If you had “enough”… What would you do with the excess?
Expanding on the brilliance of the Thomas Adams article entitled “We Weren’t Poor.”
Trying to define “enough” is highly personal. The shame is that most of us do not think about it and we do not use our rational mind to define enough. What is enough money, success, time on social media, stuff etc. for you?
There is an old story about Joseph Heller(Author- “Catch 22”) and Kurt Vonnegut (Author- Slaughterhouse Five) at a dinner party at the home of the reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. After a tour of his mansion, Hughes excuses himself, leaving Heller and Vonnegut alone. Heller turns to Vonnegut and says, “Can you believe this place?” Vonnegut responds by saying, “Yes, Joseph, but we have something that he will never have.” Heller, “Yah, what?” Vonnegut answered, “Enough.”
Howard Hughes was running on the hedonic treadmill. He would pursue some new level of wealth, buy a new home, or date the newest Hollywood starlet. Once he possessed his desire, an inevitable feeling would creep in… the realization that he was not satisfied. Then, he would think… Maybe a bigger house, a larger airplane or the new beauty that he saw in the latest film would fill that void? And the wheel continued to turn… The hole, created by unquenchable desire, is never filled.
Perhaps, you recognize that feeling? Perhaps, you recognize the pattern? Hedonic adaptation is what a culture of materialism is built upon. If you buy the latest gadget and subsequently never crave the next one… you escape the hamster wheel. That does not keep Apple cranking out record profits. Therefore, the culture preys on the instincts built into your biology to keep your pursuing more.
Evolutionary psychology shows us that we are built this way for survival reasons. If a caveman worked hard to chase down, kill and eat his next meal, his biology would reward him with a satisfying chemical bath in his belly and his brain, which brought satisfaction. However, that satisfaction would kill him if it lasted too long. Caveman had to feel the familiar pangs of hunger relatively quickly to prod him back to the hunt and ensure survival (same goes for sex, thirst etc.).
Those instincts still drive us. Satisfaction with anything in life, no matter how initially satisfying, is fleeting. It served caveman well, but it doesn’t quite fit the life of the average American today.
So what is the prescription to escape the treadmill? Define, for yourself, what is enough… and define it now while your rational brain is in charge.
Take the wisdom of Thomas Adams into account and make your definition as narrow/small as is reasonable for you. If your definition is “I have enough to eat.” There will be a much shorter route to happiness. Do not let society, friends, the culture etc. set the definition for you.
“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.”- Epictetus
I learned this technique for the first time when I started Weight Watchers years ago. The Weight Watchers leader told us to plan ahead for a lunch out with friends right after we ate a satisfying breakfast. Therefore, you were not experiencing the ache of hunger, nor the temptation of the cheeseburger your friend just ordered.
I consult the menu for the restaurant online and choose something healthy right after breakfast when my belly is full. It works like a charm! My choices are more consistent, healthy and have become a source of pride.
Once you have defined what “enough” is for you. Ask yourself… What could I do with the excess? The time that you do not spend pursuing wealth and more stuff could be put toward family, adventure, building a business, writing that novel or making the world a better place. You could use any excess resources for philanthropy or creating an early/more comfortable retirement. Decide how you will use the extra once you have achieved “enough”.
Resist the urge to do what the US congress does, when they define enough by setting a debt ceiling,… Instead of using that definition of enough to frame future budgets, they simply raise the debt ceiling, and, therefore, the definition of enough. They hop right back on the treadmill of dissatisfaction. Stick with your definition to the extent reasonable.
I wish you a life of contentment within your definition of enough. A life of less hectic days, peace of mind, more adventure and happiness.
Just my opinion, what do you think?