When is enough, enough?
“If only I can meet that financial goal. If only I can meet and marry that special person. If only I make that career achievement. If only I get down to that goal weight. THEN, all my wishes will be fulfilled. I’ll be able to rest, take it easy and feel less stressed and driven.”
Have you ever told yourself this? I have. And I’ve discovered that reaching this new goal doesn’t satisfy for long. I reach the goal and find that the goal posts had lifted and once again I wanted more.
Most of us have an innate drive for bettering ourselves and a desire for more. We can have so much stuff that our cupboards are overflowing, our wardrobes have an excess of clothing and our food pantries are like mini supermarkets. But we are still driven to buy more.
Just when we think we’ve made it to our long-held desire, we notice the advertisements, watch TV or compare ourselves to our friends and neighbors. We’re not as good as them, we don’t have that wonderful thing they have, our kids aren’t as accomplished as their child, our husband isn’t as adoring and our house lacks that touch of panache. Our parties are less lavish and our work seems less prestigious. Is this failure?
Our brains love things that are new. It lights up when we see or experience new things like tasting a new food. It creates new neurons and if these are given the right conditions, it can lead to new brain cells. The research on the brain and neurogenesis, which is the creation of new brain cells at any age, is exciting information. Especially at a time in history when brain aging diseases like Alzheimer’s are on the rise. Learning new things, having new experiences and doing new things with our bodies are all helpful for good brain health and longevity. But is it possible to escape the trap of dissatisfaction and the feeling of discontent?
Some years ago, I focused on buying clothes that were more classic in styling. Classics don’t date in the way that the latest fashions do. My reasoning led me to believe that with a wardrobe of classic clothing, my need for more on a continual basis would be over. It’s been partly successful. Classic clothes always look smart and by adding something small from the latest seasons color palette the look is easily updated. But, my eyes are still attracted to new and sometimes impractical styles that will be trendy for a few months only. I still have that feeling which tells me I haven’t got enough and want more.
On Friday, a friend and I each bought a box of sushi for lunch. The boxes had 8 pieces. After eating 4 pieces, I could have stopped eating. I wondered about taking the leftovers home – but knew that it would be impractical with my plans for the evening. I didn’t want to throw the sushi away – it was delicious. I was enjoying the conversation and the food, so I kept eating and eating until it was all gone. Enough was at 4 pieces, but I ate 8.
Part of our drive to surpass enough is because our wiring likes it. The dopamine rush that accompanies the thrill of putting our plastic card back in our wallet after a successful purchase and carrying off our spoils, is addictive. By the time we get home, often the thrill has gone.
After a meal the taste of dessert will tempt us to eat more, even though we’re feeling stuffed and full. When we are in a relationship we can look to see if someone else is fun to flirt with. When we have career success we can look at usurping the boss. We have piles of books to read, movies to watch and half-started projects. Our insatiable desire for more amusement, titillation and inspiration outweighs the stress and discomfort we might encounter on this route to enough.
Like moths we are drawn to the light of the new, the novel and the surprising. We like to be intrigued. We like to be admired and when our possessions get admired, somehow we can feel it’s a personal validation.
I’ve asked myself if there will be a time when my income will be high enough, when my stockpile of possessions will be big enough and when my validation from outside sources will also be enough. I’ve concluded that in themselves, they are never enough.
However, all is not lost. It is possible to be enough.
The opposite of contentment is dissatisfaction. I believe dissatisfaction stems from two main sources.
- One source is where there is a genuine lack and need. Dissatisfaction arises when there is knowledge or a belief that there is a better alternative. Many wonderful solutions and inventions have stemmed from such frustration and dissatisfaction. When we don’t accept things as they are and put our hearts and minds to an alternative path it can be surprising. We can save lives, both physically and emotionally. Pursuing an alternative that can change your life will be hard work. If it was easy, you would have already done it. Whatever your problem is, if there is a better alternative, it’s worth going after.
- The other source I believe that breeds dissatisfaction and ruins our contentment is from greediness.
When I was young, it was considered shameful, to have greediness in your character. I was taught to share, to think of others less fortunate, to go without and to not get everything I wanted, in order to ward off the natural inclinations toward greediness. To reach for the biggest and not the nearest, was frowned upon. To want a different version of what I already had, was a sign of ingratitude.
Like all children, I was born with a desire to be first, best and the most adored. I think most children have a sense of entitlement and the reversal of this state of infant bliss is observed with the ‘terrible twos’ when the pecking order is reversed from the cotton wool clad baby and the young child is expected to act as part of a family. It teaches the child, slowly but surely to consider other people’s needs and feelings and to be generous with themselves. It’s not easy.
That’s how we overcome greediness and sense of entitlement, when we are genuinely generous with our possessions, time and emotions.
When we proactively build sound connections with our friends and support them with regular contact and genuine interest in their lives, we build strong bonds. When we work through the hard times and strive to take the high road of believing the best of people, forgiving quickly and giving love through a smile or a kind word, we build emotional tenacity. When we follow our spiritual calling and live by our values we develop a character worth having. When we strive to be our best and do our best each day in the small tasks that we all have to do, that receive no adulation, it prepares us to carry out the large tasks with grace.
Having enough comes from knowing we are enough inside. Nothing external can do that for us.