When something is a “means to an end,” it is not valued in and of itself, but is only used as a way to achieve the desired end result.
Some things in our life are okay to be a means to an end. For example, filing a tax return is simply a means to an end (to pay taxes and not go to jail).
But there are many things, most things actually, that we shouldn’t make a means to an end.
Our busy, modern lives often have us looking for a desired end. The next thing. And as a consequence, we use many things as means to our desired future ends.
Examples of Means to an End
A benign example is something like food. How often do you enjoy food in and of itself? Or do you use it to satisfy your hunger quickly before your next appointment? Or worse, do you eat snacks as a means to address boredom or sadness?
A more serious example is how we treat relationships. When you think about the people you interact with daily, how many of them are you using to get what you want?
And I’m not speaking about malicious intentions. Using somebody as a means to an end can be as simple as not appreciating their work, only the end result of that work. Whether it be a friend, family member, coworker, or a random employee at a store you visit.
Worst of all is using ourselves as a means to an end.
Many of us fall into the trap of living for a future end state, whether it be getting a promotion, buying some item, or even just making it to the weekend.
We “go through the motions” of life. We live for the weekend or the next vacation. Treating our current situation only as a means to get to the next result.
Treating your own life as a means to an end has negative consequences. This detaches you from the present reality, making you less mindful and devaluing your relationship with yourself and others.
Ends in Themselves
A simple life is one in which we treat things as ends in themselves. We eat to eat. We work to work. We enjoy another person for being that person.
Most importantly, we live in this present moment to live in this present moment.
Treating things as ends in themselves is your way of valuing what the universe has created at this moment. It’s an acceptance of what is.