What is your definition of enough? Do you have a roof over your head and food in your pantry? Is that enough? If not, how much more would you need to be content? Have you ever thought about it?
Most of us don’t. Isn’t it strange that we spend our whole lives searching for more, yet we never ask ourselves: “How much do we need?”
Enough is Never Enough
Instead we pour our energy into our careers, working long hours, staying up late, and showing up first thing in the morning. We earn promotions, bonuses and raises, but some of us still feel empty.
Disenchanted with our lives and progress we try to buy our way to contentment. We begin by purchasing houses, cars, and extraordinary experiences.
That may work for a little while, but eventually the excitement wears off and when it does we buy bigger, better, fancier houses, cars, and experiences, but nope, that doesn’t help either.
Thanks to hedonic adaptation; what was once good is no longer good enough and so begins the quest for more.
Throughout my youth I was an overachieving perfectionist with an insatiable desire to prove myself to the world. In elementary school I yearned to be the brightest kid in the class. After college I dreamed of being the best software developer in my organization.
My obsessive personality traits helped me earn straight As in school and fast promotions in the workplace. Thanks to my never-ending, go-getter attitude I tripled my salary in my first five years out of college.
At the beginning of my career I relished every penny that I earned, but as time wore on I expected much higher compensation.
Over the years I found myself repeatedly disappointed and discouraged.
- My bosses didn’t recognize my efforts enough.
- My pay increases weren’t large enough.
- The pay scale wasn’t high enough.
Enough was never enough!
Instead of measuring my rewards and accomplishments I began to focus on how much more I was missing. The quest for more didn’t make me happier; it made me more miserable.
The Definition of Contentment
Back then I didn’t understand the value of being content. The more I yearned to attain the more I deprived myself of satisfaction. I suppose I didn’t understand the meaning of the word in the first place.
Urban Dictionary defines contentment as “the state of mind you reach when you look at your life in all its imperfection, and say ‘good enough‘.” I know Urban Dictionary is not the best source for valid definitions, but I think this one perfectly hits the mark.
At its root contentment allows us to feel grateful for all that we have rather than all that we wish to attain.
We feel content when we are satisfied with our present circumstances. When we can look around at ourselves and our lives, recognize the faults and flaws, and still feel satisfied with the image that stands before us.
When we feel content we feel grateful for our place in this world even though we know it’s not ideal or perfect. We reach this sweet spot when we no longer need external rewards to make us happier.
Being Content With Life
Throughout my working career I rarely looked at my salary as good enough. Even though I made plenty of money to support my goals I constantly wanted more.
I didn’t question the value of those figures. What did they say about me as a person? Who I am? What have I overcome? It didn’t matter. I only cared about the money and the larger the numbers grew the more I yearned for them to grow further.
But here’s the problem with that mindset. Nothing in life is free. Everything comes with a cost and I was paying for those larger paychecks with my time and energy.
By refusing to feel content with my salary and my career I gave up hours upon hours of my life to a company that eventually laid me off.
In a perfect world we can balance all of the activities and people we love, but I allowed my obsession with more to convince me to keep working harder.
Contentment is Not the Same as Complacency
Shouldn’t we want more for ourselves? Shouldn’t we strive to be the best? Isn’t that how we innovate and make the world a better place to live? If we find contentment in our lives won’t we become complacent too?
Being content doesn’t mean we lose our curiosity or interest in life. We can feel perfectly content and still yearn to discover more about ourselves and the world around us. This is why the richest men in the world continue to work long after they become billionaires.
This is one of the fallacies of the FIRE, (financial independence retire early), movement too. Outsiders believe once you achieve enough and save enough you stop reaching for new goals. Having reached financial independence I can tell you this isn’t true.
Yes you can stop running the race for financial independence , but that doesn’t mean you need to spend the rest of your life on a deserted island. You can be happy and still yearn to grow and learn.
The difference is to learn and grow without the obsessive need to earn more doing it. To feel content with what you already have doesn’t mean you can’t dream of becoming more. It means enjoying the process rather than being obsessively driven towards it.
Contentment opens your eyes to greater possibilities than just being the best at work. It provides you with the ability to enjoy who you are and who you are meant to be.
With this knowledge we can expand all parts of ourselves rather than narrowing in one small sliver. I am not just a kick-ass software engineer, but my previous mindset kept me focused on that one aspect of myself.
