What If You Got Everything You Wanted?

Hollywood, 2011
Hollywood, 2011

“In the world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.” –Oscar Wilde

Sometimes we wish to get something. But once we actually get it, we wish we didn’t get it in first place.

For example let’s say your dream is to own a Posche car. Even if you got the Porsche, you might end up regretting the fact that you got it. You end up getting the Porsche, but that leads you to getting tons of speeding tickets, we have paranoia that someone is going to dent your car, scratch your car, your insurance payments go up, you pay a ton in gas, the drives are long and bumpy, it is hard to drive and steer, the clutch is so hard, and you’re stuck in traffic anyways, you can’t even enjoy the speed. Not only that, but you start to spend more money and time maintaining the car, and wanting to spend more money to upgrade the car (upgraded turbo, rims, tires, paint job, headers, exhaust, etc). You also start to go to Porsche “meet ups” where you feel that your Porsche Boxster is a piece of crap compared to the other guy’s Porsche 911 Turbo.

You want a Leica. You finally get one. Then you realize it is bigger and heavier than you expect. You realize you don’t really like manual-focusing all the time. You start to lust after new (more expensive lenses)— whereas the old Canon L lenses had a fixed price. You miss focus all the time. You wish you hadn’t got it in the first place. And eventually, it collects dust on your camera shelf like all the other cameras you (already) own. Not only that, but Leica has announced that they’re releasing a new version of the digital Leica (in 2-3 years). Not only that, but it is heavy, so you don’t bring it with you as much as you did if you had a smaller camera.

You wish for that bigger house. You imagine that by having a bigger house you’ll be happier. You imagine having the larger front yard where you can spend more time with your family, you imagine having that gym room you finally dreamed of, your own private office, and the ease of “owning” your own home. After slaving away for a decade and saving a ton of money, you finally find a lovely home, put a down payment (and deplete your savings), and you think life will be rosy. However you soon discover that there is a hidden leak in the roof that will need patching, which will be at least $15,000. Then you realize that you need to visit Home Depot all the time to maintain the house. Oh yeah, having that bigger house means you need to do more cleaning— you wonder, “How the hell does dust get in all these spots in the house?” After a few years of owning the home, you become dissatisfied with the kitchen, and you want to remodel it. The contractor quotes you $10,000— which sounds reasonable. Inevitably the contractor runs late, over-budget— all in all it takes about 2 months longer than you expected (while you have no kitchen), and cost you $18,000. You now dream of the next dream house, something even nicer (something you saw in one of those fancy architecture magazines).

More stuff, more problems

We are never satisfied with what we have. We aren’t satisfied with the present. We always want more, and we are always comparing our lives with others, thinking that having a nicer car, a bigger house, living in a more desirable neighborhood, living in the city, owning more gadgets, more cameras, a more attractive spouse, kids, and ‘organic food’ will make us happier.

But the truth is, much of the extra material things or conditions of our life create additional complications.

You wish you had a million dollars. You get it, the you realize the stress from figuring out how to invest it— and also how the government is trying to “steal” your money. You hire accountants to spend less money on taxes, and you feel anxiety that you might lose your money. Then you move to a nicer neighborhood with someone who has 10 million dollars, and instantly you feel poor.

Do you really want that?

Psychologists call this mental state “miswanting” — making a judgement that by buying something or experiencing something, we will be happy. However the problem is we don’t think of the downsides.

For example, let’s say that you dream of that trip to Rome. You were a history buff, so you imagine being in the streets, enjoying the “living history” of the city, and enjoying amazing Italian food. What you don’t realize is once you get there, it is fucking hot (don’t go in the summer), it is overwhelming with tourists (the ones that wear flip flops and socks), street vendors are trying to rip you off, the food isn’t as good as you expected, and after a while all the museums end up looking the same.

Imagine added stress

Your life is already perfect. What else do you want to change?

Let’s imagine— you switch your job— realize you might get even worse co-workers or even a worse job. You get a raise at your job? Then be prepared to answer more emails (on the weekends), and the additional stress of extra work.

You buy all those new lenses you wanted for your camera, and now you have that additional stress from figuring out what lens to shoot with that day. I have friends who have both a digital Leica and a digital Leica Monochrom, and a film Leica— they are more stressed to figure out what to shoot with (rather than my other friend who only owns a fixed-lens Fujifilm camera and has none of this stress). Yeah the irony is that having more cameras, more lenses, and more wealth can lead to more unhappiness and stress (first world problem, but a problem nonetheless).

My “miswanting”

Writing this is a bit of a reminder to myself. Often I wish I lived in a more “cool” city (San Francisco), often I wish I had a fancy sports car, often I wish I had more money, often I wish I had better gadgets, more hip clothes, was buffer, and was smarter.

But once again, with every change I might want, will come with additional baggage, more stress.

The secret (I think) is to be content with what I have, and to not desire anything else.

I know this sounds like some wishy-washy Buddhist zen-philosophy, but the more I think about it, the more I experience my life as an American consumer, the more I believe in it.

How to be rich

The secret to being wealthy? Not having any desires.

I read from the ancient philosophers that “poverty” is a state in which you still crave for something you don’t have. So if a poor man doesn’t crave for anything, is he really “poor”? Often the greedy millionaire who wants more money is more in “poverty” than the man living paycheck-to-paycheck.

What do I need to fear?

I need to always remind myself: happiness is in the present, not to stress about finances, to know that all my basic needs are met (eggs, coffee, wifi), and that I have the perfect life. I have friends who I love and share my soul with, a family that loves and supports what I do, and a strong sense of purpose (to devote my life in serving others).

What else do I need?

Not more shit to clutter up my life. No more gadgets to charge. No more cameras to make “better” photos. I just need to use the things I already own to make the best use of it.

Just like a sculptor can make a beautiful statue regardless of what materials he is given, or that a master sailor can sail any type of ship, I can make the best use of my few basic tools to make beautiful art.

Never forget that Eric.

Friday, Jan 22, 2016. Philz Coffee on Gilman, Berkeley, 3:11pm.

To learn more about our psychological biases, I highly recommend reading “Thinking, Fast and Slow” and watching this free TED talk: “The Surprising Science of Happiness.”

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