants of those who, through millions and millions of years, strived hard to fulfill their urges. Without doing so, they would not live and reproduce and eventually give rise to us. And even in our own lives, we learned early on that it helped to scream when we were hungry, and later to follow other needs with great energy. When our needs were fulfilled, the discomfort receded for a while, and we felt good. But soon some need or another rose again, and we had to take action again. Eventually this became ingrained in us, so that even when there was no need, we would look for some way to feel even better. When you believe you can have ecstasy, ordinary life is agony. Likewise when you are in agony, ordinary life seems like ecstasy. You think: If only I could have what I lost! But if you regain it, you once again forget it. This is human nature.
It is not necessary to run till you stumble and fall under the whip of relentless wishes. We can begin to trim off the excesses. For this to happen we need to calm our mind. Meditation is one such tool. If you are religious, you will hopefully also find help in prayer, chanting or other such activities. But in any case, my advice is to start at the top, to trim off the ludicrous excesses that are created by advertising and peer pressure. Become free inside, realize that you alone are responsible for your life, and that your choices will form it, not the judgment of others, least of all total strangers to whom you are as cattle.
There is much more to achieve. But it is already a great relief to shed the witless excesses caused by profiteers inflaming your desires. And I don’t mean just “adults-only” desires, although those are pretty good examples now that I think of it. But just as magazines for men alternate between underdressed women and relationship advice, so also magazines for women alternate between cakes and diets. They and their ilk create the problems they purport to solve. A simple life keeps the problems fewer and smaller to begin with.
The time spent chasing the ultimate happiness could be spent in a pretty high state of happiness that lasts for a much longer time. The ultimate happiness will elude you anyway, because the human brain is not able to sustain ecstasy for long. This is why even the fulfillment of the mating urge, so intense because nobody would do something so insane without a hefty reward, still lasts for such a short time. But the “penultimate happiness”, the joy and contentment that is not taking your breath away but is still really good, can be sustained for a long time. Such joy and contentment is cheap and readily available. If you do easy, fun things and help other people without getting paid for it, you will be much happier than if you struggle to get everything you want. This is attested by those who have tried. I have yet to meet anyone or hear from anyone who reduced their selfishness and regretted it. And I have yet to hear of anyone saying on their deathbed: “I wish I had paid more attention to advertising.”