How to cultivate an abundance mindset
Author’s note: This post was originally posted on November 5, 2022. It has been updated and republished.
Recently, I wrote about the scarcity mindset: a zero-sum way of seeing the world that makes it hard to find joy. Scarcity mindset teaches us that there’s a limited amount of good stuff in the world, and everything we want in life must come at a cost to someone else. It elevates competition over collaboration, hoarding over sharing.
The scarcity mindset claims to be “the way things are” — a true reflection of the constraints that exist in the world. But look a little deeper, and we find that scarcity is more often imposed than natural. It’s pervasive form of conditioning that trains us to see the world through a lens of insufficiency.
But we don’t have to live this way. We can choose to create an abundance mindset: to understand that life is not a zero-sum game, that our every joy does not have to come from another’s loss, that there is more than enough to go around.
How to Cultivate an Abundance Mindset
It’s one thing to say this, though, and another to actually believe it. Unlearning a scarcity mindset doesn’t happen overnight and neither does creating an abundance mentality. I’ve been working at it for years, and I’m still working on it. Because it’s such an entrenched way of thinking in our society, scarcity often sneaks into daily interactions. So I thought it might help to share how to develop an abundance mindset: simple shifts and practices that can help you reframe your thinking.
Embrace the act of gratitude (the right kind)
One of the things that keeps us stuck in a scarcity mentality is that it’s so easy to think about what we don’t have, and so hard to remember all that we do. Focusing on gratitude helps tip the scales back in the other direction, focusing your attention on the abundance that already exists in your life.
As you practice gratitude for the things in your life, the joy you find in those things increases. This builds a foundation for an abundance mindset, because it lets you come from a place of already having abundance, as opposed to coming from a place of lack and insufficiency.
One note of caution here: expressing gratitude doesn’t mean you have to pretend that everything is perfect in your life, or that you should feel guilty for having anything but a positive mindset.
This toxic gratitude often comes in a shaming voice that sounds like:
“Unhappy in your job? Be grateful you have a job!”
“Angry at your parents for violating your boundaries? You should be grateful that they care so much about you.”
“Feeling like you need to get out of a bad relationship? Be grateful you have such a great father for your kids!”
This “gratitude” doesn’t cultivate abundance. It’s actually the scarcity mindset in disguise, telling you that there isn’t enough to go around, so you should feel lucky that you have anything at all. When you’re practicing gratitude, it’s ok to acknowledge that life isn’t perfect. And it’s ok to recognize that you have things others might be grateful for, but aren’t right for you. These admissions only clarify and deepen the genuine gratitude you have for the things you truly love in your life.
There are lots of ways to practice gratitude, from journaling to writing letters of thanks to people who have helped you in the past. One of my favorites is to do it aloud, with your partner or a friend. Albert often asks me, “What are three things you’re grateful for this weekend?” and we take turns sharing. This simple question is a low-pressure way to make gratitude a regular part of your routine.
Give from the heart
Giving is a practice of abundance. It tells your mind, “I have enough to spare that I can give this to someone else.” Whether you’re giving a generous tip or donating to a cause you care about or bringing cookies to a neighbor, giving helps override the scarcity mindset’s inclination to hoard the good things in life.
For many people with an entrenched scarcity mindset, generosity can feel like a virtue that’s hard to access. You may wonder why it seems so easy for others to be generous and why you struggle so much with it. The reason could be that at some point in your life, you didn’t get enough of what you needed (food, attention, or even love), and the impulse to hoard is an attempt to fill this hole. If this sounds familiar, small, frequent gifts can be a way to remind this part of your unconscious that you’re an adult, that you can take care of yourself, and you don’t have to worry about not having enough.
To find ways to give that feel meaningful, take note of when others’ generosity toward you has really mattered. For example, I was blown away by some of the baby gifts we received during the pandemic, from people who were not especially close to us. It made me feel so loved in such a hard time. Sending baby gifts now feels like a chance to channel that love and share it with others.
Stop chasing status
Here’s one characteristic of people with an abundance mindset: they don’t chase status. Let me explain why.
