With the crazy economic challenges of the last few years many people have begun to question the way they live their lives. This may take shape in the way we spend our money, what things we buy or decide to go without, the trips we take and what forms of entertainment we seek. Vanity has taken a back seat to humility in America, and you can certainly feel it.
A wise man recently told me of the â€šÃ„ÃºHedonic Treadmill,â€šÃ„Ã¹ a term that can be used to explain the roots of the current economic situation. He said that on this treadmill the higher our income rises, the more material things we desire. We run faster and faster in place on the treadmill to achieve our material goals. But the problem is that we are not striving for true happiness, only what we THINK will make us happy.
This example makes a lot of sense if you put it into perspective and apply it to the current economic situation. Take the housing market for example. In the early 2000’s millions of Americans were given a golden pass, allowing them to take on mortgages they could not afford so that they could buy homes that were beyond their ability to maintain.
Here in San Diego and other parts of California â€šÃ„ÃºMcMansionsâ€šÃ„Ã¹ were kingâ€šenormous homes on small lots in nice areas. These homes were gobbled up and many of these areas have been the hardest hit in recent foreclosure waves.
Another way to look at it is by comparing vanity and humility. Most people define vanity as self-obsession. However, the wise man I mentioned above told me that in reality vanity actually is a belief that because we have worked hard we deserve to be rewarded for our success.
Humility is defined as having an absence of pride or self-assertion. It is a recognition that we have not yet reached our true potential, and that there is more for us to accomplish and give to the world. In other words, when we are humble we recognize that we have not yet earned any rewards for our labors.
Many people these days seem to be striving toward humility over vanity. It does not seem to be as important to live in big homes as it was just a few years agoâ€šin fact I have talked to many people who have or plan to downsize, or those who at one point wanted a larger home but now feel content in the home they have.
Purchases of big ticket itemsâ€šluxury cars, vacations, jewelry, have gone down in the last several years. Yet more movie, museum and local play and musical ticket sales have increased. Volunteerism has gone up. Despite the struggles of many in the current economy there is a desire by many to help others less fortunate.
So from the negative comes positive. Many of us have suffered: we have lower incomes, jobs that pay less (or no jobs at all), we have lost our homes or fear we will in the future, we are hurting.
But these situations are temporary. We WILL recover, things will get better. In the meantime we can give of ourselves, help those less fortunate. We can spend less on things we used to buy and have more family dinners and game nights, more walks and games of ball with our kids. We can look at this state as a time to regroup, to think of what is important, to re-prioritize. Think of it as a blessing, no matter how badly you hurt.
The ancient Chinese Tao teaches the following, and it is a fantastic lesson:
It takes thirty spokes to make a wheel:
But the hole in the center makes it useful for a cart.
It takes a lump of clay to make a pot:
But the empty space within it gives the pot it’s value.
A house needs walls and doors and windows:
But the empty space is what we call a room to live in.
Thus, fullness has its role, but emptiness redeems it.
Find what is important to you in this life, this borrowed time that you have been granted, and make the best of it. We can always look back and know that we did our best and made the most of life, but it is too late when one looks back and realizes he/she should have done more.