Photo of house by Hauke Irrgang on Unsplash

When we focus on what we don’t have, we lose appreciation for what we do


By Tracy Simmons

I’m writing this week’s column from my dream house.

It’s a refurbished farmhouse with a barn and guest cottage on a wooded 3-acre property with a stream running gently behind the back deck. The only chatter is the woodpeckers calling to each other and the only light is from the brilliant, unpolluted stars.

When we first pulled up the drive to this white home with its distinct red roof, I felt happy, grateful to have a few vacation days at this enchanted place. But soon – alarmingly soon – my thankfulness turned into desire.

I looked the house up on Zillow to see how much it last sold for. And for what purpose? I can’t move to the Olympic Peninsula and buy this exact house, even if I could afford it. And what would I do with a barn and a cottage?

After a couple of days my desire turned to self-pity. “I’ll never be able to live in a house like this,” I told myself. “Some people are so lucky.” I could feel my attitude sinking and the jealousy rising up. Instead of enjoying the gift of a few days in this dream space, I was focusing on what I couldn’t have.

Every morning in my email I get a newsletter called “Tiny Buddha,” which sends out stories with great quotes and tips all with the mission to “help us help ourselves and each other.” Today’s column was about letting go of expectations, and although the article was about the writer’s family experience, it resonated with me. It included a quote from an unknown source, which reads, “What will mess you up most in life is the picture in your head of how it’s supposed to be.”

The timing for me to read that was perfect. I had crafted a vision in my head of what my life should be like, instead of noticing how incredible it is already.

I’m a dreamer, always have been. Growing up I dreamed of breaking free of the chains of the cult I grew up in. I dreamed of meeting my dad, getting a college degree, moving someplace beautiful and becoming a journalist and professor.

There’s nothing wrong with such aspirations, but until I sat down to write this column in this dream kitchen in this dream house, I had forgotten those ambitions.

I have to remind myself sometimes that being discontented (unsatisfied) is different from complacency (settling).

I reached my goals, but somewhere along the way I became discontented with what I had achieved. Now I wanted more. I want more money, more house, more property.

By always wanting the next thing, we can’t appreciate what we have right now. The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said it many centuries ago: “He who is content is rich.”

But how do we find, and stay, content? For me, it’s a practice. I have to be intentional about catching myself in those self-pity moments, like I did here at this house, and remember just how much I have to be grateful for. I have to recognize and appreciate all the little things that give me big joy each day.

My Uncle Conner sets a good example for me on how to do this. No matter how busy he is, he can stop and look up at the sky to watch birds soar overhead and say, “Isn’t that amazing?”

I think when I get back to Spokane, I’ll pause to take in the ponderosas peppered throughout my neighborhood, unlock my front door, walk out to greet my chickens, and take a moment to be give thanks for the dream home, and life, I’d forgotten I had.

This column was published in collaboration with the Spokesman-Review.

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