I love the Christmas season. It’s the one time of the year when people are most kind, happy, festive and giving. In the spirit of giving and sharing, I too would like to gift you something — a story that is at the core of an incredible lesson that I learned not too long ago.
The acquisition of material wealth and status is highly valued and desired in our society. Many people spend the majority of their lives in a constant race trying to achieve more, be more and have more.
I was one of those people. I spent my life thinking that having and achieving more was my ticket to true happiness. I became addicted to the desire for more, not just financially, but in all aspects of my life. Always wanting what I thought I did not have and worse, I made my happiness conditional on getting those things.
“When I have enough money saved up, then I’ll be happy. When I take that vacation, then I’ll be happy. When I get that job, then I’ll be happy. When I buy a bigger house, a better car, the latest fashion, then I’ll be happy.”
You get the point, right?
Let me be clear, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to become better than we are. There is nothing wrong with setting goals and achieving things in life. But when we tie our happiness to having those “things,” we create a perpetual state of stress with the highs and the lows that come from achieving momentary states of happiness and the emotional hangover that returns when those moments of happiness wear off.
We waste so much of our precious time thinking that we don’t have enough, that we are not enough, completely unaware of our abundant blessings. Yes, that was me, for a long time — focused on what I thought I lacked, what I did not have and what I still needed to have in order to finally be happy.
When we focus on what we think we lack, we become oblivious, blind to the things we do have. In psychology, this phenomenon is called, “inattention blindness” where people fail to see objects that are right in front of them because they have focused too much of their attention elsewhere.
There is a famous study done by professor Jason Watson from the University of Utah where people were told to count how many times a basketball was being passed from one person to the other. More than 40 percent of the people in the experiment failed to see a person dressed in a gorilla suit pass right in front of them.
This is the result of putting our attention away from what is present. Sadly, the wonderful things in our lives are missed because our attention is always somewhere else — in ‘a future desire’ that we miss seeing what is in front of us — we miss noticing ‘the gorilla’!
For years I missed seeing all that I had. I went chasing for the ‘pot of gold’ to now realize two things: not everything that shines is gold and that the gold I had gone searching for, I already had. A painful but worthy lesson for me.
Instead of dwelling on the regrets of the past, I take comfort knowing that I’ve learned a valuable lesson. As the saying goes, “a mistake becomes the most valuable thing you can make if you learn the lesson and the only true mistake in life is a lesson not learned.”
So, what did I learn?
I learned to see my blessings. I’ve learned to appreciate the ‘pot of gold’ I have been bestowed and to really live in the present moment, appreciative of what I have. I still have my dreams, I still make new goals and plan on achieving things in my life, but my happiness is not tied to achieving or having those things.
I’ve learned to be happy in my present moment and most importantly, with what I have. I’ve learned to appreciate all the little things that go right in my life, rather than focusing on the ones that don’t.
I have finally learned to count my blessings and part of living a grateful life is sharing this story with you.
The story, Acres of Diamonds told by Dr. Russell Conwell in 1869 has had a profound impact on my life and it beautifully conveys the power of the message I am trying to gift you.
There once lived not far from the River Indus an ancient Persian by the name of Ali Hafed. Ali owned a very big farm with orchards, grain fields, gardens, and streams. He was a wealthy and happy man. He was content because he was wealthy and wealthy because he was content.
The farmer Ali was visited one day by a Buddhist priest who told Ali tales of other farmers who had made millions by discovering diamonds.
“With one diamond of the size of your thumb, you could purchase the entire country and with a few more you could place your children upon thrones,” said the priest.
Greedy and excited Ali asked,
“How do I find these diamonds? I want to be immensely rich.”
The priest responded,
“Go and find a river that runs through white sands, between high mountains. In those white sands, you will always find diamonds.”
“I don’t believe there is such a river“ replied Ali.
“Oh yes, there are plenty of them. All you have to do is LOOK.”
