Desire, Purchase, Reward, Desire

Since we discovered FIRE about 6 months ago, we have been slowly cutting down our spending. We first tackled our recurring expenses like insurance and cell phone bills. And then we started chipping away at those expenses that are wants rather than needs. This was a very gradual process. One expense at a time, we have been examining and rethinking. Is this something we need? Is this something we want? Is there a cheaper, healthier, better way to meet this need/want? Through this process we have really changed our habits and our thinking around consumption.

This last week we had some friends come to stay with us from off-island. We spent days together: eating together, sight-seeing, and hanging out every evening. We drove around together stopping to make purchases at stores and restaurants multiple times per day. I made an effort to plan meals and to pack lunches and drinks for our sight-seeing excursions. But they still wanted to stop to make purchases multiple times per day. It was a huge culture shock for me. I had trained myself, but now I was receiving new training. When our friends flew home, I realized that my thoughts were more consumption focused than they were previously. I would want things I usually didn’t want like soda or desserts or junk food. Then I would think about fulfilling these new desires and going to a store to purchase these items. When I would pass by a store I would think about going in and buying something, because “they might have something that I want”. It was very strange, my thoughts and desires were out-of-control. It was like a Hamster Wheel of Desire.

This pattern of desire, purchase, reward, desire became a habit. I could never be satisfied. I just kept wanting and wanting and wanting. It was a distraction from what really matters, and a delusion that this next purchase will bring satisfaction. It felt like addiction, like needing a nicotine fix. I managed to get through the week without spending much more than usual. But this new habit has been several days of cold turkey non-spending to try to kick. It’s awful! The Buddha says that desire is suffering. I can’t help but agree. How can you appreciate anything you have in life, if your thoughts are constantly focused on having more?

This was a major realization for me. I hadn’t fully understood that I had slowly weened myself away from this type of consumption mindset over the last few months. I knew I was saving money, I was living simply, and I was generally very satisfied with life. I hadn’t realized that my patterns of thought had so fundamentally changed. Instead of immediately satisfying any passing fancy, I wait. Usually these passing wants dissipate into the ether. If they keep coming back, day after day, week after week, it might be something worth purchasing. I used to buy more than I needed. I would stop by the gas station to get gas and end up spending $5- $15 on snacks and drinks. Or I would buy more groceries than we could eat because I might want to cook that sometime. Most modern humans need money to purchase much of their basic needs; food, shelter, clothing. The other purchases are a choice.

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