What is Enough?
The question I get most as a spiritual-financial coach is "What is enough?" And as with any other essential question, it sparks deepening thought and personal reflection.
Our answers to what is enough are never final, they evolve with time as we change, as the world changes. But not thinking about, or not wrestling with, "what is enough" drives so much of our personal and societal anxieties.
I start with the Swedish word "lagom." You can check out the Wikipedia entry, but lagom is a sense of "enoughness," with a connotation of appropriateness and deep satisfaction. Lagom food is better than too much food. Having a lagom house is better than having too large of a house. Having lagom belongings is better than having too many belongings.
Of course lagom has implications more than just our personal well-being; it’s societal as well. When we know we have enough, that means we are leaving more for others. Riane Eisler writes, "The pleasure centers in our brains, light up more when we share and care, than when we win and dominate."
Knowing what is enough - knowing when you don't need more - is so hard because we live in a consumeristic and materialistic society where there is never enough. It’s very difficult in our culture to sense when we are satisfied, when more isn’t going to satiate. But knowing what is enough is wisdom.
"Nothing is enough for those for whom enough is too little." - Epictetus
Our modern economy relies on growth, which means the acquisition of more becomes the baseline of happiness itself. The problem with the ideology of more is that it is never-ending and incessant. When we get what we think would make us happy, we are only temporarily sated. Then the desire for more forces us to always want again, heightening our dissatisfaction.
When we have too much already, adding more isn’t really helpful. Yet, do you notice that people want just a little bit more? Always?
All of this stems from a primal sense that we are not OK, that we aren’t loved unless we please others. Life coach Martha Beck writes, "culture imbues almost all of us with the ‘primal shame’ that tells us our true nature is somehow bad." Our sense of not-enoughness tells us the solution is to be more. You, as you are, are not good enough and you have to "achieve" worthiness by being better. Because this sense of not-enoughness is cultural, it is reinforced in what we read, what we watch on television, the conversations we have with others, and even appearing in our dreams when we sleep.
It’s not just with material things, it’s with ourselves and our culture of self-improvement. But notice how the ideology of "more" increases a scarcity mindset: "What don’t I have yet?" Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky frames this dis-ease as the false belief of, "I'll be happy when ____" (I’m rich, thin, respected, in a relationship, etc.). Psychologist Kelly Wilson would concur, "Even when we want more of nonmaterial things -- to be loved, understood, appreciated -- the more often has a clutching quality that's not unlike the desire for a new car."
Lagom celebrates an abundance that already exists. The ideology of needing more is a core driver of the stress in our lives. If you knew you were enough, how much stress would you feel? How much of what you do is a compulsion from not feeling enough?
On a deeper level, I think Americans have a mistaken belief that they should always be happy and comfortable, and if they aren’t, something is wrong. But happiness isn’t something you need to have all the time; it comes and goes, like any experience; it is not a prerequisite for being human. A culture of needing to be happy and comfortable at all times paradoxically creates unease and unhappiness.
If you become OK with occasionally being anxious, sad, or lonely, you’ll be able to more easily opt out of the hedonic treadmill of consumerism and constant self-laceration/improvement. Journalist Lori Teresa Yearwood writes, "My deepest lesson is to accept all of it — every single thing about me — to accept it and love it."
The feeling of contentment, of lagom, with what-is is a spiritual condition. This deep sense of "enoughness-as-I-am", that worthy of love, that I belong, is, as I’m sure you know deep within your bones, something that no house or self-improvement workshop can buy. In fact, the deep satisfaction that lagom provides may come from a sort of self-emptying, of letting go of satisfying yourself in order to give to others.
“So many of us are craving fulfillment and wished we had fulfillment, and don’t know where it is or what it is. When, in fact, all it is, is giving of ourselves.” - Juan Felipe Herrera
Over the last few years, I’ve realized that my life was lagom. I’ve become more content with what I have without needing anything more. I realized I didn’t need, or perhaps even want, whatever I thought I needed (a life partner, more income, etc) to lead a fulfilling life. In deciding that my life was lagom, I’ve been as content as I’ve ever been. I’ve come to believe we just need to accept and embrace everything in our lives. We just need to exist in time, in kairos, to savor both our blessings and our sorrows. When we can accept and love all we’ve been given, we then discover the wealth we’ve had all along. Richard Rohr wrote, "When all of you is present, the banquet will begin.”
What if you don’t need more than this? What if you were enough? All of heaven is within you. Welcome to the banquet.
Douglas Tsoi teaches personal finance and is a spiritual-financial coach. He is a MEA alum and this is his website: www.schooloffinancialfreedom.com.