How Much Is Enough?

February 12th, 2013

How much money, possessions, fitness, love, trust, happiness, anything….. is enough to satisfy our cravings?

The biggest problem with the consumer driven mindset is that it dulls our inner “enough” alarm. It’s like Aesop’s famous story about the goose and the golden egg. The farmer was down on his luck when one day he saw a golden egg next to his best goose. He couldn’t believe his luck. The next day, another golden egg. His wealth was exploding. Now he wanted more than one a day. In his greed and impatience, he killed the goose, reached in to pull out the golden eggs, but none were to be found.

There’s nothing wrong with seeking wealth, as long as you know why you want it. If you don’t know why, the insatiable drive could leave you cold. Your level of wealth needs to be part of a larger (even higher) plan to live a life of meaning.

An American investment banker was on vacation in Mexico. He met a Mexican fisherman who was cleaning fish. The businessman asked him how long it took him to catch the fish. He said, “Not long.”

So the American asked him, “Why don’t you stay out longer. You could catch more.”

The Mexican replied, “This is enough to support my family. Now I have time to play with my children, take siestas with my wife, and drink wine and play guitar with my amigos in the evening.”

The American said, “You should consider spending more time fishing. You could buy a whole fleet of boats, and open your own cannery. Eventually you could move to America and list your company on the Stock Exchange.”

The Mexican said, “How long will this all take?”

The American replied, “15 – 20 years.”

“What then?” asked the Mexican.

The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. You will become so wealthy you can stop working. You can move to a coastal fishing village, sleep late, play with the grandkids, take siestas with your wife, and drink wine and play guitar with your amigos in the evening.”

The point is clear. Everything the fisherman needed, he already had.

There’s nothing wrong with ambition. You don’t have to settle for a life of poverty and struggle. Just know what your higher goals are.

In my case, I’ve discerned three measurements for anything I work on.

  1. Impact
  2. Joy
  3. Sustainability

I want to know that I what I put time into has impact; both for me and others. I want to know it makes a difference even if I don’t always see the results.

I want to feel joy and personal satisfaction in what I do.

I want to create a sustainable life so that I don’t have to spend my time worrying about the future.

Because of point 3, I do need to make plans and set targets. I have no interest in living in poverty and I have no need to be super wealthy. Enough is somewhere in between.

Wealth itself is not the problem. Lack of awareness is the problem. If money is just a cover for some other hunger, then chasing wealth is like binge eating or obsessive workaholicism or any other drug of choice. It won’t give you a sustainable high. As Epicurus said,

Nothing is enough for the person who finds enough too little.

Or As Oprah said,

If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever, have enough.

Start from a place of deep seated acceptance that you are enough to begin with before adding anything material to your life. You ARE enough as you are. Nothing material, money, popularity, fame, glory, body shape, can add to your essence and conversely no loss of these things can take away from your essence.

From a starting point of acceptance, you can work toward these things or not. It will be a choice. Just don’t expect them to make you happy or worthwhile in themselves. That is a done deal well before the diet begins.

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  1. Chrys Moelter-Gray says:

    Ian, this reminds of Heinrich Böll’s short story “Anekdote zur Senkung der Arbeitsmoral” .  Here’s a link to another blog, linking the author’s use of a similar anecdote to Böll and then to Plutarch!  (   We ARE all connected!

  2. This article reminded me the question I asked a friend four years ago, when I was about to move to Izmir from Istanbul. I had quite a thought-provoking conversation with this businessman friend of mine, who started an IT company 10 years ago. His business grew well enough that he earns around $10,000 USD/mo. But strangely enough, as his wealth grew, his working hours became longer and longer. He’s 43 years old, he still lives alone – never married – and he virtually works all the time. I asked him, “what do you want so much money for?” He said, “because I want to have time with my children. I want freedom!” ???!!! Well, I pressed with questions, and in the end, the picture became clear to him: He was working for longer hours – at least 5 hrs more/daily – than his employees, he was working 7 days a week – even out of the office – he had much more stress, he didn’t have a family, he didn’t even have a girl friend – because he didn’t have time – and he was imprisoned by his business and his wealth already. I don’t know what he did after he perceived this picture, but at the end of our conversation, he asked me if I was free or not. I said “Yes, I’m completely free with my 4 year old son.” He asked why, and I explained: “I live a lifestyle that completely suits with me; I’m reading books for free and getting paid for it, so reading also pays the bills; I work whenever I choose, so I’m the master of my time and can be with my son 24/7; and soon I’ll be moving my house to another city where I’ll be more comfortable, all without sacrificing my standards or income. Do you think it’s freedom?” Yeah, we need to ask ourselves if we already have what we need, or more to the point, what do we need exactly? Another wonderful post, Ian. Congratulations, and thanks! – Selim /

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  3. […] The 80/20 rule is about becoming mindful about where you put your energy, and making a decision to focus on what matters most to you. How do you decide what matters most? I use a simple formula; Impact, Joy and Sustainability. You can read more about this formula here. […]

  4. PAUL TUTHILL says:

    Dr. Littlefair asked me about  how much is enuf: “how many cars can you drive; how many steaks can you eat?”

  5. Susan says:

    So timely for me/us! Thank you, again.

  6. Jack Grabon says:

    I totally agree about the consumerist machine dulling our enough senses.  I once went to an arcade an came back with a souvenir that echoes what this well.  It was a mug that said “too much is not enough.”  Too bad that so many fall into this trap. 

  7. What a great point! When we chase what we don’t have, we miss the power and abundance of the present moment. When we grasp, we forget appreciation. When we truly have enough and don’t see that, this is one of the greatest sources of suffering. I absolutely love your three goals (values?) of impact, joy, and sustainability. I have the same ones (though I say, joy, optimism, stability, consistency, and making a positive difference in the world). Thank you for this great reminder!

  8. Eileen says:

    I never felt more free until I stopped working, stayed home and homeschooled my five kids, and let my hubby support me.  I have less stuff but more love.  Love is what lasts.In fact, I have a tremendous impact on my family through the Lord; my family brings me great joy; and watching my kids grow sustains me. Years ago when I worked, I put everything into my job.  I had a nice wardrobe and really enjoyed working…until one employer fired me after I was assaulted in the woman’s restroom and another employer fired me after I came back from maternity leave.  They conveniently filled my position when I made a transition to another position around the same time as my maternity leave.The new employee strolled in late while I came in early and on time every day.  My commitment to this position was not appreciated.  Oh sure – I made an impact, found joy and sustenance for the short term.  In the end, I was easily discarded.  My family would never do this to me.  Nevertheless,  I never made it in the working world and frankly, it’s o.k. with me.

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