This post is inspired by a talk given by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the god-father of mindfulness (link at end), in which he said: “As long as you’re breathing, there’s more right with you than wrong with you”. Breathing, aka being alive, is the most simplistic, basic way of viewing ourselves and our success at this strange thing called living. This is what I’m calling the ‘bottom-up approach’.

The reality is, however, that many of us have unconsciously adopted the ‘top-down approach’. We look at all the things we could possibly be or have and we set our benchmark for success and contentment there. Then we work backwards to either work out how we’ll get there and/or examine where we’re at right now and berate ourselves for not having or being good enough.

Where could our starting point be?


  • 4 bedroom house in nice area with good transport links, plenty of space and a garden
  • Excellent, loving relationship with partner
  • Lovely, well-behaved, healthy children
  • Financially secure with perhaps some spare cashola for dinners/holidays/clothes/SUV
  • Fulfilling work doing something we’re passionate about and that pays enough for aforementioned SUV
  • In control of ourselves, our emotions and our life – #sorted, #gotourshittogether
  • Six pack


  • Breathing
  • Clean drinking water
  • Roof over head
  • Bed to sleep on
  • Food on table
  • Some connection with others

Where do we end up?


  • Discontent because we aren’t/can’t always/ever meet our perceived and made-up requirements
  • Discontent because some things (primarily behaviour of children) are out of our control
  • Discontent because we’re running ourselves ragged trying to get/sustain all these things
  • Discontent because we can’t tolerate imperfection
  • Discontent because we never feel ‘good enough’
  • Discontent because we never stop to feel grateful for what we already have
  • Discontent because we don’t have time/energy/interest for real human connection


  • Content
  • Grateful
  • Enough

The reality of what’s possible

In one hand, with one eye and with one ear we want to be able to hold, look at and tune in to what we already have. Experience it fully and feel gratitude for it.

In the other hand, with the other eye and the other ear, we want to find and pursue meaningful ways in which we can grow and enhance our experience of life. This may include buying an SUV, but that will be a conscious choice.

We certainly won’t work in a job, that we don’t like, in order to earn money, to buy stuff, that we don’t really value or need. All because someone, somewhere, somehow injected us with a belief that this is what we ‘should’ be doing.

Closing thoughts

Being present and wanting more – to grow – are not mutually exclusive. We can have both. We can pursue and enjoy both, simultaneously.

But if we start from the bottom-up, as opposed to the top-down, then we grow from a place of humility and gratitude. We’re more inclined to make very conscious choices about what we really want and need. Rather than sleepwalking through and grasping for things which don’t, ultimately, hold true value for us.

And if you recognise that you’re stuck in the top-down view of life and you like the sound of switching to a bottom-up gratitude-filled way of living, then I can help you achieve that shift in your thinking and help you find more contentment.

Click here and it can all begin with a chat.


Link: Jon Kabat Zinn – Action for Happiness lecture 2013