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Sufficiency: The Simple Guide to Enough

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.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Erika H. January 5, 2011, 8:24 am

    “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 you’re basic needs are met and you live in modest comfort. It is the balance between excess and lacking; the thin line we call moderation.”

    Sufficiency is truly an art that one must diligently practice in order to master! Thanks for the great post!


    • Mike Donghia January 5, 2011, 11:01 am

      Thanks, Erika! Glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

      Sufficiency is definitely something we grow into. It takes patience and a lot of discipline as you teach yourself to find contentment with less. Thanks for sharing!

  • Turling January 5, 2011, 8:31 am

    Excellent post, Mike. I see this and have experienced this. I wanted to leave a job years ago, so they gave me more money and I stayed. After a couple of months, the more money had been spent, but the dissatisfaction remained. I have also seen this where the richer/more someone has, the more they fear losing it. My wife’s family live on “enough”. They are the happiest people I know, and I can’t help but think “enough” is a part of it.

    • Mike Donghia January 5, 2011, 11:03 am

      I can’t help but think you’re right about that too. We get used to a higher level of income and quickly adjust our wants and needs, but we never quite adjust to the unhappiness and emptiness we feel when we’re not living the life we were meant to live.

      Thanks for sharing that, Turling.

  • Tonia January 5, 2011, 8:41 am

    I like the quote at the end by Paul, the apostle. His secret for sufficiency was the Grace of Christ. In everything that Paul faced and experienced, he knew that his true identity, worth, value, and needs were met in Christ, not in anything found on this earth. Sufficiency is an awesome thing!

    • Mike Donghia January 5, 2011, 11:25 am

      I truly believe that sufficiency grows out of our identity, that’s what made Paul’s life so remarkable. Well said, Tonia!

  • Layla January 5, 2011, 9:01 am

    I’ve noticed this too… especially with TV watching. I know someone who watches a lot of TV. Like on his days off he lays in his room and watches show after show after show… and after the first one or two I get sick of it. There’s no space to breathe between the shows. Eventually TV becomes a chore, and I leave.

    • Mike Donghia January 5, 2011, 11:26 am

      I like what you said about breathing room… I think that’s part of what makes sufficiency so attractive. It gives us the freedom (and white space) in our lives to breathe and take it all in. Thanks for sharing that, Layla!

  • Darci January 5, 2011, 9:58 am

    I love this post! The startup message on my cellphone says “You have more than enough.” It’s a great reminder to be mindful of consumption. My goal is to be satisfied with what I have vs. always wanting MORE. Not an easy job, especially when I work in advertising.

    • Mike Donghia January 5, 2011, 11:30 am

      I can see how that could be tough in your job. Advertisements try to tell us that what we have is not enough… that we need something else to be satisfied. Not that all advertisements are bad, they can help us find the products we actually need.

      But it’s good to have that reminder that you are enough; you’ve already got everything you need to be happy right now.

  • Sally January 5, 2011, 10:39 am

    Wonderful article! A perfect beginning for the new year. You put it into words so well. Thank you!

    • Mike Donghia January 5, 2011, 11:32 am

      Thank you, Sally! You’re too kind 😉

      Hope 2011 is off to a great start for you.

  • Peter January 5, 2011, 12:17 pm

    Thoughtful post, good tips, much to chew on. But for future iterations I suggest that the Wal-Mart example may not be the most appropriate, Apostle Paul notwithstanding. Seems to me that the “scarcity mindset” of many customers — e.g., single moms with several kids living on $12,000 a year — may be rooted more in genuine scarcity than in “addictive consumption.” Perhaps FAO Schwartz would better make the point.

    • Mike Donghia January 6, 2011, 8:21 am

      You could very well be right about the wal-mart example in some cases. Scarcity is a real problem in some people’s lives. But I’ve seen people fighting over big screen TV’s, DVD players, and other non essentials… which leads me to believe it’s more of a problem than anything.

