Editor’s Note: This is a guest by Mike Donghia. Mike writes about simplicity at The Art of Minimalism.
Have you ever experienced the satisfaction of enough? The pure, simple pleasure of having all you need and the sweet sense of completion?
If you haven’t, you’re missing out on one of life’s greatest joys. The joy of sufficiency.
The opposite of sufficiency is scarcity. From day one, we’re programmed into a scarcity mindset; believing that resources are limited and that we can never truly have enough. Watch two children wrestle over a single toy (with dozens more all around) and you will be witnessing the scarcity mindset in action.
Step into Wal-Mart on Black Friday and watch adults wrestle over larger toys with bigger price tags and again you will see the scarcity mindset in action.
The scarcity mindset is rooted in addictive consumption. The more a person consumes, the less their capacity to enjoy. Consumption activates the pleasure centers of our brains, like a mini reward for finding the prize and acquiring it. But our brains get accustomed to certain levels of stimulation and they no longer produce a lasting reward… we need more and more consumption to maintain that same feel-good chemical reaction. It’s a highly addictive cycle that can’t easily be broken.
What Makes Consumption So Addictive?
Given the choice to eat 1 slice of cake or 30, nearly everyone would choose the former. That’s because each cake produces diminishing returns of pleasure and increasing costs of dissatisfaction. The first piece is moist, sweet and delicious but each additional piece will be less satisfying as your stomach gets fuller and your taste buds became overwhelmed with all the sugar.
But most people don’t stop at peak utility. Think about the last time you ate at a restaurant, you probably enjoyed a great meal but left so stuffed you wish you had stopped earlier. You rationalized that just a little more consumption would leave you better off, until you crossed the dreaded line of negative utility. Humans have a strange tendency to keep going past enough, past the point of satisfaction. We’re addicted to consumption because our brain has become desensitized to the excess of simple pleasures we enjoy continuously.
How to Increase Your Capacity to Enjoy
The act of creating increases our capacity for enjoyment. When you make something, build something or imagine a new idea, you understand its nuances, its intricacies, its complexities. This knowledge increases your appreciation of the art and the satisfaction you derive from enjoying the final product.
As you create more, you hone your ability and craftsmanship, further amplifying your capacity to enjoy.
A similar effect happens with our desires. The person making $40,000 a year thinks that $50,000 is all they would need to be completely content. The person making $90,000 imagines that just $20,000 more would let them live in complete comfort. But our desires are insatiable. The more we have, the greater our capacity to want and desire more. The reason is simple: the more we consume, the less our capacity to enjoy.
By increasing expenditures, you are actually decreasing your ability to find contentment. To the naked, untrained eye, it appears that more consumption would increase contentment but this is not the case at all. The real answer is sufficiency; adequate provisions to live in modest comfort. All we need is… enough.
Enough is Enough
Having enough means you are consuming to meet your basic needs without deteriorating your capacity to enjoy. Your capacity for enjoyment should be growing at all times. Sufficiency comes when you are neither rich, nor poor; when your basic needs are met and you live in modest comfort. It is the balance between excess and lacking; the thin line we call moderation.
As I said above, the act of creating actually increases our capacity to enjoy. That being said, any strategy towards a sufficient life should provide ample provisions for creating art. If consuming lessens our ability to enjoy, creating is the perfect counter balance to help you avoid the slippery slope of diminishing returns.
Social Change Through Sufficient Living
Not only does sufficiency lead to greater satisfaction and enjoyment, it frees you from the rat race. Consumption is not cheap. In order to spend money on consumable goods, you need an income. And like it or not, you will need to trade your precious time and skills for that money. Work is a good thing, but it becomes a problem when your level of consumption and spending trap you in a situation where pursuing a paycheck takes over the majority of your life. It’s a cycle that can quickly spiral out of control and leave you stressed and burned out.
On the contrary, creating is free. Creating is satisfying and best of all; creating improves the world around you. Creating is a sign of maturity in an age of abundance and excess consumption.
When you create, you add value to the universe. You can create a strong family, a spiritual life, a poem, a book, a sculpture, a non-profit charity, a Nobel-prize winning idea, a movement, a blog or a happy life. The possibilities are limitless and their potential to give back to the world is limited only by your imagination.
Small Action Steps
Both you and the world are better off through sufficient living. It’s the state of living with enough and increasing your capacity to enjoy through creating, not consuming.
An idea is only worth its weight in salt if it can be applied in real life. Here are a few simple ways to start on the path towards sufficiency today.
- Compliment a stranger (add value)
- Don’t buy new clothes for a year (consume less)
- Start a blog, draw a picture, take your partner on a date (create more)
- Plan an adventure: rock climbing, road trip, camping (create more)
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. – Paul the Apostle.