Status is conferred by awards and accolades, membership in exclusive clubs, endorsements by powerful people, or approval by the masses. People play status games to gain power and influence within systems of scarcity. Harvard admissions is a status game. The bestseller list is a status game. Titles within corporations are status games. Celebrity is obviously a total status game. Status games are incredibly addicting because we have been conditioned to associate status with worth. Status feels like a shiny gold star of approval.
But status is inherently a scarcity game. There is no such thing as status without a hierarchy. So to have status means that others need to have less status. They need to be less influential, less powerful. And herein lies the rub: status is never secure. Anytime you have status, you are at risk of losing it. Publish a bestselling debut book and your second book is a flop? You’ve lost status. Marry the most eligible bachelor who later turns out to gamble away all your money? You’ve lost status. Not to mention that even when you have status, there will always be someone else with a higher status. Status is incredibly fickle.
So if status shouldn’t be your gold-standard, what should? Don’t worry, I’m getting to that…
Pursue wealth instead
Instead of status, set goals that focus on wealth. You know how I said status is fickle? Well wealth doesn’t depend on anyone else’s approval.
Here’s how you can distinguish the two: Status reflects your place in the social hierarchy. Wealth is having enough resources (money, health, connections, etc.) to live the life you want to live. (Credit to Naval Ravikant for this distinction.)
Your definition of wealth might look different from others. You might feel you need millions to be wealthy. You might feel wealthy if you have enough to control my time and the things you get to work on. Another person’s definition of wealth might be about living in a small cabin in the woods and fishing all day — not having much in the way of material goods, but access to the wealth of nature.
Wealth is a state of true abundance because it doesn’t require someone else to be less wealthy in order for you to have it.
(Again, I have to put the billionaire caveat in — unless your definition of wealth is so extreme that you make it impossible for most people to achieve it for themselves. But this is not most people’s desire.) There aren’t a fixed number of spots. There’s no “best.”
As someone who was raised to chase awards and praise and see official approval as a sign of success, I’ve found this shift to be a profound one. It has relieved a ton of pressure, and allowed me to focus on doing work that really matters to me rather than what’s seen as most prestigious. It allows me to be truly happy when others succeed in their careers, because I truly don’t feel like I’m in competition with them. I don’t feel like we’re playing some win-lose game; we’re each playing our own games.
It’s not to say that status will never enter the conversation.
You may still want to win an award or be recognized by a certain powerful someone. But it becomes a means to an end, rather than a goal in itself. So for example, you might want to be published in the New York Times. If you’re imagining how good it will feel to put “published in the New York Times” on your website and tell people about it, that’s a status motivation, and not achieving the goal feels like failure.
But if you’re thinking about getting published as a way to build your business, which will help you retire early so you can spend more time with your grandkids, that’s a wealth motivation. The benefit of a wealth orientation is that there are always multiple ways to go about reaching the goal. If you don’t get published in the Times, you can get published somewhere else, or you can pitch podcasts to do interviews, or you can set up partnerships, or run ads. There are many paths to success.
To practice shifting from status to wealth orientation, it can help to define what success looks like for you without using any external markers. What would you have? How would it feel? How would you spend your time? By focusing on what success feels like in your life, as opposed to how it looks from the outside, you give yourself permission to stop playing scarcity-based status games.
Make friends with money
So we’ve talked about a broader definition of wealth and how you can decide how to shape your unique, abundant life. But it’s important to address the word’s most literal translation: it’s time to talk about money.
Money is one of those subject areas where our scarcity myths really rear their ugly heads – where societal messages, family teachings, and life experiences combine to create a confusing, competitive mess.
But because of this, it’s also an area of opportunity. We can use money (and its clear connection to our scarcity scripts) to practice cultivating an abundance mindset.
When you hear yourself think one of these thoughts on the left, try rewriting it in your own words:
Money makes people greedy and selfish. > The more I have, the more I can share.
I’ll never have what they have. > There are many different paths to joy, I am free to make my own.
