Over a couple eggs, I got into a discussion this morning about addictive personalities and the separation between needs and wants. I come from a long lineage of strong personalities and compulsive behavioralists—all the ‘aholics in a row—and I would probably place myself somewhere right in the middle if asked truthfully. This conversation also came at a most appropriate time, with Lent beginning this week on Wednesday. I do not personally partake in such religious practices, but I do recognize the importance of tradition and belief.
“You don’t strike me as needing much—never have. It’s your laissez faire attitude which I dig,” I was told, as I portioned onto my plate exactly the amount of hot sauce and ketchup I knew I would use for breakfast (Waste not, want not, right?).
See, I have always had this fantasy of selling everything I own except for what I truly “need”. This started when I was about twenty years old and I had read somewhere about this man who lived on a house boat and who kept the number of possessions he owned to the barest minimum—and if he acquired one more item at any point, he would give up something else in return. This sounded groovy to me, like some new-age monk. And so that following summer, I challenged myself by living out of a van for three months. It was a success, and definitely perspective-changing. Then just two years ago, I spent the better part of a year living out of a suitcase, and couch surfing from place to place. There were a lot more unknowns at that time, in regards to my life choices, but there was really something about keeping the things I did have control over, simple—like the amount of “stuff” I was lugging around.
In his essay, On the Origin of the Inequality of Mankind, Rosseau wrote:
“The simplicity and solitude of man's life in this new condition, the paucity of his wants, and the implements he had invented to satisfy them, left him a great deal of leisure, which he employed to furnish himself with many conveniences unknown to his fathers: and this was the first yoke he inadvertently imposed on himself, and the first source of the evils he prepared for his descendants. For, besides continuing thus to enervate both body and mind, these conveniences lost with use almost all their power to please, and even degenerated into real needs, till the want of them became far more disagreeable than the possession of them had been pleasant. Men would have been unhappy at the loss of them, though the possession did not make them happy.”
He went on to talk about the general lack of satisfaction men feel, the more progressed they become, the more possessions they attain—by putting their energies, both needs and wants, toward superficial things.
All men are created equal? I guess I’ve never thought so. All men want and need the same things? I definitely don’t think so. And sometimes I even feel duped by commercialism and the American Dream, selling me on plastics and how to better my life with specific brands.
We are all driven by our desire to expand. We exercise this in a variety of different ways, or with a combination of ways: some have children, some acquire material possessions and wealth, some try to whole-heartedly love (with trust), some are philanthropists, some are intellectuals, and some are spiritualists trying to lead the way—the list can go on and on.
As I grow into this next stage in my life, I aim to learn how to trim the fat on all that is unnecessary, to clear the mind of daily clutter, and keep moving forward toward a more enlightened state of understanding—through art, through knowledge, and through trying to look beyond all the things we obsess over and make us tremendously unhappy.