A few years ago, when I started writing down the ideas that would eventually form this blog, I didn’t really know where I was going with it. I just knew there were ideas I was fixated on, that I wanted to expand on and share with others.
After a few months, with a growing number of short pieces under my belt, I started to see a pattern emerge. Unbeknownst to me, a large number of the topics I had explored (about half of them, in fact) were all really descendants of the same idea.
That idea? Less. Less is more, less is happiness, less is freedom, less is strength.
Up until that point, I was under the impression that I had been writing about a whole variety of ideas – career, health, relationships, financial freedom, happiness, and fulfillment. But it turned out that everywhere I looked at improving life, the same answer emerged: Less.
Many of the big problems we commonly face are really the same problem: Too Much. In the pursuit of happiness, we buy too much, eat too much, own too much stuff, and fill our time with too many things. We aim for a sense of fulfillment and land on clutter, waste, and stress.
We unintentionally (and perhaps unknowingly) self-inflict this problem of Too Much. It’s everywhere you look. We try to improve our lives by adding something new, without ever considering the possibility of what to remove. In so doing, we often create new issues to deal with.
So I set out to understand where this problem comes from, why we keep doing this to ourselves, and how we can break free of it. Because if we can do that, then we just might have the key to many of our greatest obstacles.
Why Do We Do This to Ourselves? Why Are We Like this?
It turns out, it doesn’t take all that much digging to see where this problem originates.
As is often the case, it’ll help to understand the way we work by looking at it from an evolutionary perspective.
Remember, humans are all animals. We’re pretty fancy animals who have toaster ovens and 401(k)s, but we’re still animals. And for most of our history, we’ve done what all other animals do – scrambled to survive.
It behooves someone in that position to be acutely mindful of scarcity. Insufficient food, water, clothing, medicine, or shelter are all serious threats to survival. Combatting scarcity is arguably the number-one priority of the budding survivalist.
Someone who accumulated many potentially helpful resources would have a stronger chance at survival. They’d be less likely to run out of critical supplies when they needed them. So that bit of helpful anxiety, that scarcity mindset, was once an essential tool for our survival.
But now, we’ve developed ever-increasing mastery over nature. It’s gotten to the point that survival, in the traditional sense, has become a non-issue in most of the developed world.
Don’t get me wrong, we still have plenty of problems to deal with. In fact, we have shiny new problems to deal with now. It’s just that we can’t address these new problems with an old-fashioned scarcity mindset.
“Modern problems require modern solutions.”– Dave Chappelle, Chappelle’s Show
And ironically, once we have enough resources to survive, the scarcity mindset actually becomes the cause of many new problems. As I wrote about last week, you can’t solve every problem with a hammer. If the problem before you is a broken window, a hammer could even make things considerably worse.
The Issue With Scarcity
So we have modern challenges, and our ancient animal brains try to solve them with a tool that has worked in the past – the scarcity mindset. Is that such a bad thing?
In short, yes.
In less short, the scarcity mindset poses two problems:
First, it creates an air of negativity. It’s pretty uncontroversial at this point that there are huge benefits to positive thinking. The scarcity mindset is the opposite of that.
By focusing entirely on what you lack, what is missing, and what you need more of to be happy, that becomes the energy that your life is built around. Negative thoughts attract negative circumstances.
“The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.”– Captain Jack Sparrow, Pirates of The Caribbean
Second, most of the steps you take to assuage the scarcity mindset create more unhappiness. Remember, actual scarcity is not the problem anymore. So addressing our concerns as if it is will not help. Instead, it causes new stress – through clutter, waste, poor health, financial anxiety, and packed schedules.
Scarcity is a double-edged sword, and both edges are pointing at you. Somehow, because… physics… idk.
Putting all of your attention on what you don’t have feels shitty. Filling up your life with clutter and nonessentials to try to appease that shitty feeling leads to, well, a different shitty feeling.
But rest assured, I wouldn’t be dragging you down this cold, dark rabbit hole if it wasn’t for the sake of getting to Wonderland on the other side.
Think of the scarcity mindset as a default. It’s the factory setting that we come with. And the good news is, there’s an upgrade we can install instead. Let’s talk about shifting to an abundance mindset.
The Abundance Mindset
Being the diametric opposite of the scarcity mindset, the abundance mindset needs little in the way of formal introduction. It is a worldview from which a person sees the natural abundance of their life.
Someone with an abundance mindset is grateful for what they have, and for all of the opportunities they’ve come into. On the whole, their lives are peaceful and filled with joy.
Who are these lucky punks, you may ask? Why do they lead such a happy and fulfilling life, getting all the good feels, while the rest of us are stuck out here in the mud?
It’s all a simple matter of perspective.
Almost nothing in life has an inherent quality of being either good or bad. Good and bad are simply flavors we put onto things when viewing them through the lens of our experience and beliefs.
In other words, abundance is a choice.
You can live on the factory default setting, see the scarcity in everything, and focus entirely on what’s missing. Or you can make the shift to appreciation for all that your life gives you. The exciting thing is, the abundance is already there. It’s just a matter of whether you choose to see it.
Look around, even if only for a brief moment, at the abundance in your life and I promise you, you will find it. Practice it enough, and with time, it’ll be all you see.
The Delightful Paradox of Abundance
Again mirroring the scarcity mindset, the abundance mindset has two distinct benefits.
First, the obvious: positivity. If you look around and see a life overflowing with success, love, and opportunity (which again, is your choice), you will have a far more enjoyable experience than someone who sees in the same picture only lack, emptiness, and disappointment.
Second, and most interestingly, is the paradox of abundance. The beauty of the abundance mindset is not just the happiness it brings to this moment, but also the way it shapes your life over time.
Those who suffer from a scarcity mindset feel a shadowy, undefined hole inside themselves. And what do people with a hole in themselves do? Well, they try to fill it, of course.
They try to fill it with more food, more purchases, more activities, more people, more more more. The thing is, that hole is an internal one. It’s an emotional longing borne of one’s worldview, and it can never be filled with external stuff.
Instead it’s your house that gets filled with clutter; your fat cells that get filled with triglycerides; your schedule that gets filled with appointments. None of these things sates that feeling of longing, because none of them was missing in the first place.
Shifting your perspective toward abundance alleviates that internal pressure. As a result, the drive to constantly consume and accumulate subsides. And what you’re left with is only that which brings you peace, growth, and happiness.
By appreciating the, shall we say ‘muchness’ of your life, you paradoxically pave the way for a life of less – less stress, less worry, less anxiety, less feeling overwhelmed by it all.
Shatter the Lens of the Scarcity Mindset
The truth is, we don’t actually want every square inch of life to be filled up with junk, it’s just a natural result of the scarcity mindset.
What originates as perceived scarcity of goods, services, food, experiences and so on, ultimately leads to a very real scarcity of peace, calm, free time, money, and health.
What we really want is levity, utility, and joy. The exact opposite of the unnecessary clutter that creeps into a life built on scarcity. We want plenty of room for the finite number of things that really do bring us happiness and fulfillment. What we want is less.
And the secret to achieving the wonder of less is to build a mindset of more.
Like nearly any other mindset shift, this one is simple, but it takes time and practice. It requires continually making the choice to see how full your life is of the things that you need, and want, and love. And with time, you will internalize that belief and it will become the new default lens through which you see your world.