"No person has the power to have everything they want, but it is in their power not to want what they don’t have, and to cheerfully put to good use what they do have."
Previously, I wrote about moderating our desires in the Self-Control Poem and in Rewiring Our Minds for Happiness. This quote from Seneca really stood out to me because it combines reducing desires with putting to good use what we already have. If we are told only to reduce our desires, it feels restricting and unpleasant. But Seneca is saying what we want may not be necessary because we already have a good alternative to it. If we don't have a alternative and we have no way of getting that thing, surely we can still find good in what we do have. In this post, I want to share a few examples from my own life.
Example 1: New Vest
I wanted to get a Uniqlo vest for my mother since she would sometimes wear mine, which is a bit big for her. When we got to the store and I showed her the vest, she said she doesn't want it because she already has a vest.
I asked, "But you've worn mine multiple times...I thought you really like this kind of vest?" She said, "Yeah but that's just a few times, and it was mainly out of convenience since your vest was right there, you weren't using it, and mine was all the way upstairs. I already have a good vest, so I don't need a new one." I admired my mom for not wanting something unnecessary and for putting to good use what she already has.
Example 2: Closet Reorganization
Since I still work from home, I mainly wear comfy clothes when not working. Recently, with the weather change, I reorganized my closet from summer clothes to fall/winter clothes, and I realized I have so many items of great clothing that I basically forgot about because I haven't worn them in so long. I decided that after I get out of bed, I would change into proper clothes even if I'm not working. This decision let me put to good use all those great items of clothing I have, and it's also made me more alert and diligent because the clothing we wear affects our mental state.
Example 3: Pull-Up Bar
Around a month ago, I wanted to buy one of those at-home pull-up bars that attach to a door frame, but my mother was worried it would damage the door frame and that I would stop using it after a while. She said, "Why don't you just go use the monkey bars at the park first? The weather is still pretty decent."
I decided to follow her advice and walk to the park to use the monkey bars for pull-ups. I thought I'd try it for a week and if I really enjoyed doing pull-ups, then I could assure my mom I would use it if I bought it. Interestingly, I started to really enjoy that short walk to and from the park, the fresh air, and the sunlight. I even met some new people and had great conversations. Later, I found a pull-up bar alternative in my very own closet. Even though I found this alternative, I still preferred walking to the park while the weather still permits. If I had bought the pull-up bar right away, I wouldn't have discovered my enjoyment for walking and the existing alternative in my closet.
Example 4: Commuting
In the past, I used to commute 2-3 hours roundtrip every day for work. Just sitting or standing there on the bus is quite exhausting, and I wasn't making best use of the time. Later, I decided to listen to education podcasts and take notes on my phone while commuting. It made my commutes so much more enjoyable and productive. Later, I had the choice of driving to work, but I actually chose to commute instead because I valued the time to learn while being transported to work.
Example 5: Garden Tower
My family is pretty big on eating organic and fresh, so we plant a lot of food in the garden. Earlier this year, I proposed getting the Garden Tower, which is basically a big, compact, multi-level container that can fit 50 plants and costs several hundred dollars.
My mother said, "That's a lot of money to spend on something we may not even need. Let's just properly plan out how we can best use our garden space, and if we indeed feel like our space is not enough, maybe we can consider buying it next year." Later, we got a bunch of big buckets, put them on our patio, and planted a lot of extra food that way. We ended up have more food than we could eat in some weeks. Good thing we didn't buy that Garden Tower or else we might have wasted a lot of food and unused buckets!
Example 6: Food Waste
Did you know that Americans waste 30-40% of their food? That hurts both the wallet and the planet. Food takes up more space in US landfills than anything else!
One reason is that we put food in the back of the fridge and forget about it. Then we find it has gone bad later so we throw it out. To overcome this problem, my family always inspects what's in the fridge every weekend and bring to the front what needs to be eaten soon. We also try to buy produce that can be stored for at least a couple weeks, such as cabbage, brussels sprouts, and root vegetables. I use a tool called Save the Food to look up how to properly store food items for maximum storage life.
A second factor is restaurants giving more food than we can eat. If we just leave the leftovers on the plate, the restaurant will throw it out. Instead, we can take the leftovers to go and eat them later at home.
A third factor is grocery stores only selling what looks nice and throwing away what doesn't look nice or is not so fresh. When I visit the grocery store, I'll look at the section of discounted food, which usually has food that either looks not so nice or that's going to go bad soon, and I'll buy whatever I can eat in the next day or two to prevent that food from being wasted. It's win-win because it helps my wallet and the planet!
In our modern materialistically rich world, most of us nowadays have so much stuff, and we aren't putting all that stuff to its best use, which is kind of a shame. I encourage you to think about how you can put to best use what you already have. It's very pleasant to do and reminds us of how fortunate we are!