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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Gibbons

Material Reality & Desire

Many of us now live in extremely comfortable circumstances. We’re well fed, live in solid houses that protect us from the elements, and have fine clothes that keep us warm. Some of us have gone far beyond this already “better-than-average” standard of living. We drive luxury cars and have filled our homes with all manner of electronic devices, so we live in extreme comfort and have a limitless supply of digital entertainment. A few of us have gone even further in our pursuit and attainment of wealth. And many of us aren’t content with the material reality of our lives. So what are we doing wrong?

A few years ago, I was in a small village in Nepal, and something made me see this problem in a new light. At that time, I’d already spent several years in South Asia and was familiar with the levels of poverty that often prevail there. I was also used to seeing the local people going about their daily business with beautiful, radiant smiles. And I always thought that it was impressive that people could be so happy in spite of their poverty. That they could appear to be almost as happy as me—a rich Westerner on vacation in their country.

But that day in the village in the mountains of Nepal something changed. As I watched the children playing in the dust with a ball made from plastic bags, no shoes on their feet, wearing old hand-me-down clothes, I realized that they weren’t just happy. Not just as happy as me.

They were happier.

Happier than someone who had grown up in a comfortable English house, had been educated at a prestigious school, and had never gone wanting for anything. They weren’t happy in spite of their poverty. They were just happy. And that made me think. Maybe we’ve got it wrong in the West? Maybe all this comfort that we create around ourselves doesn’t make us happier? Maybe it even makes it worse?

What does all this have to do with acceptance?

If I’m continually trying to change the material reality of my life, this is a sure sign that I’m not accepting of my life as it is. I don’t accept this house that I live in, these clothes that I wear, or this car that I drive. They’re simply not good enough. I convince myself that the solution will come by changing, upgrading, and spending more. So I change, upgrade, and spend more. And guess what? I’m still not happy. So I try again. Not happy in the three-bedroom house? Try a five-bedroom house; that’s sure to fix the problem.

Not surprisingly, it doesn’t.

What are you suggesting? That we should give up all our material comfort and live in poverty?

I’m not suggesting that at all. What I’m suggesting is that we learn to be okay with what we have, irrespective of our relative wealth or poverty. If these are the clothes that I’m wearing today, the place that I’m living, and the food that I’m eating, then I can learn to accept these things. Not because there’s anything fundamentally wrong with having “better” stuff, but because the actual reality of my life is these clothes, this house, and this food. That’s where my life is at right now. And if I want to be peaceful and content in this moment, I need to accept every aspect of my life.

On the other hand, if I can’t accept what I have now, imagining that I can only be happy at some time in the future when I have x, y, and z, then what I’m doing is sabotaging my own life. I’m rejecting this moment as “not good enough” and sacrificing this real present moment for some future time when I believe I’ll have exactly what it takes to be happy. When everything will be okay. And I can accept it all.

But that moment never comes.

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