Loving what you have

In the book I am now reading by Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life I found this amazing quote, “It’s not so much to have what you love anymore, but to love what you have – right now!” Those words really speak to me. On one hand it is true that having a goal in life can be an important inspiration to achieve something difficult. I know women and men who have wanted one day to have a boat because they love the water. I know women and men who have wanted one day to open a restaurant because they love food. I know women and men who have wanted to have a cottage because they have a large extended family whom they love and want a place where everyone can be together. I get that.

But there are goals and there are goals. If my whole life is spent wanting things I love I will likely have a lot of anxiety and disappointment come my way. Unless we are Oprah or Bill Gates or Warren Buffett the likelihood we can have everything we love is remote. Rohr’s notion of “loving what you have” not only seems more realistic and psychologically healthy it is also feels more human. Our human experience is a short one, for most of us on this planet the length of our days will not be long by any measure. Does it make sense to spend a large portion of our days pining to have what we love or does it make more sense to love what we have?

In our western culture we have grown used to a level of economic affluence that can bring with it the opportunity to have some of what we love. For most people it is realistic to have some things that enable us to experience what we truly love. A great musician, with certain sacrifices, hard work and good awareness, can find a quality piano to own. The love of music needs some things to bring it to life. There seems nothing wrong to me with setting up goals to have those things that bring joy and love to our life.

But in this culture of affluence, in this culture when we know what the rich and famous have, what we could have, even if we don’t really love it, there is a built-in anxiety and disappointment factor. The voyeur in us may peer into the celebrity culture and we may fantasize about what we might have but soon we will wonder “why not me?” For previous generations, raised to believe in a structured and unhealthy hierarchy, that “why not me” question would never occur. In the “upstairs-downstairs” worldview those downstairs would never assume they could have what those who lived upstairs had.

We live in a happier time, thank God my daughter will grow up to believe what others achieve, she could achieve. Gender, orientation, race, country of origin, these should not matter to our goals. But now that we have come this far the freedom to be what we want also leads us into the freedom to have what we don’t need, what we will likely never afford. Rohr’s advice, to “love what we have” brings with it a level of grounding in simplicity, finding love and joy less in having things and more in loving what is a free gift all around us. Frankly our planet cannot sustain billions of people having what they love. The earth can sustain a culture where we love what we have. And the level of happiness, the reduction in anxiety and disappointment, can only be a boon to us all.