Maria Shriver: Why I'm focusing on 'less is more' this Fourth of July

I'm asking myself: “What do we stand for as a country?” Do we stand for wanting more, more, more? Or do we already have enough?"
Image: Maria Shriver
Maria Shriver arrives at the Hilarity For Charity 3rd Annual Los Angeles Variety Show in Los Angeles on Oct. 17, 2014.Richard Shotwell / Invision/AP file
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By Maria Shriver

“I have spent my whole life judging the distance between American reality and the American dream.” — Bruce Springsteen

The other night, I was having dinner with a friend when she said something that really struck me.

She said: “I just want less. Less stuff. Less to worry about. Less to do. Less of everything, really. I’d be willing to give up a lot just to get less.”

I couldn’t stop thinking about her words as I walked back to my hotel that night.

As we head into our nation’s birthday, this concept of "less is more" is very much on my mind. What do we need to feel peaceful, joyful and happy? Do we need more, or do we need less? Perhaps we already have enough, and should instead focus on giving more to others.

I know I share my friend’s feeling that less is more. I want less, too. I want less of what keeps me from getting closer to what my heart and soul crave. I want less of what robs me from getting more of what really matters.

Now when I say “more,” I don’t mean more stuff. I’m wise enough these days to know that stuff doesn’t bring happiness. I’m also wise enough to know that busyness doesn’t bring peace and that outward success doesn’t bring joy.

True happiness, peace and joy come from spending time in connection with those you love and care about, and one of those people in my life is my friend Eddie. Every time I’m in New York for the "Today Show", Eddie is the one who picks me up in in the wee hours of the morning and drives me to work. He doesn’t just pick me up in his car, though. He also picks me up in life. Eddie is a hard-working man who loves his wife, loves his family, loves his job and — guess what? — also loves me.

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Maria Shriver and her friend EddieCourtesy of Maria Shriver

How do I know? I just do. I can feel it, and, for me, that’s huge. Eddie tells me things about myself that I’ve forgotten, or never even knew before. He always reassures me of the important things in life.

This week, Eddie talked to me about how he came to realize that achieving or earning “more” wouldn’t lead to a big pot of gold, like he was raised to believe.

Once he stopped trying to always do more, be more, or make more, Eddie said he ultimately got more of what really matters. Organizing his life in a way that works for him has given him more love, time and freedom to enjoy his life and his family.

I wanted to write about Eddie this week because I want more of what he has, too. I want more time with people who are good, hopeful and hard-working. I want more time with people who have the time to talk and connect. I want more time to pause, reflect and appreciate those who matter most to me.

My other lesson from spending time with Eddie this week: never, ever doubt the difference that you can make in another person’s life. You can make someone’s day by reminding them of their strengths, or you can ruin their day by belittling them or seeding doubt. Every word and interaction we have matters because you just never know the mark that you might be leaving on someone else’s day.

My wish for you is that you find an Eddie in your life who can also bring you this kind of joy. I don’t get to see him every month, but when I do, he brings me the kind of joy that lasts for a good, long while.

As I watched so many heartbreaking news stories this week about people risking their lives to cross the border into our country, they also got me thinking about this concept of less vs. more. All these families want is a chance at safety, opportunity and freedom. They want it so badly that they're willing to travel across rivers, mountains and deserts with almost nothing for the hope of getting a little more.

More. Less. How much is enough? It’s worth asking ourselves as we gear up for Fourth of July — a day when we celebrate everything we love about our country. I encourage you to ask yourself this week, “What do we stand for as a country?” Do we stand for wanting more, more, more? Or do we already have enough?

Might we be willing to have a little less, just so that others can have more? It's worth thinking about.

Every word and interaction we have matters because you just never know the mark that you might be leaving on someone else’s day.

After all, July Fourth isn't just a day for fireworks, cookouts and pool parties. It's a day when we should pause to reflect on the forefathers and foremothers who risked so much to build this country — the land of the free.

May we remember them, and may we honor those who are still fighting for our freedoms today. May we also recognize our shared humanity and all the things that make this big, diverse, beautiful nation so great. Our humanity lives in the DNA of what it means to be an American. On this Fourth, let's celebrate that.

This essay first appeared in Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper, a digital newsletter that inspires hearts and minds and moves humanity forward. To receive it for free in your inbox each week, sign up here.

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