There are three ways to live in the verbs to have, to do, and to be, and the priorities we put on them. Let’s play a game of arranging these verbs into triplets and see what we get:
- Do – Have – Be
- Have – Do – Be
- Be – Do – Have
The first ordering I call “the Puritan Ethic.” The second is “the Madison Avenue Approach.” And the third represents “the Spiritual Path.” Let’s look at each ordering to see what I mean.
Do – Have – Be represents the mindset that one has to do something (work) to have something (material things, character, position, power, etc.) so one can be happy. This mindset is a major impetus in American life. We are brought up with the idea that work is important. Why is it so important? In the Puritan Ethic, the first reason is that work “builds character.” The second reason is that work is necessary for survival. So we do work to have character and to survive, and then we can be happy.
Similar arguments apply if the doing is not to attain character and to survive but to gain power, influence, or fame. We do to have to be.
Have – Do – Be is a somewhat different mindset, also prevalent in America. Although it is compatible with the Puritan Ethic, it emphasizes having over doing. This Madison Avenue Approach emphasizes having (cars, big homes, appliances, TVs with hundreds of channels, and so on) so that you can do what you want (play, relax, have personal freedom, engage in exciting activities) so that you can be happy. Somewhere in Have – Do – Be lies the “American Dream.” Have a bigger house so you can spread out in spacious surroundings and you will be happy. Have a sleek, new car to do fast driving around country roads so you can be happy.
Then there is the radically different approach of Be – Do- Have. I call it “the Spiritual Path” because this way of living underlies many spiritual traditions. These traditions do not care what you do or what you have. Rather they emphasize what one is being.
Be – Do – Have says cultivate how you are being first. In the “right” or desired state of being—whether it is calmness, centeredness, acceptance, joy, or love—decide what to do. And what you do in this centered state will create things worth having—material things of beauty and precision, harmonious relationships, works of art, or greater knowledge about our world.
There are other good reasons to live by Be – Do – Have as well. First, one creates at the beginning of the process what the Puritan Ethic and the Madison Avenue Approach seek at the end of their processes—happiness. If one cultivates acceptance, calmness, centeredness, joy, or love, one is happy before any doing or having. Happiness is not the end but the beginning of the process.
The second reason is that beginning with doing or having only creates happiness temporarily. One has to keeping doing or having again and again to produce the sought-after happiness. If one makes happiness the starting point, it is more enduring as one acts and creates from it.
Certainly there is discipline involved in creating happiness at the beginning of the process. It lies in psychological and spiritual practices that allow us to release, relax, and accept life on its own terms. There are many ways to do this once one has the mindset that being is the highest priority. Everything from a walk to decompress, journaling, or a talk with a friend, to practices of looking on the bright side, stopping negative thoughts, and being grateful, to prayer, meditation, and yoga are things that cultivate a higher state of being.
You know when you are in this state. You are either calm or centered on the one hand, or excited, joyful or feeling “tapped into” life on the other. From this place, you can better decide on the doing and the having than putting these other things first.
This is Glenn Stevenson with Self Sense Counseling and Coaching, until next month wishing you great being before you start doing or having.