How to Want What You Have – Discovering the Magic and Grandeur of Ordinary Existence by Timothy Miller

I first read How to Want What You Have many years ago, and I remember being incredibly excited by it. Miller’s advice for practicing compassion, attention, and gratitude has stuck with me since. Upon re-reading it, however, I noticed a subtle dogmatic preference for Cognitive Therapy that turned me off just a little. Don’t get me wrong, I have loved and used Cognitive Therapy in my own life ever since I discovered it in David D. Burns’ Feeling Good. But I’ve also found other methodologies like Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Behavior Therapy, and Positive Psychology to be scientifically rigorous and just as effective. Whether a function of bias or simply the fact that a lot of progress has been made in these other areas in the 10 years since its publication, Miller’s book seems to rely too strongly on Cognitive Therapy–at the seeming exclusion of other strategies.

That said, How to Want What You Have is an excellent book, and very effective in helping this reader want what he has. The idea that the secret to happiness is to want what you have is not new and may seem a bit trite. Miller acknowledges right in the preface that “this idea, by itself, is useless.” The book is his attempt to make this idea of wanting what we have livable in our modern society.

The book is broken into three parts. The first part is an explanation of Miller’s basic premises: that it is our natural instinct to always want a little more wealth, status, and love; this insatiable desire for more is “the fundamental cause of needless suffering”; and the continuous practice of compassion, attention, and gratitude is the equivalent of wanting what you have. The second part of the book describes in detail exactly how use Cognitive Therapy to practice compassion, attention, and gratitude. This section requires desire and commitment from the reader. If you’ve never used Cognitive Therapy techniques before, you may be skeptical of their effectiveness given their apparent simplicity. Don’t be fooled. Make a genuine effort and you will see positive results very quickly. The third part of the book ties everything together, illustrating how the three practices of compassion, attention, and gratitude feed each other, and offering real world examples of how to apply these principles in difficult situations. Included is a section on reconciling ambition with the practice of wanting what you have, and a section addressing modern moral dilemmas and guidelines consistent with the principles of compassion, attention, and gratitude.

Unfortunately, How to Want What You Have is no longer in print. What does that say about our consumer-driven society, I wonder. Fortunately, the internet makes it relatively easy to find used copies for sale. I urge anyone who wants a greater feeling of fulfillment to read this book and practice the techniques within every day.


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