Not What We Possess, But What We Pursue

what-we-pursue

“We become that which we love.” ― Saint Bridget

For too long, society has defined the good life in terms of physical possessions. We have been told happiness is found in big houses, new cars, fashionable clothing, and full closets. As a result, we spend much of our lives pursuing possessions seeking this promised happiness in them.

But fullness of life is not found in the things we possess. Consider for just a moment the foolishness of defining the good life in terms of physical possessions:

Possessions often ebb and flow. As recent years have proven, financial success is often at the mercy of a national economy and increasingly, a world economy. When the economy takes a downturn (as it always does), so must the good life.

Possessions are often arbitrary. Not always, but often, the amount of possessions we own is a product of our environment. Those who grow up in a first-world country have a greater advantage than those who grow up in a third-world country. Even within those individual countries, some will inherit large sums of money and personal goods from their parents, others will not. Either way, using such an arbitrary system to define the potential for happiness is unwise on almost every level.

Possessions never satisfy our greatest needs. Possessions never fully satisfy the inmost desires of our soul. They never have. And they are not about to start. In fact, most of the time, they distract us from the very things that do bring our lives fulfillment.

Possessions are never enough. I have met people with more physical possessions than they could ever need and yet, they still desire more. Those who define the good life in terms of wealth and possessions will never find it. You can never find enough happiness in things that were never designed to provide it.

But our lives are not defined by the things we possess, our lives are defined by the things we pursue.

It is not our possessions, but our pursuits that bring definition to our lives. Consider the reality that what we desire most influences nearly everything about us: how we spend our money, our time, our energy. It provides motivation for our day. It dominates our thinking. It defines our view of success.

This is good news. No matter the current circumstances of our lives, we can choose to pursue anything we desire. We can define our lives by our decisions each morning. And those who choose to pursue things of lasting value and significance can find lasting fulfillment and purpose regardless of how much they possess.

So, by all means possible, choose your pursuits wisely. Pursue beauty, faith, hope, love, justice, significance, and contribution. Pursue opportunity to improve this world for somebody else. And realize again our lives are too valuable to waste chasing possessions.

Image: marcelometal

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

    • Kathy K says

      Thanks for this article. Have always known this to be true, but succumbed 12 years ago to the conventional wisdom that I must become a homeowner. Loved my modest little house, but home ownership caused my entire life to change. After almost a year of being unemployed, I recently realized that I had spent those years living to pay the mortgage and not living my life and pursuing the things I’d always pursued before. An avid lover of travel, I had taken exactly one out-of-country trip — to Vancouver, where a friend had generously loaned his apartment for a week — in those 12 years. Within a week of this shocking epiphany, I put my house on the market and now have a contract pending. I am working each day to organize, pack, donate, divest myself of about half of what I have accumulated by the time I have to be out of the house. Don’t know exactly what the next step — or the next after that — is, but I’m already happier and closer to being true to who I was before — and will be again.

  1. says

    Stoicism makes a pretty good case against the desire to own more possessions. They combat this “hedonic treadmill” by consciously wanting what they already have. In other words, they practice extreme gratitude.

    It’s sort of interesting to hear that lottery winners are only happier for a short amount of time before baselining to their original level of happiness. That says a lot about the way we are wired to only want more and more. There’s no amount that will make us truly happy until we make a mindset change.

  2. says

    Yes, the simple truth… “our lives are not defined by the things we possess, our lives are defined by the things we pursue.” This message is so clear to me yet I see others wrinkle up their noses and offer odd looks- they just don’t get it- the brainwash of consumerism still has quite a hold on so many…

  3. says

    Its interesting to me that I know intuitively that more possessions will not make me happy, but I always fall prey to the media. I see something that in my opinion complete my wardrobe and I really, really want it. Even though I have a billion items in my wardrobe already. This applies to every other part of my life. I have a lot of stuff, as everyone does in the Western world, but I still want more. I see an advertisement and I fall prey. My self-control only goes so far. I guess, it is a work in progress, that will go on forever, more so as Advertising gets more and more pervasive in our lives. Do not let them get into your head! Resist the urge to increase the stuff in your life. :)

    • everlearning says

      First, to Joshua Becker: Fabulous post and thank you as always!

      Second, to ‘BrownVagabonder': I admire that you are so honest about where you are in life and your weakness for materialism and you continue to read these posts. You get it and it seems to me you are trying to pursue it as you struggle with it. Learning is one of the best parts of life and I encourage you not to give up and to continue to recognize what you’re up against and try your best to fight it. Yes, the advertising and the materialistic lifestyles will always be there, but YOU can change! We all can! I don’t think it’s easy for anyone, but it does get easier. You’re open and you are clearly aware of your weakness and that you want to change. That is often half the battle. Hang in there! We’re all trying!

  4. says

    Thomas Merton echoed the same statement you attribute to Saint Bridget. As well, the opening line to the “Dhammapada” attributed to Buddha are “We are what we think.” I believe we are defined by our relationship with God. If understanding that relationship is what we pursue, then our pursuit defines us in a special way.

  5. says

    I love the contrast between possessions and pursuit in this post. I agree fully, I would much prefer to have a meaningful pursuit than possessions, which drain your pocketbook and take away your precious time.

  6. David J. Singer says

    I was happy when I had less. I was happy when I had more. I am happy now.

    Great post. Thank you.

  7. says

    Very relevant to me. This week I realised I owned absolutely nothing that is irreplaceable or that has any hold on me. It’s a great feeling of freedom! Thanks for another great posting.

  8. says

    Brilliant post! Have been decluttering and redefining my life slowly but surely for the past three years. Because it was very slow and gradual, it seems as though not much has changed. But looking back 3 years I’ve actually come a long long way. Posts of like-minded people like you, Leo (Zen Habits) and Marla (Fly Lady) have inspired me hugely. Thanks a ton!

  9. Dina says

    I LOVE this post and the quote really hit home!

    I’ve been reading and enjoying your posts. I’m not one to comment on posts, but I couldn’t let this one go.

    Thank you, Joshua, for being a generous and positive contributor to this world.

  10. says

    So spot on.
    My viewpoints on life and happiness changes dramatically after caring for my terminally ill mother and seeing her through her death followed by my husband being diagnosed a year later with a fast progressing neurological disease. Life turned upside down and I ha to take a hard look at my priorities and focus in life. Daily I am thankful for everything I have and am content for the most part. I’m learning to live more in the now rather than worry about the future. What is truly important are the things you have listed.
    Thank you

  11. Nancy says

    My eye opener was when I cleaned out my home after 35 years to move to Myrtle Beach, SC from CT. I was mortified when I saw everything piled in the garage for a tag sale. Clothes with tags still on them, duplicates of things (probably bought because I forgot I had one or couldn’t find it). Shoes in boxes, jewlery, clothes that I bought because they were “on sale” and were one size too small, but “I will fit into them”. I now live in a one bedroom condo, there is one closet for my husband and I. I do not shop for things I do not need, I still have “stuff” though but am learning that I don’t use half of what is here. Our stuff has been in storage for 2 years, never have returned to get anything out of it. So cold turkey was not that hard for me. If I don’t need it, I don’t buy it even if it is 75% off. Although I do like buying things for my son and grandchildren. I put heart into my gifts now. I now longer send checks. I have found it more exciting to find a gem for someone else.

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