A FRIEND OF MINE just got back from Lesotho,
a small country in Africa, where he spent two years in the Peace
Corps. He told me the people there thought all Americans were
rich. As far as he was concerned, he was a poor college student.
Hed never thought of himself as rich. We Americans dont
usually think that way because were used to our level of
wealth. But compared with the people in Lesotho and with many
places on Earth, we are rich.
A king of an empire only a thousand years
ago was poor compared to a modern American. You and I have services
and possessions completely incomparable to the kings: microwave
ovens, TVs, phones, medical technology, paved roads and cars
to drive on them, hot showers, running water, flushing toilets,
CD players, and it goes on and on. Were rich, but we hardly
ever think so because human beings have a natural tendency to
feel unsatisfied, discontented, to always want more no matter
how much we have. Its true for the people in Lesotho and
its true for you and me.
U.S. citizens have become progressively
wealthier through the years. The average citizen in 1953 had
access to 153 electronic appliances. In twenty years, it increased
to about 400. The median size of a new home built in 1949 was
1100 square feet. By 1993 it had grown to 2060 square feet. A
person in the U.S. on average, owns twice as many cars now as
people did in 1950. Were wealthy! But not very many of
us feel wealthy.
The truth is: No matter how far you come,
it is never enough. No matter where you arrive, it soon becomes
the status quo and loses the thrill, and pretty soon your sights
go out to something better. Its human nature.
Were all in the same boat. Were
all naturally greedy. We all continually escalate our desires
above what we have. Its as natural as breathing.
But just because something is natural,
doesnt mean its good or that youre helpless
against it. This is an important point. Its natural to
have sexual desires. But that doesnt mean you can jump
on everybody you feel attracted to and just apologize later:
Sorry, I couldnt help it. Sex drive, you know. Biological.
No. We control our natural sexual desires.
In the same way, we can control our natural
greed. And I dont mean merely controlling greedy behavior,
but actually controlling the feeling of dissatisfaction.
Before this chapter is out, Ill tell
you what you can do about it, but first I want you to grasp the
full scope of the problem. Your greed has an impact on every
area of your life. Youre greedy about your relationships.
You want your lover to be perfect. Youre greedy about your
money. No matter how much you make right now, a little more would
be better. Youre greedy about your food, your time, your
possessions, your pleasures. You would prefer to feel good all
the time. You want everybody to treat you with respect. You always
want more than you have, and sometimes you feel unhappy about
To make matters worse, you also feel pushed
and pressured by your own greed. It feels like you must do this
and you should do that, but all youre doing is trying to
satisfy your own desires you want to get a promotion or
earn more money or whatever. Your desires feel like needs, but
most of them arent. They are what you might call false
Lets say you want to be the next
CEO of Ben & Jerrys Ice Cream, and youre excited
about your goal. You feel good about it. But a few weeks later,
you feel stressed by it. What happened?
Your perfectly innocent desire has turned
into a false need. As long as its simply a desire, the
goal or any goal you want can be stimulating and
fun and inspiring and motivating and a whole bunch of other pleasant
feelings. But when you have to put together a resume, and you
think you should get it in the mail as soon as possible, and
you need to make it perfect, the goal is a drag: it brings you
down, lowers your mood and its not good for your health.
When youre fully aware you dont
need to accomplish your goals but only want to, you have energy,
good health, and your enthusiasm influences people who can help
Desire brings you up and drives you forward
with pleasure. Greed brings you down and stresses you out.
When I was a kid, I had to pull weeds in
our lawn. There was some kind of devil weed (at least,
thats what my dad called it) that kept growing in the grass,
and Dad was determined to prevent this evil from taking over
the neighborhood. So, come summertime, my brother and sister
and I were sent forth to conquer. Our mission: To seek out and
pull up the weed with the red leaves. Summers were hot in Nevada.
I hated that chore.
Next door to us lived the ORourks.
They also had the evil weed growing on their lawn, and my best
friend, Tommy, had to pull weeds too. Sometimes we had a scheduling
conflict: I was ready to play, but he was pulling weeds. I helped
him so he could finish sooner. I noticed that pulling the weeds
from the lawn next door was much more fun than pulling them in
my own yard, and I even knew why: because I didnt have
to do it. When it was his lawn, it was an option for me, and
I did it because I wanted to. The physical task was identical.
But mentally, the task was quite different.
Of course you cant really do this
with your job: I dont have to go to work. I want
to go to work. You wouldnt fool anyone with that
one, especially yourself. But there are some elements you can
influence that may improve your attitude toward any source of
stress. Well give you a technique here and then look at
how it works using some examples.
Use this technique only when you have a
feeling of dysphoria (this is probably an unfamiliar word to
you, so heres the definition once more: dysphoria is anger,
anxiety or depression, mild or intense). If youre feeling
great, leave yourself alone and enjoy it. This isnt positive
thinking. Its more like anti-negative thinking.