      Thanks for the insights, I definitely think you have a valid point 🙂

  • [email protected] January 5, 2011, 12:55 pm

    Stunning Post – really stunning…. summed up what I have believed for such a long time but so eloquently – I will be lifting many a quote from this and spouting off to family and friends. I am Miss Moderate – for me moderation equals long term success, go slow and you’ll get there in the end! In fact I am a moderate minimalist – there may be those that argue there can be no such thing – believe me there can be – I am one. I couldn’t have achieved all I have over the last 2 years had I adopted an all or nothing approach to simplification – small steps as you say Mike. I have a confession – when I was reducing my digital consumption last Summer ‘The Art of Minimalism’ slipped off my radar – but hot footing it back over to subscribe… Thanks!

    • Mike Donghia January 6, 2011, 8:24 am

      Thank you for those kind words 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed this post. I’m also a strong believer in taking small steps. It seems to be a very sustainable way of implementing changes.

      Good to hear from you!

  • Shawna Cevraini January 5, 2011, 1:03 pm

    Great post to think about! Thank you! I like how you’ve used “creating” as a way to counteract the constant desire for more and more!

    We’ve struggled with that as a family up until the past year where we are learning from great posts like these that help us remember that enough REALLY is enough! We spend more time together rather than money and it has made a HUGE change in our lives.

    Thanks again for this post!

    • Mike Donghia January 6, 2011, 8:27 am

      No problem, Shawna! Glad I could give you something to chew on 🙂

      I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about creating lately… I believe it’s our most powerful defense against a life of over consumption.

      Hope to see you around!

  • Kathleen Harris January 5, 2011, 1:48 pm

    Loved this! Years ago, reading the “Little House” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, I came across this sentiment from Laura’s Ma: “Enough is as good as a feast.” I try to remember this, and live well by being grateful.


    • Mike Donghia January 6, 2011, 8:28 am

      “Enough is as good as a feast” <—- Wow! That's awesome. If only we could really believe that… we'd be wildly more happy that we are today.

      • Kathleen Harris January 6, 2011, 12:59 pm

        So true! Glad you like it. It’s one of my favorite sayings. If only I could remember it when I’m eating pizza!

  • Carol Holst January 5, 2011, 3:15 pm

    Love your opening sentence and whole magnificent post! For more perspectives on the satisfaction of enough (especially in the face of our culture’s addictive consumerism) people might enjoy http://www.postconsumers.com for humor dedicated to the subject.

    • Mike Donghia January 6, 2011, 8:29 am

      Thanks for sharing that, Carol! I’m going to check it our right now.

  • Jenny Smythe January 5, 2011, 4:13 pm

    Great post Mike! I’m learning that what I have is enough. Unfortunately, society tells us otherwise. I know that as soon as minimalism is embraced by more. More people will realize that it’s not things that bring about happiness rather experiences and being with our loved ones and friends. Thanks for the great post

    • Mike Donghia January 6, 2011, 8:30 am

      You summed it up so well, Jenny! Now it’s time to spread this wonderful message 🙂

  • Blooming Rock January 6, 2011, 2:32 pm

    I love the idea of sufficiency as it pertains to urban planning. I think the obsession with consumption and the scarcity mentality has created things like sprawl and the suburbs – the desire for a bigger and bigger house on a bigger and bigger piece of land. If, on the other hand, people concentrated on sufficiency and created things within what already has been developed – i.e. existing towns and cities, what vibrant and wonderful places we would have!

  • Marnie January 6, 2011, 8:59 pm

    Focusing on experiences rather than material things is so liberating. Although I don’t consider myself a minimalist, I apply a lot of the above strategies in my life right now. Life is now so much more exciting thanks to my shift in focus.

  • Pipi January 6, 2011, 11:16 pm

    I love this post, and it has made me rethink my considerations about buying a house. Thank’s Mike!

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