Sometimes the fear of losing something important to us causes a type of survival mechanism to kick in which compels us to collect and store things during plentiful times in preparation for the next time of scarcity. We all have this survival instinct to varying degrees because we all fear that there won’t be enough to go around during times of decline.
Some may argue that human instinct induces us to become anxious and competitive in an effort to get at least our fair share if not a little more for good measure. The problem with this philosophy is that we are at risk of developing a sense of entitlement and a corresponding sense of indignation when we do not receive what we believe to be our fair share. Eventually, if it feels like the world is always delivering the short end of the straw then depression or anger may fester.
I’m not sure how we determine what our fair share is or decide what things we must have. It seems apparent that it is not the actual things that make us happy; it is the illusion that things equal safety that makes us think that we are happy. So the question becomes; how does one achieve a sensation of safety and happiness separate from the accumulation of worldly possessions?
This answer is often described in ancient parables like this old Sufi story about a man whose son captured a strong, beautiful, wild horse, and all the neighbors told the man how fortunate he was. The man patiently replied, “We will see.” One day the horse threw the son who broke his leg, and all the neighbors told the man how cursed he was that the son had ever found the horse. Again the man answered, “We will see.” Soon after the son broke his leg, soldiers came to the village and took away all the able-bodied young men, but the son was spared. When the man’s friends told him how lucky the broken leg was, the man would only say, “We will see.”
The point is that everything can be both good and bad. Every possession that we own has pros and cons. Every promotion that we get has advantages and disadvantages. Every person that we know has assets and deficits. Perhaps the key is to accept that every situation that befalls us and every circumstance that we endure will be both positive and negative at the same time.
Acknowledging, accepting, and appreciating the notion that we can be both propelled and restricted by our experiences is the best way to feel safely grounded and ultimately experience happiness. Most philosophers suggest cultivating this acceptance through gratitude. It is of course easy to acknowledge and appreciate things in your life when it is going well; but even more helpful is to notice those things for which you are grateful when you are being tested and challenged.