Feeling of Contentment
Most of us go through life yearning for more without knowing how much more we actually need. Without that knowledge we allow the stress of work to burden us and put a strain on our health and relationships.
When we fail to calculate the amount we need we also fail to feel content and grateful for all that we already have. Instead we feel a constant source of stress as we seek higher wages, bigger titles, and more of everything.
Doesn’t it feel strange to yearn for more without knowing how much you actually need?
Learning to Be Content
If I had it to do all over again I would calculate the amount of money I needed to pay my bills. I would figure out how much I needed to pay for food, housing, health care, utilities and other necessities each month.
Then I would find a giant Sharpie and write that number down. It’s not the final number, but it’s a darn good place to begin.
Each of us will inevitably expand upon this value. We will decide that we want to eat out more often, take fancier vacations or do anything that our heart desires, but before we can add in the niceties we must figure out our most basic number.
Are you caught in an endless loop where enough is never enough? If so, I would urge you to look through your recent bills and figure out how much you spend each month. Then create a bare-bones budget and draw your first line in the sand. Figure out the minimum amount of money you need to live your current life.
After you calculate that first number you can add in the extra stuff you want. Look up the costs of the things you covet and figure out how much more you need to earn and save to pay for your goals, but think carefully about this list and remember that more is never enough. Which items will really make your heart swell?
As you review your expenses make sure they align with your goals. Are you spending hours at work to buy fancy toys and pricey vacations for yourself or your family? Would it be better to spend less time at work and more time with those you love?
Do you love what you do for a living or would you prefer to pursue your other passions? Your time is limited here on earth. Make sure you are spending it wisely.
Maybe you are already earning enough or maybe you need to push harder, but you won’t know until you start running the numbers.
As you think about all that you want take a moment to reflect on all that you already have and own. Gratitude is the key to being content. Before you finalize your list make sure you take a moment to appreciate where you are right now.
Rethinking the Definition of Enough
Before this pandemic many of us were striving for more, but how much more do we really need? Before the world shut down we were packing our closets, garages, and storage spaces full of material possessions.
But after a month or two at home how much of it seems necessary? Have you felt more content or more overwhelmed by the possessions you already own?
As unemployment rates reach overwhelming heights and our jobs and economy feel less stable have you had the chance to redefine your list of necessities? Do some of the things that mattered a month or so ago not seem so important anymore?
Do your basic needs, (food, clothing, and shelter), seem much more important now than the stuff you once coveted? If so, try to remember to retain these feelings when the world gets back to normal.
Remind yourself that you don’t need to buy your way to happiness. Contentment is a state of mind not a pile of money in the bank or a house full of possessions.
What Do You Need More Of?
When we cannot find contentment in the here and now we rob ourselves of joy and happiness. We believe that more money and more stuff will make us happy, but when we attain those items we won’t find happiness at all. Instead we find ourselves yearning for more all over again.
Most of us think we need a lot more money to be happy and while money definitely makes me feel safe and secure it does not provide me with joy.
We all need money to pay our bills, but do you need more money or do you need more love, laughter, and security. If we are going to dream bigger dreams shouldn’t we reach for those things our heart most desires?
Dream Bigger Dreams
If you had all of the money you could ever ask for what would you do with your life? What would make you feel satisfied and content? Who would you spend time with? What would you do?
Now ask yourself, how are you spending your time right now in this very moment? What are you focusing on? Do your current actions align with the people and things you most care about?
If not, ask yourself what do you really need more of? Is it money and possessions or a whole host of other more important stuff?
Be Content With What You Have
Socrates once said, “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” In other words, if you cannot find joy and satisfaction in your current life what makes you think adding more will make you any happier?
We can chase after more for our entire lives and still not feel content. In fact we can feel downright miserable in our pursuit of it.
Before you plan to fill the void with more stuff, stop, take a break and ask yourself why you are so unhappy? Will buying a new toy fix that hole in your heart? Will receiving your next promotion bring you the joy you so desperately desire?
To answer these questions you must face the cold hard truth about your life. Press the pause button and reflect on where you are right now. Don’t move forward until you can honestly answer these questions.
When we stop coveting the things we don’t have we open ourselves to appreciating what we do have. Life is so much more enjoyable when we can appreciate the current moment rather than reaching out in search of the next one.