zenhabits : breathe

Key Question: How Much Is Enough?


Photo by Mr. Kris

Every Wednesday is Simplicity Day on Zen Habits.

When I published the Simple Living Manifesto last week, I mentioned the concept of “enough”. It’s one of the most important concepts in simplifying your life, and in frugality.

We often want more than we have now. More money, more gadgets, better furniture, a better house, a better car, more clothes, more shoes, more success.

And what happens when we get more? We aren’t satisfied, because there are new ads for new iPods, for new laptops, for new iPhones, for new cars, for new clothes. We have to have those. It’s impossible to satisfy that hunger for more, because our culture is not satisfied with what we have, but is geared to wanting more. It’s consumerism, and it’s the official religion of the industrialized world.

That sounds preachy, so let’s move beyond that: ask yourself how much is enough, how much do you need in order to be satisfied? I submit that the answer is that we already have enough — possibly more than enough.

What does “enough” mean?
Enough doesn’t mean the just bare necessities of life. That would be food, water, shelter and clothing. It could be a house with a bed, a table, a chair, a place for food storage and preparation, a toilet, perhaps a shower. That’s not really enough.

Enough means having enough to live, and enough to be happy, and enough to thrive. For me, as I get extreme happiness from writing and blogging, I would need a computer. Perhaps I could use the public library’s computer, but in any case “enough” would include some access to a computer.

For others, enough would mean the need for tools such as a notebook and pens, musical instruments, video technology, or a camera. Enough would also mean food beyond just survival food — food that makes us happy, but not so much food that we are being excessive and gorging ourselves.

Enough could include cars, if those are necessary, but for some people it wouldn’t necessarily mean owning a car, especially if they don’t have kids and live close enough to the things they need, such as a grocery store or work.

Enough could include watching DVDs, if that makes you happy. It could mean an iPod, if you need that to be happy.

How to find “enough” and apply it to life
Consider the following when thinking about the concept of enough, and how it applies to your life:

1. What are the main things that make you happy? Are they material things, or are they people, or activities? Knowing the answer to this question can give you some insight into what material things you actually need beyond the bare necessities, in order to be happy.

2. What do you need to thrive? You don’t want to just survive, you want to thrive. You want to be good at what you do, and do what you love. You want to be passionate about the things you do, and be successful at them. What do you need in order to do that? How many tools or material things do you need to thrive?

3. What do you need to survive at a comfortable level? You need to survive, of course, but you probably don’t want to be miserable as you survive. A comfortable bed is probably important (although I’ve had great success with a futon, so a “comfortable bed” doesn’t have to be an expensive one), but how many extra trimmings does that bed need in order to be comfortable? How nice do the sheets need to be? Examine your ideas of comfort and then see what’s really necessary for that comfort. Sometimes you’ll realize that only a minimum of things are needed for real comfort.

4. What do you have beyond those things needed for survival, comfort, happiness, and thriving? Take a look around you, and think about everything in your home. How much of it goes beyond these things that make up the concept of “enough”? Do you really need them, or do they go beyond enough?

5. What do you desire that goes beyond enough — beyond what’s needed for survival, comfort, happiness, and thriving? We all want things we don’t have. What are they, and are they needed to have “enough”? Why do you want them? Can you be happy, comfortable, and thriving without them? And if so, how can you give up your desire for those things?

6. If you didn’t want to have more than enough, could you work less? Do you really need all the income you bring in, or is much of it to support a lifestyle that includes more than enough? For example, you might have expensive cars when only one cheap, used car is enough. Or no car at all. Or you might have an expensive home when it’s really more than enough. Or credit card debt from too many trips, too much shopping, too much eating out. If you didn’t spend all that money, and didn’t always want more than enough, perhaps you wouldn’t need as much income. There are almost certainly people living happily and comfortably on a lower income than yours.

7. If you worked less, could you be happy with enough, and happier doing other things? If you didn’t have to work, you might be happy with just enough. And you might enjoy working less. It’s something to think about, anyway. Also think about what you would do if you didn’t have to work.

Credit: I am indebted to Your Money or Your Life, and to an article by Vicki Robin (co-author of YMOYL) called, “How Much Is Enough?

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