How are you determining what is enough for you?
Most of us are probably familiar with the “rock bottom” scene from 1979’s comedy classic, “The Jerk.” If you’re not, Steve Martin’s character, Navin Johnson, has lost all of his wealth and his relationship with love interest Maria (played by Bernadette Peters) is on the rocks. In an attempt to prove that he hasn’t quite hit rock bottom, he walks out of his mansion, only taking “all I need.” As he scoots out of the house in his bathrobe, pants around his ankles, he grabs random items as he passes them. Cradling them in his arms, he bellows out that these few items are all he needs.
“The paddle game, and the chair, and the remote control, and the matches, for sure. And this. And that’s all I need. The ashtray, the remote control, the paddle game, this magazine, and the chair.”
What started out as an act of defiance against the universe’s attempt to crush his spirit turns into a hilarious joke about just how dependant on petty materialism he really is.
The joke is on us.
We laugh at this scene—partially because of its absurdity, but also because of its relevance to our own lives. Not only do we not know how much is enough, but we also don’t know how we should decide how much is enough for our lives. However, determining how much is enough and why is absolutely crucial—not only for the sake of our own contentment but also so we can understand our role as conduits for giving in the world.
“How much is enough?” vs. “How much can I afford?”
Most of us have never taken the time to really consider what kind of stuff and how much of it is necessary for us to be content. For most of us, the question is answered by “how much can I afford?” Cheaper goods and open lines of credit have made this method of thinking immensely problematic. Suddenly, even once we no longer have enough money to keep our bills paid, we’re still allowed to feel like we don’t have enough stuff to feel satisfied.
Really, though—how much is enough to make you “happy”?
We’ve been conditioned to always seek out more without really taking the time to assess if accumulating more material goods is really worth the sacrifices we make to attain them. We’re simply never expected to ask ourselves certain contentment-determining “how much is enough” questions.
“How much (insert item here) is enough?”
- How much house is enough?
- How much car is enough?
- How much consumer technology is enough?
- How much wardrobe is enough?
Getting to the Root with “But Why?”
For anyone who has been in the presence of an inquisitive child, the question of “but why?” may seem annoying, if not maddening. However, asking ourselves “why?” we want anything is an effective practice in cutting away motivations that do not result in a contented spirit.
- Why do I need this much house?
- Why do I need this much car?
- Why do I need this much consumer technology?
- Why do I need this much of a wardrobe?
Asking “Why?” About Your Whys
To truly chip away at weak motivations, repeatedly and honestly asking “why?” about our answers to “why?” can expose flimsy reasons for wanting certain things.
“XYZ is enough car because I want a modern SUV from a luxury brand.”
“Well, because I want my car to reflect my success.”
“Appearing successful, even to strangers, is important to me.”
“Because I need outward affirmation to convince myself that I am successful.”
Not all “why” roots will be negative truths that require deeply psychological remedies. Some will be legitimate reasons, even if they seem a bit superfluous initially. Eventually, your answer to “why?” may start to become repetitive once it has begun to hit its root and may feel like a semi-compelling argument. While this is possible, it’s important to not attempt to rationalize every superfluous material desire.
You are a conduit for others.
Most of us have more than enough. We convince ourselves of the need to upgrade perfectly adequate items. We buy several versions of the same thing that differ slightly in ways only we could ever perceive. We purchase more of something than we could ever consume—from channels to data plans and beyond. Is this really the best use of our excess?
There are people, believe it or not, who do not have enough. Through unfortunate events or even as a result of systemic oppression, there those who lack even the most basic of essentials. Perhaps one of the most important reasons for determining our levels of “enoughness” is so we can be activated as a conduit for blessing in their lives. By determining what is enough for you, you will be in a more comfortable position to give. Instead of buying yet another version of that thing that still works for you, perhaps consider donating to a food bank, picking up someone’s groceries, or paying the rent for someone who has lost their job.
Once you realize what is enough for you, this is an opportunity to be a blessing for others without enough.
Contentment is a choice.
Happiness is an “inside job.” If we build our joy with the approval of others as its foundation, the moment their attention shifts or wanes, this structure will collapse. That’s why it is imperative that we choose to perpetually cultivate self-sustaining happiness and do our best to avoid conditional “hits” of happiness.
Happiness through material possession is unquenchable.
Happiness through social approval is fickle.
Happiness through accomplishment is untenable.
Happiness generated via chosen contentment within the present moment is abiding.
The only truthful answer to “I’ll be happy when…” is “…when I decide to allow myself to be happy.”
Putting Enough Into Practice
Answer the following question about all material possessions you have or feel you need.
- What do you feel is enough (house, vehicle, technology, wardrobe, etc.) for you?
- Why do you feel that this is so?
- Could the resources you’ve invested in this item or service be better utilized for others while leaving you feeling like you have enough? How?