Growing up I read a kid’s book called, “When You Give a Mouse a Cookie”. In it a mouse asks its owner for a cookie. The owner complied. Then the mouse wanted a glass of milk to accompany the cookie. Next, he wants a napkin. That doesn’t sound too ridiculous yet now does it? But the book continues. The mouse asks for more and more and more and more. Eventually the mouse gets pretty annoying to the reader. He has about everything he could dream of and he still wants more.
In my book I wrote about how, in Jr. High School, my friends and I often frequented the mall. I had to work really hard for my money and was only allowed to spend 80% (10% went to tithing and 10% to savings). It was extremely difficult for me to buy new clothes every weekend so sometimes I had to work for weeks to buy something I wanted.
It was interesting to me to realize one day that each time I went to the mall to buy something I had been saving for, I would leave the mall wanting something else. Instead of being happy about my purchase, I would begin—and not stop thinking about that next item until I had it. I NEVER left the mall satisfied. It was then that I realized and was shocked at what I’d become. I was that annoying mouse in the book!
I was always thinking about what I wanted next and I was never content with what I had (at least not for long). I wasn’t happy in this cycle. My incessant wanting and longing to buy, buy, buy was creating a feeling of emptiness as I was always focusing on what I lacked. I stopped myself, corrected course and became much happier.
I’ve noticed that people who always want to buy more can be very hard on spouses, parents, and friends. It is exhausting and at times even harmful for spouses to be married to someone who always wants, is never content, and who constantly spends money or begs to buy more. It is unattractive to date someone in a mountain of consumer debt which was spent on frivolous things—with no end in sight. It is tough on parents when their children never let up about the things they want to have. This is a problem that not only consumes the one who has it, but it drains those who are around them.
So how does someone with the mouse-cookie-complex stop themselves from always wanting more? People who are always wanting more can be compared to a river which is raging down a steep slope. The way to stop a river would be to build a dam. The river is the never-ending constant obsession to attain more. The dam is a dam of gratitude and contentment. By practicing gratitude and contentment you can stop the river of wants.
If the mouse would’ve taken a step back and actually enjoyed the cookie he was eating and realized that he was rather lucky to be given a full size cookie as a tiny mouse, he could’ve felt content. Instead of focusing on what he wanted he would have savored his cookie and been happy.
If you are one who is always needing more start by changing your thoughts. Next time you think, “Those shoes are amazing, I have to have those shoes”. Think to yourself, “Wow I sure am lucky to have multiple pairs of comfortable shoes. I have brown shoes, black shoes, white shoes, and shoes of different colors. I have nice boots, flip flops, and a couple of tennis shoes. I have slippers, snow/rain boots, and a variety of comfortable socks which keep my feet warm, dry, and protected. I’m one of the few in the world that has 10+ pairs of shoes and unlike most in the world, I don’t even have to wear them the majority of the time because most homes and buildings I live and work in have soft carpet and/or clean floors. I’m really so blessed to not be forced to walk barefoot on scalding sand, or make do with ill-fitting donated shoes or worn through soles like many who live in developing countries do. Wow isn’t it amazing that I walk everyday all day long and don’t even have to think about the comfort of my feet?”
Next time you are convinced you need a new upgrade to your vehicle or a nicer car think to yourself, “Isn’t it a true modern miracle that I can put a key into the ignition of my car and it starts and gets me from point A to point B with ease? I have heat and A/C to regulate the temperature, a radio that plays a variety of music for entertainment. My vehicle has shocks that keep the ride comfortable, padded seats which add even more comfort, and a windshield that protects me from bugs and rain. I have the ability to drive 65 mph on a smooth interstate and go the distance that no one in past history could have gone in a day in just a few minutes of time. I wonder what it would have been like traveling on horse or buggy? I bet it was pretty time consuming taking care of the horses and fairly uncomfortable to hit rocks and pot holes all the time in those shock-less buggies. Even now, so many in the world don’t even have a vehicle to drive. I am so grateful for my car!”
All of the sudden your focus goes from lack to abundance. You were feeling empty because you didn’t have something you were convinced you needed and then by shifting your focus you begin to feel full and happy counting the things you are blessed with.
Of course we have to shop for food, clothes, etc. to maintain life. Buying things that are true needs and modest wants is completely necessary to live a good life. I frequently write blog posts about how to buy items you need and would like for a great deal. To be clear that what I’m referring to as the mouse-cookie-complex is an out-of-control-habit that consists of incessant wants, shopping, spending, and an attitude of always needing something else. It is the focus of what one lacks and is the absence of appreciating what a one has.
As one who has recovered from the mouse-cookie-complex, I can tell you that using thoughts of gratitude does work! This is what I did and what I still do to help tame my wants, to remind myself that my life is really actually quite blessed and full—even without that certain something I think I need at the moment.
So if you are a river of constant wants and never a dam of contentment it is time to change. Start now to kick this destructive habit which will not make you happy and can annoy and hurt those around you. Become grateful, master the art of contentment, and start feeling full instead of empty.