Personal Development

What is Enough?

September 28, 2021

Can we change what we view to be enough in a society that is so obsessed with “more”? Try this exercise in recognizing enough; it might shock you.

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What is enough?
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What is enough?

Autumn is one of my absolute favourite times to go outside. The temperatures are above freezing, the trees are a gorgeous rainbow of colours, and there are no mosquitoes! It’s hard to beat.

I knew I needed to write my article a bit earlier than normal since we’re heading camping on Thursday. Yet as I sat down to write this article I kept struggling with some intense writers block.

I decided to do some productive procrastination instead! I needed to pack for the trip anyways…. so I started on that.

As I was packing for my trip I had the same thought I usually do: “Hmm, what am I forgetting?”.

When you camp you still need to be able to do all the things you do at home: Cook, bathe, dress for changing temperatures, have somewhere safe & warm to sleep.

Yet whenever I pack for camping it doesn’t seem like I’m bringing enough. It takes a whole house full of stuff for me to live my life at home, yet when I go away for the weekend I can fit everything necessary in the back of my vehicle. What gives?

How does location affect what I feel is enough??

Learning “enough”

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary the definition of enough is “occurring in such quantity, quality, or scope as to fully meet demands, needs, or expectations”.

Enough sounds like such a simple word…. but we tend to complicate it. The distance between needs & expectations often ends up so vast that it’s hard to imagine they can define the same word.

Our society is obsessed with “more”.

More stuff, influence, and success.

Can we change our mindset so that our needs and expectations become a little more similar?

So, what is enough?

How far is it from your needs? Do you think your version of “enough” can be influenced by what happens around you?

I read a study about happiness last year that struck me (I wish I could find it to link to!). Essentially, they got residents of one city in the US to rank their happiness.

The study was meant to look at the difference in happiness in different communities within that city. What they found was much more interesting however.

As expected, ratings of happiness in the more dangerous parts of the city were lower. No surprise there. If you’re at all familiar with Maslows hierarchy of needs you’ll know that safety is one of the most basic needs humans have. It’s hard to be happy if you constantly feel unsafe.

The study got more interesting after that however.

For some reason, ratings of happiness were wildly different within the same communities. Why?

After other variables were controlled for, a trend became apparent.

It mattered where you fit on the perceived status ladder in your specific community.

If you had the “least nice” house on the block, you were less satisfied than someone with the “nicest house”. The kicker?? Often the people with the “less nice” house in the expensive communities still had nicer homes than people with the “nicest house” in less expensive communities. Yet the people with the nicest home in a less expensive community still rated themselves as more happy.

What you view as “enough” can be heavily influenced by what you see around you.

The classic “Keeping up with the Joneses” scenario begins when we start measuring enough in relative terms (Is our house as nice as our neighbours?) instead of objective terms (does our house keep our family safe and warm?).

When I went to Ghana over a decade ago I met some of the happiest families I’ve ever seen. Yet, they certainly did not have enough by North American standards. How were they content?

While I was there I noticed a stronger sense of community than I typically see in Canada. For example, in one village that I went to they had one wheel barrow for the community. No one person owned it; it was there for everyone to use.

In contrast, I find in North America it seems to be a competition to see who can accumulate the most resources for themselves.

There’s a fascinating book called “Material World: A Global Family Portrait“. A group of famous photographers travelled to thirty nations to answer the question “Can all six billion of us have all the things we want?”.

The photographers would live with the families for a week then help them move all their possessions outside. Each family was photographed in front of their home with every item they owned spread out around them.

The differences between the families across the globe was staggering. Sometimes a visual really is worth a thousand words.

It really puts into context the difference in “affluence” depending on where you live.

Where do you think you’d fit on that scale? How do you think it influences your perception of enough?

How can one family “need” so much while another does just fine with way less?

The lesson is that you can be happy and have “enough” with far less than you think.

Still not convinced you’re one of the abundant ones?

There’s an exercise Francine Jay suggests in her amazing book “The Joy Of Less” that might help.

Grab yourself a pen and paper.

Now, go walk around your house and make a list of everything you own.

Every shoe, every piece of furniture, every spoon, everything.

Does that seem overwhelming?

Ok- just do it for one room instead.

Still sound too difficult and time consuming?

How can you possibly feel like you don’t have enough when you can’t stomach the thought of writing out everything you own in one room?

Perhaps the famous quote by Hyman Schachtel is true after all:

What is enough?
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What is enough for you?

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