That night Ali did not sleep. Suddenly he was unhappy and the wealth he had was no longer enough. So he sold his farm, collected his money, left his family in the care of a neighbor, and away he went in search of the diamonds that were sure to make him happier than he was.
He went far and wide in his search and found none. After years of search, he found himself penniless, exhausted and ashamed of his failure. He threw himself in the ocean to die.
Meanwhile, the man who purchased Ali’s farm one day led his camel into his gardens to enjoy the beauty of his new land. The camel stopped to drink water in the property’s river when Ali’s successor noticed a curious flash of light from the white sands of the stream – a big stone reflecting all the colors of the rainbow. It was the biggest diamond ever found and as he looked again, he saw that the river was filled with acres and acres of diamonds.
Like Ali, this happens to many of us, but in our case, the Buddhist priest comes in the form of a co-worker, a friend, a neighbor or even the media luring us into thinking that we can be happier if … and so we start the chase for that which we are told we need, should want and do not have.
Many of us are guilty of going off to search for what we already had. Ali sold his one and only possession in search for a bigger one. Little did he know that the gold he desired was right there before his eyes in the very land he had once owned.
It took me a long time to understand that true wealth is something we already have. Patience, wisdom, intelligence, compromise and appreciation are the magic ingredient to unlock our true wealth.
If you spend your days wishing for what others have, please stop. You may think that more money, another job, a bigger house, a better husband or a better wife will finally do the trick. You may think that someone richer than you is happier, but nobody knows what a person’s life is like behind closed doors.
Instead, spend more time appreciating what you have. Having more or less of something does not free you from problems. Some of the wealthiest people I know are the loneliest and unhappiest. In fact, many people who win the lottery quickly lose everything they have and end up even poorer than they once were.
As Conwell’s moral of the story says, before you go looking for greener pastures, make sure first that yours is not just as green or even greener. Stop wishing for what you think you don’t have and spend that time watering your own farm.
Learn to see ‘the gorilla’ in front of you and count your blessings. Instead of making a list for Santa of all the things you want, make a list of all the things you currently have that you are grateful for. Remember there is always going to be someone who has more than you, but also someone that has less.
While you spend time looking over someone else’s fence seeing how fortunate they are, remember that there is someone looking over your fence seeing how fortunate you are.
Don’t tie your happiness to getting what you think you don’t have. Don’t do what Ali did, or what I did. Don’t sell your farm seeking for diamonds elsewhere just to find out later that you were sitting on acres of diamonds all along.
I have finally learned to see and appreciate all the richness that I have. My mind no longer wanders to things I think I lack. I remind myself that I am already sitting on acres of diamonds that come in many shapes and forms.
My diamonds are my girls, my beautiful partner, my family and my friends. My acres of diamonds come in the health that I enjoy, the health of my loved ones. No quantity of wealth to be acquired can buy that.
So, in the spirit of this beautiful holiday season, become a diamond-miner. Spend time reflecting on your own richness and count your many blessings. You are standing in the middle of your own ‘acres of diamonds’ right now. Spend time nurturing your own ground before chasing and searching for greener pastures. Look no further than your own stream. It is in there that your diamonds await.
There are diamonds everywhere if you care to see them — a diamond for the roof you call home. A diamond for the person you love and who loves you back. A diamond for the family and friends you can count on.
A diamond for your strong and able body that allows you to walk, move and run. A diamond for waking up this morning. A diamond for the food on your table and the clothes you have to wear. A diamond for your eyes that gift you the sight to see the sunrise. A diamond for your hearing that allows you to hear your children’s giggle.
A diamond for each year you are alive to enjoy seeing your children grow and evolve. A diamond for your faith that keeps you strong. A diamond for your courage that helps you face your fears and last, but not least, a diamond for who you are and the legacy you chose to leave to those you love.
From my family to yours, we wish you a Happy Holiday Season and a prosperous, healthy New Year. My wish for you is that you grow to be as wealthy, happy and as lucky as I am. Open your eyes, notice all of your blessings, count each of your diamonds and when you are done, you will search no more —for you would know how truly wealthy you already are.