Freddie Mercury, the larger than life lead singer for Queen, said
The bigger the better; in everything.
With all due respect to Freddie, and I have LOT of respect for him, I’m not so sure about this one. When size is the prize, nothing is ever big enough.
The bigger is better mindset is one of the greatest myths, sold to us by people who make money out of our insatiable desires born of deep seated insecurity.
So what’s the alternative? Do you have to shrink your ambition and vision to get life back into balance?
Some things you want to be big, like courage and imagination. It’s like the saying, “Don’t shrink your dreams. Super size your courage.” So how do you find the balance between big and small things?
A teenage girl was struggling with teenage issues. Her parents wanted her to learn about life and find some inner peace, so they sent her to have the experience of a lifetime. She travelled for two days before arriving at the most amazing mansion, high atop a mountain. Legend had that it one of the wisest people to ever live owned the mansion.
She entered the mansion and found a castle full of the most amazing activity; master gardeners, craftspeople, more books than she’s ever seen before, orchestras playing in rooms filled with incredible food. She waited her turn and eventually had her interview with the wise man. She explained why she was there and said she was looking for the secret to happiness.
He said to her, “Go and walk around the house. See what you see and come back to me in two hours. Just one thing- take this spoon, put two drops of oil on it and don’t spill the oil.”
She started walking carefully around the mansion, up and down ornate staircases and through busy corridors. She kept her eyes focused on the spoon. Exhausted after two hours of intense concentration, she returned to the wise man.
“Well,” he said, “Did you enjoy what you saw?”
She said, “I saw nothing. All I did was focus on the spoon and not spilling the oil.”
“So you didn’t see the amazing Persian rugs on the wall, or the incredible gardens tended by the finest gardeners in the world, or the exotic collection of books and ancient parchments….?”
“No!” she said, “I just looked at the spoon.”
“Go again,” he said, “and this time take it all in. Then come back and see me in two hours.”
This time, she was captivated by what she saw. The art work, the view, the variety of foods. She was so entranced by what she experienced that she didn’t even notice that she had spilled the oil and put the spoon down on a table while filling her plate. After two hours, she went back and told the wise man in great detail what she’d seen.
“But where are the drops of oil?” asked the wise man.
She realized that the spoon and the oil were gone.
“There is only one piece of advice I can give to you” said the wise men. “The secret of happiness is to experience all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon.”
Think big, AND stay mindful. See yourself as part of an incredible world where there is always more to experience AND focus on the small moments of joy and connection right in front of you.
Remember how large your inner capacity is for love and perseverance and creating spectacular things, AND know that often this large capacity manifests in beautifully small ways. Inner peace is the biggest thing, and it leads to happiness.
E F Schumacher’s book Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered was voted one of the 100 most influential books published since World War II. It offers some awesome ways to re-frame size and goals. While we tend to think that consumption is an end in itself, he says well-being is the end and consumption is just a means to that end. So, we should aim for maximum well-being with minimum consumption. This is a great definition of “enough”- enough things to maximize your well-being, but no more. As soon as you have more than enough, the need to strive to maintain the lifestyle takes over from the initial goal, which is well-being. In that case, it’s the size of our insecurity that drives our lifestyle rather than the level of well-being.
In the end, the bigger is better mindset demands so much and offers so little.
Imagine getting this balance right. It requires a large sense of self to let go of the insecurities in order to appreciate the small beauty that surrounds you. The less craving there is, the more time and energy you have for activities that build your well-being.
Dare yourself to let go of your attachments to things and claim what you really want anyway. As Schumacher says in the book,
Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.