“It is the privilege of Gods to want nothing, and of godlike people to want little” – Diogenes the Cynic.
Stoics such as Seneca warn us about fortune and wealth. They say that slavery resides beneath marble and gold, and that wealth consists not in having great possessions but in having few wants. Seneca claims that the only thing wealth teaches you is that it makes you desire more stuff. It will make you think that having “X” is enough, only for you to realize when you achieved “X” that possessing “2X” is better. It makes us forget that all this material items we are trying to collect are not really ours, and that we wont be able to use them after we are long gone from this world. People become prisoners of their possessions, lose the ability to appreciate what they already have, and instead become miserable by it. Chasing that type of material possessions is like endlessly running on a treadmill. It will lead to exhaustion, and we need to get off it while we still can.
Stoicism teaches you how to get off this endless treadmill ride, and how to live a simple life. Living a simple life does not mean giving up the things you enjoy having, isolating yourself from society, or donating all your money to charity. What it means is enjoying and being satisfied with what you already have today. It implies that you should question yourself before making certain purchases/decisions in your life. Are you buying things because everyone else has them, because of short term satisfaction, because you’ve been programmed by commercials to get them, because others told you to get it, because of societal pressure, or because you have a real need for them and they will create a positive impact in your life? I would argue that a stoic would only complete a transaction if the answer to the last question is Yes.
Wealth consists not in having great possessions but in having few wants.
When wanting to get something, aside thinking if you really need it, try to think what would happen if you did not get it. Can you do and live without it? The principle behind this is so that we don’t end up being like children sticking our hands in a candy jar. Epictetus makes a great point in his Discourses when he said that children start crying when they cant get their full fist out of a goody jar. If they drop a few treats, they will manage to get it out. If they will keep aiming on possessing everything inside the jar, they will remain stuck and unfree. Therefore, drop a few treats in your life and you will be free. Curb you desire, don’t set your heart on so many things and you will find what you really need. In other words, prioritize what you require in life, get it and learn how to ignore the rest. Find happiness in what is essential and what you can get. Want to buy new things? Great, but first contemplate on the use of these new items and on how they can improve your life before making them a part of your daily habits.
Only by thinking this way do we actually reach freedom in our lives. The Daily Stoic asks an important question in their chapter on Awareness: how do you get wealthy in your life? There are only 2 ways: either you get everything you want, or you want everything you already have. And the same logic applies with freedom: either you keep fighting for more and never have enough, or you find freedom in what exists in your life today. You can actually be free right here right now if you want to. It only requires a change in your mindset and your way of thinking.
Some may argue that we should all think twice before we purchase something as it will create less wastage and more environmental benefit. While this is true, I believe our motivation should also come from a philosophical and deeper point of view. We should all reassess what we have in our lives today as we all have much more than what we really need. We are all surrounded by clutter that makes us uncomfortable. Just like we can be uncomfortable after eating too much, we do feel the same type of lack of comfort when faced with an overstuffed house or office. The more we have, the more choices and headaches we create, and the more energy we spend on useless items. There is a reason why certain successful people wear the same clothes every day (think Barack Obama, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Albert Einstein). They were satisfied with that look, but more importantly they didn’t want to waste time or energy during their day thinking what they wanted to wear even though they could afford anything they wanted. Simplicity brought them freedom in that part of their lives.
There are only two ways to be wealthy in life: either you get everything you want, or you want everything you already have and be free.
The takeaway here is that simplicity can lead to clarity and freedom, both of which have many benefits. Create simplicity in your life by getting rid of material items you don’t need. Desire is very complicated and can lead us to overvalue things in our life. The good things in life cost what they cost and you need them to live, but the unnecessary ones are not worth it at all cost. You need to be aware of the differences between them. Keep thinking whether you are in control of what you desire, or if your desires are in control of you. Enough is really as good as a feast, if our attitude and desires are kept in place and under control. Better a morsel with joy, than a feast with strife.