Can you count how many things there aren’t in the world?

Can you count how many things there aren’t in the world? There isn’t a frog that speaks Japanese. There isn’t a machine that lets us experience anything we want to experience. There isn’t a 50m tall human being. I’ve counted up to 3 so far. While I actually made them up and checked that they don’t exist, I believe it’s safe to say they are non-existent in this world as of today. There are many more things that don’t exist, too. Indeed, I’m not sure how many there are — or rather, how many there aren’t.

But I bet… A lot. A countless number of them.

The examples I mentioned above are quite fancy, but note that non-existent things can be more ordinary like a car. If you want a car, but don’t have it, there is a car that doesn’t belong to you (if anything can belong to anything else at all). You could list up things that you want, but you don’t have. Then you could count how many of them there are on the list. Some of you might have a million things on the list, while others might have only a few things on the list. The thing is, there could be infinitely many things that you don’t have.

Now, how about things you have? Even if you have a lot of things and it is tiring to count them all, the number of things you have is limited unlike the list of things you don’t have.

So, the limited number of things you have vs. the (almost) unlimited number of things you don’t have. If a battle is to be fought between these two, what happens?

Let’s say you’re unhappy about what you have and tend to want a lot of things that are much better than what you already have in your view.

The bad news is that what you have seems to have no chance of winning over what you don’t have in terms of quantity. Your list of what you don’t have keeps growing, fueled by your strong desires. You might get frustrated by the fact you don’t have things you want, and that sucks.

The good news is that when it comes to quality, what you have is so much better than what you don’t have. Suppose you have a bowl of rice in front of you and you don’t have a slice of bread. If you eat the rice, you’ll have the rice eating experience (e.g. it gets you full and if you like rice, you’ll enjoy it etc.). But you can’t even try eating a slice of bread that isn’t there. The non-existent bread won’t give you anything. You might get grumpy for the bread not being there, but why should you when you can eat what you do have and enjoy it?

This piece is more like a rant than an argument, but in short, my point is simply: appreciate what you have and stop worrying about what you don’t have.

I’m somewhat intrigued by the idea of ownership and I’m inclined to think that what we can really own privately is our conscious experiences and that’s all. You can’t have my experience of seeing the blue sky at a certain time and place just as I can’t have your experience of seeing the blue sky at the same time and place. This thought leads me to want to appreciate my experiences that occur each moment.

Oh, and each moment seems to be unique in the sense that a moment that’s happening right now had never happened before and will never happen again. This moment is what I have at this moment. That moment is what I have at that moment. I don’t want to miss the beat of this moment by thinking about that moment.


Image: Robbert van der Steeg