Use it only when you feel negative. The technique is a series
of questions you ask yourself:
1. What do I want?
2. Do I need it to survive?
3. What would happen if I didnt get it?
4. Do I want to keep the goal, give up on it, or replace
it with a new or modified goal?
This technique will work with any kind
of false need in your job, your relationships, your body
Lets see how it works. Imagine youre
in an argument with someone close to you. Youre feeling
a negative emotion (anger) and you want to use this technique.
So you need to have a dialog with yourself.
Can you have a dialog in your head while
carrying on a conversation with someone else? Probably not. Especially
not when the discussion is heated. After a lot of practice under
easier conditions, maybe youll be able to do it, but not
now. So take a walk or excuse yourself. Say you need a little
time to think, and go into another room. And to make it even
easier (which we suggest), get a pad of paper and a pen and write
down the questions and your answers. Heres how it might
Q: What do I want?
A: I want to make my point. I have a valid
point to make, and I want to make it.
Q: Do I need it to survive?
A: No. I wont die if I cant
make my point.
Q: What would happen if
I didnt make my point?
A: Probably the argument would lose its
Q: Now that Ive thought
this through a little, what do I want? Do I still want to make
my point? Do I want to give it up? Or do I want to make a new
A: I dont want to make my point,
at least not in this way, and not now. I want to set a new goal:
I want to listen.
These questions take the need out of it
if it truly isnt a need. In our hypothetical situation,
you go back to listen to the person you were arguing with, and
you keep listening until the other is through talking. Youll
probably understand her or him better, and it may change the
point you wanted so much to make. Or perhaps youll get
into better communication and youll be able to make your
point without anger.
This is a time-consuming process at first.
But after doing it a few times, it starts to go quickly. When
youre good enough, you can probably do it in a few seconds
while in the middle of the argument, and your partner will gape
in wonder at your self-control!
THIS TECHNIQUE ALSO WORKS when youre
striving for a goal and the goal becomes an unhappy burden. Put
yourself through the same questions. When you get to the last
one, seriously consider giving up on your goal, because if the
goal isnt giving you any joy, whats the point? You
arent here long enough to fritter away your precious years
You might be thinking, But my goal
is not just to give me joy. Im trying to send my kid through
college, or Ive got to pay the mortgage.
If thats what youre thinking, youre in the
trap right now and you dont know it! You dont have
to send your kid to college, and you dont need to keep
your house. You could let your child earn her own way through
college and she might develop a stronger sense of self-reliance
because of it. You could move to an apartment and give up yard-work
forever. Im not saying you should do these things, but
you could. And knowing you could, knowing that those are only
desires of yours, goals you set, will give you a different feeling
toward those goals, just like the difference between pulling
weeds in my lawn versus Tommys lawn.
You have the option: You can choose to
keep your goal, or you can change your mind. Its up to
you. If you decide you want to keep the goal, it will be fresh
in your mind that you want it, and youll feel differently
about it. Its a mental maneuver, and itll change
the way you feel.
It doesnt make any difference to
say to yourself, I dont need this, I want it,
in order to make yourself feel better about it. Saying
the words, I want this, doesnt affect you much.
Knowing you have the option to give it up and deciding not to
do so is what makes the difference. Thats why you ask those
questions and answer them sincerely. You dont need to pump
yourself up or believe something you dont believe.
What gives this process power is taking
away the falsity. You take away the goal during the questions.
The goal is not real. It doesnt exist. You made it up.
You decided to accomplish it. The pressure to accomplish it is
in your head, not in reality. When you remove the goal, it changes
the way you feel about it.
Sometimes youll ask those questions
and youll realize you really dont want to make your
point or be the CEO of Ben & Jerrys. And thats
great. Youll get a fresh opportunity to create a goal thatll
give you some pleasure instead of misery or stress or boredom.
The same point applies in the reading of
this web site. You might feel a desire to practice an idea presented
here so you can feel better more often. Im hoping you will.
But you may later feel burdened by it as if you have an
obligation to become happier. You dont. You dont
have to become more successful. You dont have to look good
or lose weight or get rich or feel good. You dont have
to do much to survive, at least here in America. Your mother
may not approve, but you dont have to make her happy either.
You may want some of these things, however.
You can figure that out for yourself. But youll feel better
more often if you keep in mind that you want to do them; you
dont have to.
Its perfectly natural to think your
life should be better than it is. Its perfectly natural,
and perfectly counterproductive. It causes more dysphoria than
is necessary. Realize that your desires are only desires that
you chose and youll feel much better and work toward your
desires more effectively.
And when you realize you have a desire
that cannot be attained, you can give it up and replace it with
a different desire. Youre in charge of this. Youre
not the victim of your own desires. You can choose what goal
to reach for. You can choose goals thatll give you the
most enjoyment to pursue, and you can keep yourself aware that
its your game so you can get maximum enjoyment from it.
And by doing so, you can voluntarily fill your life with a bearable
lightness of being.
Do you really need it?
Do you really have to? Or is it only a preference?