In my practice as a licensed therapist treating mood and addictive disorders, I see many people who are very successful. I often see patients who have absolutely everything: fame, money, family, career. Yet it's almost as if they become spiritually polluted. The parties are everywhere, the money is flowing, they even have movie star fame and a loving family, but nothing is enough. These people are still looking for more, even when they have so much. I call it the "disease of more," and I hope that one day it is given more awareness and somehow eradicated or at least beaten down to controllable levels. This means that we would all know that it is our actions and our connections with others that bring our lives value.
Mark is a Wall Street trader who has more money than God. He started out with nothing, and, after a few years of working hard in finance, he attained huge wealth. He also developed an appetite to become more and more successful, even though he had reached the pinnacle of the industry. His business coups and the respect from his industry peers were never enough. So 'more and more' for Mark turned into more women, more alcohol and more cocaine. He tried heroin and didn't like it, so he merely continued doing an eight ball of coke a day. If he could have done 'more' he would have. The next day, of course, he always felt totally alone, empty, sick, and depressed. He wanted more, of something, of anything.
In our society, in all Western cultures, everything is about bigger, better, faster. We rely on external things to define us. We all want more. Yet all we really need are shelter, food, air and water. Maybe you need a nice dog or a garden to work in. I don't say that to be funny. Therapist Jorja Davis reminds our patients that monks who chop wood and carry water do so for a reason: repetitive action, even petting a dog or a cat, feels good. We don't need the newest Audi. We don't need a bottle of tequila that costs 200 dollars. We don't need an amethyst credit card that buys us more crap. We need a sense of self-worth, one that comes without price tags, and is not based on the value of our possessions.
If there was one thing I would change in our society it would be how we teach our children. We need to end this epidemic of the disease of more. Even if you don't have children, pay attention to what is going on around you. Ask yourself how you can make a difference to someone whose values are screwed up. Make a list of what you truly cherish in your life. If any of these can be replaced by spending money, then you are living with confused priorities. See if you can change the way you think. Spend a week or two in retreat, chopping wood, carrying water. Volunteer at a homeless shelter. Mentor a school kid from the other side of town.
Less is more. Less stuff is more. Less shame is more, too. You can be free of these attachments and feel lighter, freer and ready to step forward into self-fulfillment.
Here's what we need more of: gratitude. No one actively practices it anymore, it seems. We make long lists of our grievances (including our addictions) but too few lists of all of the things for which we should give thanks. We should be grateful for our families, even dysfunctional ones, because they at least put up with all of our bullshit. We should feel glad to see the beauty of a sunrise, when we're not too loaded to feel the warmth as it hits our skin. We should be grateful for the fact that we are still alive, since some of us have lost a few friends along the way. We should be happy that we can start anew, beginning today, to change our attitude and make the world a better place. We have so many choices in our lives. That, in itself, is something to be thankful for.
I mention Viktor Frankl in my book. He was a psychiatrist who survived a Nazi concentration camp. When he was liberated, he could have spent a lifetime feeling victimized and isolated. He chose another way: gratitude.
Frankl wrote, "Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." If it worked for him, it can work for you. I know that it works for me.
I think feeling grateful makes you empowered over your own life. Being thankful naturally leads to thoughts of how to best use such blessings in your life, It leads to goal setting and a desire to share the feeling with someone else. If you don't feel grateful, you wallow in a sense of feeling victimized -- and you aren't a victim anymore. Be thankful, at least, for that.
The above is an adapted excerpt from the book Alive Again: Recovering from Alcoholism and Drug Addiction by Howard C. Samuels, Psy.D.