A Life of Meaning, Without Buying

There are great reasons to stop seeking externally for something we can only find within
By Leo Babauta
Leo Babauta
Leo Babauta
Leo Babauta is the author of six books and the writer of Zen Habits, a blog with over 2 million subscribers. Visit ZenHabits.net
July 31, 2021 Updated: July 31, 2021

Lately, I’ve been buying a lot of things: a nice watch, some cool folding knives, some tools, and outdoor gear. It’s fun!

But as I give in to these impulse purchases, I notice that the thrill doesn’t last that long, and it leaves me wanting more. And of course it dawns on me that this is a lesson I’ve learned a thousand times.

Buying things rarely gives me any kind of fulfillment.

When we buy something, it gives us a temporary boost—a bit of excitement, anticipation, some hope that it will give us something in our lives that feels missing. Maybe we hope the new purchase will help us to feel cool, capable, lovable, adventurous, fit, peaceful, connected, or find a sense of belonging. Maybe we think the purchase will help us achieve some goal or life change we’ve been struggling with.

The lesson I have to remember is that these things aren’t provided by purchases, other people, or anything outside of us. The lesson I often forget is that everything we’re looking for is inside of us.

We think it will be given to us by buying things—I certainly do—but whatever boost we get from that only lasts for a day or two.

The Fleeting Joy of Buying Something

When we buy something, we get an immediate boost. We’re hoping to get something from this purchase—not just the actual item, but the feeling it will give us, an improved experience of life.

The excitement continues with the anticipation of buying it or the item arriving. If we ordered it online, we might check the tracking page, or look on our front porch hoping to see the package.

Then it arrives and there’s a boost of joy. Maybe it lasts an hour. Maybe a day or two. On rare occasions, it might last a week. But it’s fleeting … and then we’re on to looking for the next purchase.

It’s a hamster wheel.

But that feeling we seek, that contentment, can’t be given to us by something external, because the thing we really hope for is something we create internally. So the habit of looking for it outside of ourselves is never fulfilling, and will never end as long as we keep hoping for an external solution.

A Wellspring of What We Really Want

What we really want can’t be found outside of us:

  • A sense of connection and belonging
  • A sense of fun, adventure, joy, or excitement
  • A sense of being good enough, lovable, desirable
  • Feeling fit, strong, or beautiful,
  • Feeling safe, secure, and stable
  • A feeling of peace and freedom

Where does that come from? We create it from within.

And our ability to create it is boundless and flowing, if we learn to tap into it.

Try it now.

Don’t worry if you aren’t perfect. Just try these steps and see if you get better at them over time.

Can you feel a sense of joy and gratitude for being alive right now?

Can you feel a sense of being connected to other beings who are going through something similar to what you’re going through in life right now?

Can you feel a sense of wholeness with the world around you, a sense of belonging in this moment?

Can you feel the freedom of being a part of the infinite, and the peace that comes from that sense of spacious freedom?

Can you feel love for yourself, and a sense of delight in who you are, a sense of deliciousness in your being?

If you can’t find these things inside of you, keep exploring. There’s a sense of adventure and play that can come from being curious about these experiences.

What can you find within you, right now?

Leo Babauta is the author of six books; the writer of Zen Habits, a blog with more than 2 million subscribers; and the creator of several online programs to help you master your habits. Visit ZenHabits.net

Leo Babauta
Leo Babauta
Leo Babauta is the author of six books and the writer of Zen Habits, a blog with over 2 million subscribers. Visit ZenHabits.net