When I was paying down my law school debt, it felt like I was fighting for every last penny. I thought I would feel so much better after my debt was gone. But then, after I paid off my debt, I looked at my paltry bank account and still felt scarcity. Even after I dramatically increased my net worth, the fear didn’t abate. I wondered, when would I ever feel like I have enough?
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Abundance is a Mindset
I tried to answer the question of how to feel abundant by reading books. Initially I thought there was some set value scientifically proven to make anyone say “Aha! I’ve made it!”
But of course there’s not.
There are billionaires who want more. There are people who have nothing who want for, well, nothing.
I read a story on Quora about an elderly woman entering a retirement center. The woman told her attendant that she loved her new room. Confused, the attendant pointed out that she hadn’t even seen the room yet. But the woman said:
I know I love it because I have already decided to love it.
Creating an Abundance Mindset
Often we are looking for contentment in the wrong places. Most people think, action and then reaction. Most people assume that the external circumstances make the decision for how you feel, but that ignores your ability to control your feelings. If you let the circumstances have control, it might be ok if things turn out to your liking. Unfortunately it will be devastating if the circumstances are disappointing. And things will always be disappointing.
Instead, this woman was making the decision that rather than having her circumstances dictate her feelings, she was going to project her feelings onto her circumstances. Whatever her situation, she was going to project happiness upon it.
There is no amount of money that will change your feelings; you have to do that for yourself. Feeling abundance is a choice that we make for ourselves every day, every minute. Here are some ideas to change your mindset to one of abundance.
Remember Your Blessings
When I think of abundance, I think of a bowl full of blueberries (because I read an article about abundance that had a picture of a bowl of blueberries.) When you think of abundance, it’s probably about health, social connections, money and peace. And I hope you have all or a mix of those things. But even if you lack in some areas, it helps to focus on what you do have. Think about if you have shelter, food, a job. Think about your friends, your family, people who’ve been nice to you throughout your life.
I watched a documentary recently, Kindness is Contagious. Throughout the movie, people described a time when someone was kind to them. Some were truly amazing and miraculous and some were silly. But if we all thought about our lives, we could come up with a few anecdotes about people who were nice to us. It’s hard not to feel abundance when you frame your life as one filled with amazing blessings.
Reframe Frugality as Curation
Too often, frugality is framed as denial. You can’t get a new pair of shoes because you don’t have the funds.Well what if you thought of yourself, instead of as a miserable frugal person, as a fancy museum curator. Pretend you work for the Louvre and there are no shortage of painters/shoes who want your attention. But you don’t have nearly enough space for all of those vying and you can only take the very best. It’s not that you’re broke, it’s that you’re picky.
Counterintuitively, I think we feel scarcity when we have too many things. We have too many bad things clogging up our perception of what good things we have. The bad can distract us from the good.
I’ve heard criticism over Marie Kondo and minimalism being concepts only for the rich. They are straw man arguments. No clutter guru is forcing you to live with nothing. You don’t have to be rich to get rid of whatever is unnecessary or actively bad for you.
If you wake up and have to deal with a slew of bad things, you can have a feeling of scarcity. When you have only good things in your life, it’s hard not to feel abundant. Curate your life to exclude the bad.
Giving as a Means to Abundance
Another counterintuitive method of getting to abundance is giving. I read The Broken Ladder and it starts off by saying that feeling poor can have debilitating effects whether or not you’re actually poor. Technically anyone can “feel” poor even if they’re the richest person in the world, because feelings don’t have to be tethered to facts. So, ok, how does one not feel poor?
We feel poor when we look at people who have more. Thus, to feel rich, we should look at people who have less. Obviously, that sounds really condescending. But it depends on how you look at them – either with criticism or compassion.
There’s a wealth of research that shows giving activates a part of the brain that is typically associated with rewards (food, sex, drugs, money). Giving has also been linked with better health outcomes, promotes social connectivity, and increased feelings of gratitude. It also just changes your worldview from inward facing to outward facing, increasing our humility and empathy. Better health, more connections, a decrease in pride and an in crease in gratitude would all seem to help decrease your feelings of relative poverty and increase your feelings of abundance.
Treating Ourselves Well
But while it’s important to give, it’s also crucial that we be able to receive.
And I’m not saying you should give because you expect to receive anything tangible in return. First, I just don’t think life works like that so you’ll be mad at me for telling you a lie (although some research shows that giving is contagious, it doesn’t necessarily mean the contagion will come back to you). Second, there are perfectly good intangible reasons to give, as listed above.
But I don’t want to only say that giving alone is key to abundance. You’ll quickly be worn out. Receiving is also key to feeling abundance. I heard an episode of Rob Bell‘s podcast that really resonated with me: “You don’t take good care of yourself and you wonder why you have less and less to give.”
Give Yourself the Gifts of Abundance
There’s all this talk about “self-care” and it now has this backlash of being self-indulgent. There’s so much pressure to be masochists – to get by on little sleep, to be as productive as a factory-farmed animal, to give and give and give. And I don’t want to advocate for that.
Microsoft’s Satya Nadella noted:
With all the abundance we have of computers and computing, what is scarce is human attention and time.
We have no shortage of electronics or social media accounts or advertising. We have a scarcity of care, attention and time. And part of this will take some time to remedy by finding friends and family that will fill those needs but it starts with giving the attention to ourselves and being able to receive care and love from ourselves and others.
I think there is no better picture of a life of abundance than someone who realizes and receives love and attention from friends and family, and who give it freely to others. And if you have that, money becomes such a small factor in obtaining abundance. I mean, if you have that, what more could you really need?
How to (Finally) Feel Like You Have Enough
Marketers would have you believe that buying this or that product, car, or house is the key to abundance. That marketing ploy actually leads to discontent, which is exactly what the marketers want. You get on a treadmill of wanting, buying, being discontent and wanting again.
The only way to stop running is to get off the treadmill. Look at what you already have, get rid of what you don’t want, spend your time and money on caring for yourself and others. An abundant life can never be bought with money, but only with intention.