Getting or giving

Real life is being things on the inside, not getting things on the outside.
Ralph Parlette
1870 – 1930

This little incident took place a few years back, at a gathering for some of our extended family. We’d finished lunch and the children had settled into play mode. The weather was nice, so most of the children were playing outside, but there was one toddler sitting in the middle of a pile of toys. He had picked out one toy and was deeply engaged in it. Then another child about the same age wandered into the room.

The newcomer fixed her eyes on the toy the other child was holding. Even though there were dozens of attractive toys available, she went directly for the one that had captivated the young boy. He might have been willing to give up the toy if someone had asked him nicely, but when the young girl tried to take it from him, he became even more attached to it.

Very shortly, there was a lot of crying and adults rushing in to sort things out.

I’m not sure how the two got quieted down. But I have a very clear picture of them both wanting to play with the same toy at the same time. Even though there were dozens of other toys, it seemed that what made a toy attractive was that someone already had it. If it was unattended on the floor, it was not as desirable.

I’ve often thought how much the action of those two toddlers mirrors adult life. It’s probably a survival instinct to try to take possession of as many things as we can. But we never seem to outgrow that habit.

We think happiness lies in getting more. In our minds, the more material things we get, the closer we are to happiness. We’re like the little child. We think that we’ll be happy when we get what others already have.

But I’ve come to realize that there’s no connection between happiness and material things. Think about the last major purchase you made. How long did you feel good about it? How long did the feeling of euphoria last?

Acquiring things will not make us happy. The most joy comes from the opposite: giving things away; helping others. The more good we can do for others, the better we feel about ourselves.

Work to reduce your desire for material things. Learn to know the joys of giving and sharing. You’ll find true joy once you discover your calling to help others. It’s not what we collect in life, but what we become that determines our level of happiness.

Vigilantly practice indifference to external conditions. Your happiness can only be found within.
Epictetus
55 – 135 A.D.

Copyright © 2013 John Chancellor

Comments

Getting or giving — 3 Comments

  1. I agree, John, you get far more pleasure out of giving than receiving. I recently read an article that said that people get more long-term satisfaction out of spending their money on experiences rather than things. Both are good points to keep in mind during this holiday season.

  2. Susan,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and the support you have shown throughout the year. I agree the satifaction that comes from things tends to diminish with time while the joy of experiences tends to grow with time.

    John