I don’t have enough. > There’s more than enough to go around.
You have to fight to get your piece of the pie. > We can grow the whole pie, not just our individual piece.
Your gain is my loss. > When you win, we all win.
Celebrate other people’s wins
Here’s a rewrite of that last script: a rising tide lifts all boats.
This is something I learned firsthand when I published JOYFUL. In the lead up to its release, I really didn’t know what to expect from other authors. Wrestling with my own scarcity scripts, I worried that others in the happiness space would see my book as competition.
So imagine my surprise to find that my colleagues weren’t just accepting of JOYFUL, they were thrilled to help me promote it. Because they already knew what I was just discovering: that people interested in reading these books weren’t choosing one of our books over the other. They were reading it all — diving deep into a topic we all cared about. There was no need to gate-keep a readership when we could continue growing it, together.
Now, this is just my experience. Of course, I can’t speak for other authors in other genres! But in a world where we’re taught to compete, celebrating when other people win can feel like a breath of fresh air.
Experience something limitless
When you’re used to scarcity — to looking around wondering if you’re going to get your fair share — there is something deeply healing about experiencing absolute abundance.
For us, that’s no limit tomato time. During a few golden weeks in the summer, the farm by our house is bursting at the vines with Graham’s favorite food: tomatoes. Usually, there are guidelines around where to pick and how much to harvest. But there’s a point in the season when they are so abundant that it’s an absolute free-for-all. G sits in the row with his half-empty basket, seeds dripping from his chin. We could pick all afternoon and still be surrounded by ripe tomatoes.
Think about an experience where there’s more than enough to go around. (Hint: it might be seasonal!) When you feel a sense of scarcity sneaking up on you, give yourself an abundance break.
Savor tHE gOOD
When you experience something that brings you joy, this can be a perfect time to practice cultivating an abundance mindset by savoring it. When you savor, you take a fleeting experience and extend it. You intensify the pleasure you feel and etch it deeply into your memory. In research, savoring has been shown to increase both momentary joy and overall happiness and well-being.
If you’re new to savoring, a great place to start is by focusing on the sensorial qualities of an experience. Notice the textures, colors, sounds, and scents, and let yourself become aware of how these different sensations contribute to the joy you feel.
Don’t use scarcity as an excuse
What happens when you get asked to do something you really don’t want to do? Do you respond, “Oh I’m so sorry, but I can’t do that right now. I’m soooooo busy.” If so, you’ve just used scarcity as an excuse.
Scarcity excuses make you feel like you’re setting boundaries (”I said no!”) but are actually an appeal to external constraints to avoid setting boundaries. By saying “I can’t do this,” instead of “I don’t want to do this” or “This isn’t a priority for me,” you give up your agency over your time and simultaneously reinforce your sense of time scarcity. (If you’re always telling yourself “I’m too busy,” when it comes time to rest, you’ll find it’s very hard to do because your unconscious mind has bought into the idea that you are in fact, too busy to relax.)
Yes, it’s easier to claim you don’t have time to do something. But by making intentional choices and honestly stating your priorities, you reclaim your ownership over your time, and it begins to feel a lot more abundant.
Say no, abundantly
When we think of abundance, a lot of people picture a holiday table piled high with treats. The holidays always remind me of these words of wisdom from author Sarah Copeland on how to enjoy without going overboard. When presented with an array of delicious foods, Sarah reminds herself, “This is all here for me. But I don’t have to have all of it right now. And I don’t have to have it all in this moment, I don’t have to eat it all today. And maybe there are certain weeks or months or years when I don’t need any of it, but it’s there for me to have again if I want it.”
When we say no to ourselves, so often it comes from a place of deprivation. “I can’t have that,” we might say. Or “I shouldn’t have that.” These denials turn abundance into scarcity, by making us feel limited and constrained. What I love about Sarah’s approach is that it reframes the choice to say in terms of abundance. If we know that abundance is available to us in the future, we can say no now without feeling deprived.
I’d love to know: How do you cultivate an abundance mindset?