How much is enough?


From the New Yorker, May 16th, 2005

True story, Word of Honor:
Joseph Heller, an important and funny writer
now dead, and I were at a party given by a billionaire
on Shelter Island.

I said, “Joe, how does it make you feel
to know that our host only yesterday
may have made more money
than your novel ‘Catch-22’
has earned in its entire history?”
And Joe said, “I’ve got something he can never have.”
And I said, “What on earth could that be, Joe?”
And Joe said, “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”
Not bad! Rest in peace!”

Kurt Vonnegut

What is enough?  That is a hard concept to grasp in any area of your life.  What is enough money to make?  What is enough time exercising? What is enough support from your spouse?

When does ambition stop being a good thing and turn into a cycle of reaching and achieving that consumes you?  If we are constantly in pursuit of goals that we cannot see and things that we cannot afford then how will we ever be happy?

Princeton did a recent study that came to the conclusion that there was no connection between higher levels of happiness and money after a person reaches $75,000/year.  For some people that is a hard goal to reach.  For others they have met that long ago and moved on but still are not happy.  Why do you think that is?  Constant pursuit for a number that you have never set is a road to disaster.  You may be thinking that you are working harder to provide more for your family so they can have the best life possible; but there is a point where money will no longer provide that and your time and love become far more critical to reaching that goal.  How much money is enough?

What about your fitness?  Most people stop a workout because they are not seeing results fast enough.  Most of the time this occurs because they set the bar too high.  Why isn’t enough being able to play with your children or grandchildren?  Maybe it is being able to play in the weekly ultimate frisbee game with your friends.  If that is enough then you don’t need an intense workout schedule and an expensive gym membership.  You just need to jog for half an hour three times a week.  It is mentally daunting to try and reach goals that seem so far away.  If you don’t figure out why you are getting in shape then you are creating a huge barrier to success in your fitness.

How much food is enough?  Who said we need to eat three meals a day?  Who decided the size of the plates and bowls that we use?  Your weight would drastically change if you simply had smaller portions.  My good friend made the insightful observation that when we are picking out places to go eat, we often think of what restaurant provides the most food.  You think restaurants don’t realize this?  They know that if they fill the plate with something cheap, like fries, then we will feel like we got a great deal and want to come back.  Have you ever sat around at the end of a meal with your friends and continued snacking on the fries just because they are there?  Haven’t you already had enough?

What about your spouse?  I once heard that many people get divorced because their spouse provides them with only 80% of the things that they are looking for in a mate.  When they meet someone new that has that other 20% that is missing in their life, it excites them.  It is new and intriguing.  They want to go and check out what this new thing is like.  Problems arise.  Cheating might occur and this person now has the new 20% that they have been looking for.  However, what happens a couple months down the road when that 20% is not new and exciting anymore?  They will want that 80% back that they had with their spouse.  Regret will follow.  The questions becomes, is that 80% really not enough?  Maybe your spouse only has 75% or maybe they have 90%, but if you are always looking to have the full 100% then you will never be happy.  No one is perfect.  We are all full of flaws.  I hope that you don’t think that you are providing 100% of what your spouse wants because I doubt it.  It is just not real.

I know the counter-argument is that we should not settle.  But are you really settling?  I think our expectations have become distorted based on the influence of the media and shifts in our society.  Barry Schwartz lays out in his book, The Paradox of Choice, that too many options can be a bad thing.  We become confused and stressed trying to optimize every possible decision in our life.  At some point, making the “good” choice that prevents waisted time and stress is much better than making a slightly better choice that took twice as long and caused twice as much stress.  You are not actually settling.  You are being more efficient and allowing yourself to be happier by eliminating waisted strain.

What is enough for you?  If you have never thought about this then you are constantly searching for an unreachable goal.  You overwork yourself for something that does not exist.  You expect something from your relationships that is not realistic.  What is the life that you want? Can you picture a life where you are satisfied with who you are and the level you have reached?  Allow yourself to get there and to be happy.  Do not make it so far away that it is not realistic.  You will want to set that next pedestal even higher once you get there but will that next level really make you that much happier?

I don’t think that people are unhappy because they settle too often.  I think they are unhappy because they assume that they can get 100% out of every area of their life.  You must be honest and realize that is not realistic.  You need to choose the areas that you are truly passionate about and where you can focus your energy on reaching high levels.  But also realize the areas where you need to step back and recognize what is enough.  Honestly ask yourself, what is enough?

photo by thelGl

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