When I was a young(er) man, nothing seemed good enough.
I was discontent. I always longed for more. I never felt satisfied.
My motto might as well have been:
“I can’t get no, oh, no, no, no, hey, hey, hey
That’s what I say
I can’t get no:
Life was on all accounts good back then.
I’d moved out of home (away from my father’s alcoholism and family problems). I was in a happy, healthy relationship. And I was travelling England on stage.
But in my young, naïve, and ignorant mind the stages weren’t big enough, the home I’d moved into wasn’t fancy enough, and my girlfriend (ah, let’s not go there).
I was blind back then. Spiritually blind. I thought my unhappiness was the fault of everyone else. I didn’t see that I was creating my own unhappiness and my own dissatisfaction.
Later in life I would learn to be happy even though I had far less. The drought in my bank account didn’t stress me. My unemployed status was no cause for alarm. My student loan was a triviality. Because even though situations were not favorable, my mind was in the right place.
The universe taught me a valuable life lesson: dissatisfaction is a state of mind. Happiness, unhappiness, content, discontent, they are all mental phenomena.
The trick to feeling satisfied and content in life is not to have more. The trick is to find panna (wisdom), to stop tanha (craving) and to train the mind to be appreciative of the present moment whatever that moment may be.
It is a challenge to live that enlightened way.
It’s a challenge because both society and evolution demand a level of dissatisfaction.
Society is designed to make us feel discontent and unhappy
Discontentment is the emotional gas that society’s engine runs on.
The reasons the unenlightened bust their butts working too hard is so that they can afford the things that society tells them they need.
It’s a well-oiled machine.
That Travelocity advert made you want to take a vacation to India. That requires money. So you work your butt off to get the money. Tax-man takes a lot of it. You work so hard that you need to buy things just to relax to undo the damage work has done. So there the average person stays, working hard to afford things, becoming ill with stress, never quite managing to be satisfied.
Because people are not satisfied they constantly strive for more.
Striving means working.
Working towards what?
Working towards whatever society dictates.
Society intentionally creates dissatisfaction while always promising that satisfaction is just around the corner. This turns a person into a slave. The one-percent win.
What would happen if people were actually satisfied with less?
They would work only as far as meets their actual needs.
That, incidentally, is precisely what a lot of enlightened people (like the yogis and the meditation teachers of this world) do. They find genuine spiritual contentment so they don’t feel a need to strive for material possessions. And they sure as hell do not care about their job title, because they are truly happy deep down in a way most people never experience. They have let go of things in order to create inner peace.
Constantly striving creates unhappiness and dissatisfaction.
Buddhism could change all that.
Buddhism is about creating contentment with what we have, acceptance off the way our lives are right now.
That’s why so many people are drawn to Buddhism. It’s also why the one-percent fear Buddhism. Because it is much harder to control people who are genuinely happy and content.
One way Buddhism creates contentment and satisfaction in life is through mindfulness.
Robert Wright, an author who teaches about the link between religion and evolutionary biology, says, “I think of mindfulness meditation as almost a rebellion against natural selection. Natural selection is the process that created us. It gave us our values. It sets our agenda, and Buddhism says, ‘We don’t have to play this game.”
Wright’s book Why Buddhism Is Right teaches about how Buddhism creates contentment. I highly recommend reading it.
The problem is that discontent is sewed into the fabric of nature and society.
Why so many people are dissatisfied and unhappy
Nature and society demand that man never be permanently satisfied.
Think about sex.
For the species to evolve we need to procreate. The more we procreate the more likely it is that the population will increase. An increase in population causes more diversity in the human genome. That in turn equals faster evolution. That’s why sex naturally relates to evolution.
What would happen if we made love once and were content forevermore?
There would be a serious decrease in population and, if this were to continue indefinitely, we would soon be extinct (unless every procreation led to child birth—unlikely).
When we make love, we are satisfied for a time. But satisfaction runs out. Then we need to do it again. And so, we repeat the same action, which leads to births and evolution.
Dissatisfaction actually generates evolution.
Society demands evolution too.
Societal evolution is generated through dissatisfaction too. We want more so we work harder. By working we help the system to evolve (unfortunately the system evolves in the wrong direction—but that’s an argument for a different article).
Dissatisfaction breeds evolution.
So there is an important role in dissatisfaction, especially as pertains to nature.
Problem is that human dissatisfaction is enabling the one-percent to manipulate most people.
People are intentionally kept unhappy and dissatisfied so that they work towards the betterment not of society as a whole but of the one percent who have power.
Buddhism will change this.
What Buddhism teaches about dissatisfaction
When the Buddha reached enlightenment, he gave a sermon. In this sermon he stated that one of the chief causes of human suffering is that happiness and satisfaction do not last. We feel good for a time, but it runs out.
This matches psychology.
Psychology teaches that not only does satisfaction run out, but we actually sense when we are going to become dissatisfied and we feel stressed about the upcoming low.
Buddha used the word “dukkha” for suffering and dissatisfaction. And he related dissatisfaction to a disease.
Buddha taught that if we are to cure disease we must first understand the nature of the disease.
How do we understand unhappiness and dissatisfaction?
Firstly, dissatisfaction and unhappiness are universal. They happen to all of us and frequently.
Secondly, when we experience dissatisfaction we look for reasons for it. We say, “I am unhappy because I lost my job” instead of just “I am experiencing unhappiness.”
The first rule for dealing with unhappiness and dissatisfaction is to observe it in its pure state (to accept it as it is without looking for an explanation).
