“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not. Remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” Epicurus
My friend Hank recently passed along this quotation when I was moaning about something. (Never mind what—it’s too embarrassing.) I was immediately struck by the truth of it and copied it onto a 3×5 card and taped it to my computer monitor where I read it numerous times a day. It makes an enormous difference to my attitude and sense of accomplishment.
I’m one of those people who sets a goal and works hard to achieve it. I’m sure many of you do the same. When I accomplish what I set out to do, I celebrate for forty-three seconds, then set the bar higher and get back to work. Achieve, raise the bar, repeat. As a novelist, that looks something like this: Decide to become a published author. Finish a manuscript, find an agent, sign first contract, celebrate with champagne and dinner at expensive restaurant. Raise the bar and decide to make a career as a novelist. Write more books, sign multi-book contract, celebrate by phoning a few friends with the news. Raise the bar and decide to win an award/hit the NYT best-seller list/get an advance that has more zeroes in front of the decimal than behind it. See where this is going? Nowhere healthy. (I do the same thing with diet and fitness goals, by the way.)
Anyway, the Epicurus quotation broke me out of that habit, of always looking to accomplish more (whether or not “more” is worthwhile), and always undermining my happiness and gratitude for current accomplishments by saying mentally, “It’s not enough.” I didn’t do that consciously, by the way, but my actions suggest that’s what my thought process was. I don’t know where that mindset came from and I’m not sure it’s worth any navel-gazing to find out. However, I do know that changing that thought process is key to my sense of fulfillment.
Now, I start each day by giving thanks for what I now have, things I’ve worked hard to achieve, but mostly gifts of grace or happenstance. Funny enough, one of those gifts is my new attitude. I take more time to celebrate even the small successes (the champagne industry is grateful) and encourage friends to do the same by sending them congrats cards (Hallmark is grateful) or the like. So I won’t sound too revoltingly Pollyanna-ish, I’ll admit that I still have flashes of dissatisfaction with where I am career-wise or fitness-wise, or with how fast I’ve achieved something, but I can usually dispel those clouds of “it’s not enough” by re-reading the wise words of Epicurus and giving thanks for what I have and am right now.