Living with Abundance


Welcome to my 12th newsletter. In this letter, I want to address the concept of “abundance.”

How many of you think of yourself as highly competitive? Those who answered yes, how many of you think this is an advantage in life? Think again!
In this short newsletter, I want to try to convince you that being highly competitive limits our happiness and… get this … our ability to be successful.

I doubt I will be successful in this attempt. Inherently I am a highly competitive person. In a Lifestyles Inventory test I took some 30 years ago, the psychologist who administered the test said: “You may be the most competitive person I have tested and I have been conducting this test for over 20 years.” With this news, I began to boast: “Well, I was a bit of an athlete in college and winning has always been important to me …” He stopped me mid-sentence and said: “Doug, I want you to know this is NOT a positive trait.” He then shared with me the description of a highly competitive person.

The competitive scale measures our need to establish a sense of self-worth through competing against and comparing ourselves to others. While it is largely encouraged and accepted as a measure of success, competitive behavior is not an effective predictor of success in business, sports, or life in general. In fact, studies have shown that people who come out ahead in competitive situations focus on performance excellence, or the process of doing well, rather than on the end result of winning. In general, the competitive style is characterized by:

  • The association of self-worth with winning and losing
  • A need for recognition and praise from others
  • A tendency toward aggressiveness
  • A “win[lose” orientation that distorts perspective and goals
  • An extreme fear of failure.*

*Life Styles Inventory, Human Synergistics International, Self-Development Guide

It didn’t sound good, but it described me beautifully. And yet it took another 20 years for me to accept his “diagnosis” and to realize how much my competitive nature was holding me back. I can be a little slow.

Let’s start with the concept of “abundance” which is one of the 13 skills of happiness.


Abundance is a pretty simple concept. In positive psychology, an abundant mentality is a perspective that there is enough for everyone, so someone else’s gain is not your loss. It contrasts with a scarcity mindset which is a perspective that there is not enough and therefore someone else’s gain is by definition our loss. Put simply:

Abundance = win/win
Scarcity = win/lose

When I was teaching at DePauw several years ago, one of my students had applied to a graduate program that accepted only 35 students each year. She had a good friend who lived in the same dorm she did and had also applied to the program. She came to class one day and was ebullient that her friend had just been accepted. When I asked if she had been accepted, she said she had not heard yet. As she walked away, I reflected on how I would have responded in a similar situation. Could I have had such an abundant response? I think not. She was experiencing what positive psychologists call “sympathetic joy,” something only possible with an abundant mindset.

About now, if you have read this far, you are thinking “I got to where I am because I am competitive. Competition gets me up early, to work hard, to be successful.” And yes, you are probably correct. Being competitive, thinking with scarcity, is a tool for “success.” But here is the thing … there is a better tool that leads to even greater success in life and that is abundance, cooperation, and collaboration versus competition.

Let me explain it this way. I teach at DePauw and at Canyon Ranch. If you had asked me 20 years ago, what is a good objective for me to have, I would have probably responded with something like “To be the best teacher at DePauw/Canyon Ranch.” Today, I think there is a much better objective for me: “To the best of my ability enable the people at DePauw/Canyon Ranch to live more joyful, meaningful, accomplished lives … to enable them to flourish.”

The first objective is about me, it’s about ego. It also suggests I can’t help other teachers out or share what I know with others since the objective is all about competition. It is a scarcity perspective. The second objective is not about me, it is about the people I teach. It is about conscience, not ego. I think it serves me, those I teach, and DePauw/Canyon Ranch better. It reflects an abundant perspective.

In Stephen Covey’s classic book Seven Basic Habits of Highly Effective People, the first three of his habits are:

  1. Be proactive
  2. Start with an end in mind
  3. First things first.

These habits take one from being dependent to being independent. They will also enable you to be more competitive. But his next three habits are:

  1. Think win/win
  2. Seek first to understand
  3. Synergize

These three habits take one from being independent to being interdependent and these three are critical to cooperation. These habits are about abundance. (The seventh habit is sharpening the saw.)

I think competition is about fear. It is about I won’t “be” enough, and I won’t “have” enough. It is about scarcity. Cooperation is about love. It is about helping others who in turn will help us. Cooperation is about abundance.

If you are going out to play golf or tennis, enjoy the competition. If you want to work with others to change the world, if you want to lead a transformational organization, if you want to be happy, practice cooperation, think with abundance.
Even more simply put, if you want to flourish, think with abundance.

Thanks for reading. Be well … in fact, flourish!

–Douglas. A. Smith


“The moment we begin to consider our worth by comparing ourselves to others, we are into scarcity thinking. When we compare ourselves to others, every benefit that accrues to them, by definition, diminishes us. Abundant thinkers do not seek their worth in comparison to others.”

–Dacher Kelton


From the bookshelf!

Books I am reading and highly recommend.