Buddha also found the root-causes of dukkha.
Dukkha /dissatisfaction is caused by life cycle, change, and a lack of control.
- Lifecycle: The stages of birth, illness, death and so on.
- Change: The mind likes stability (which appears safe) and fears change. But change is a vital and omnipresent part of life.
- Lack of control: This relates to change. Simply put, we do not like being powerless to circumstances.
The enlightened person knows that they cannot control these things. They are a part of reality. They aren’t going anywhere.
The key to handling unhappiness and dissatisfactions to use the mind to change our perception of things.
Mindfulness is key (read: The Ultimate Guide To Mindfulness)
When we are mindful we perceive things precisely as they are (no more, no less, just what is).
Normally, we judge things as good or bad, and we ascribe reasons to them (“I’m worried, so something must be wrong). Mindful people simply observe what is (“This is a sensation of worrying and nothing more.”).
Mindfulness is like cutting off phenomena at the source. Normally we experience a sensation (joy, for instance). We then judge it (“This feels good”). We then give reasons for is (“I feel joy because I just got promoted”). This creates a tangled web in the mind that prevents us from simply appreciating things as they are. What was joy has suddenly become a huge web of thoughts and imaginings.
Enlightened people do not do this. Instead, they are mindful.
Mindfulness simply says, “This is joy.”
There is beauty in this simplicity.
Many psychological studies have proven that naming emotions in this way gives us power over them, because we come to recognise the true nature of things and we limit emotions to the perceptions that they are.
So mindfulness is one way to stop feeling dissatisfied (experiencing dukkha).
There are other Buddhist methods for this too.
Here are 5 of the best.
5 Buddhist Techniques Enlightened People Use To Stop Dissatisfaction
- Enlightened people perceive dissatisfaction and unhappiness in their purest states
One of the root causes of all suffering and dissatisfaction is the simple fact that the mind does not interpret things for what they are. We imagine. We exaggerate. We judge.
I’ve mentioned this above.
When we experience an emotion (“excitement”) we judge it (good) and look for reasons for it (“because I just booked a vacation to that meditation retreat”) and by the time the mind has finished this auto-piloting we have lost sight of reality.
Emotion is emotion. Happiness is happiness. Unhappiness is unhappiness. Dissatisfaction is dissatisfaction. It’s all just a feeling and nothing more.
When we train the mind to see emotions for what they are, we gain emotional control.
- Express gratitude for the present moment
When we feel dissatisfied we judge the present moment as not being good enough.
This single judgement pulls us out of the present moment.
The moment we think “This moment isn’t good enough” we start looking for another moment. This separates body from mind because the mind journeys off in search of a better moment while the body is locked in the present moment.
One enlightened strategy to stop dissatisfaction is to express gratitude for the present moment.
There is always something to be grateful for. Enlightened people zero-in on the sources of gratitude and express their gratefulness. This trains the mind to be happy in the present moment.
- Understand and accept dukkha
By understanding the nature of dukkha we gain wisdom (panna).
The simple act of understanding what suffering is gives the intellectual insight we need. When we understand, we become less afraid of negative emotions. We become less reactive. We are more able to keep our calm.
So what are the different kinds of dukkha (suffering)?
Dukkha-dukkha: the dukkha of painful experiences (mental and physical).
Viparinama-dukkha: the dukkha of change, which includes being unhappy because you’re not getting what you want.
Sankhara-dukkha: this is basic dissatisfaction pervading all things. This is similar to the feeling that things are never as good as we expect them to be. (if you experience this state, you will probably want to read my guide Spiritual Reasons To Chill Out And Stop Expecting Too Much)
By understanding these dukkha and gaining wisdom (panna) we are then able to label dukkha (which is beneficial for the reasons we discussed above in point #1).
- Take the middle way (majjhima patipada) to develop panna (wisdom)
The root cause of dukkha is ignorance, and the cure for ignorance is wisdom.
To cultivate wisdom, we practice the Noble Eightfold path: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.
This path is what Buddha calls the “middle way” (majjhima patipada).
The middle way is the way between two ignorant ways. The first is the ignorance through which we try to drown out unhappiness by constantly indulging. The second is when we self-mortify in a (fruitless) effort to gain liberation.
I always think of the Noble Eightfold Path as the healthy, balanced way, because it is the path by which we act healthily towards ourselves, meeting our needs without indulging, and refusing excess but not mortifying.
This is the path that leads to enlightenment and Nibbana.
My guide to achieving enlightenment explains more of this.
- Trace the route causes of Tanha (dissatisfaction and unhappiness).
Dissatisfaction and unhappiness have beginnings. By tracing the dissatisfaction / unhappiness back to its root we can weed it out of the mind.
The root cause of suffering is Tanha, which is basically craving.
To give a modern day example of tanha: you see your neighbour driving a ne Mercedez when you’re in a clapped-out old banger (pardon my British slang). You feel dissatisfied because you want to be in the Merrcedez. This Tanha then develops as you feel dissatisfied with the other things you have, thinking them not good enough.
Wind it back.
Trace dissatisfaction back to the root of tanha (trace back to when you started feeling dissatisfied). Once you hit the seed of dukkha, change it. Look at the situation in a new light. Change your perceptions about the cause of your suffering. This is like the saying “cutting the head off the snake” (do not cut the head off of any snakes though—they are beautiful, magical creatures).
These Buddhist techniques help train the mind to stop dissatisfaction and to be happy with what we have.
Let me know how you get on with these.
Write a comment below.