Recently I’ve had some doubts about this blog.
I’ve had some feedback that it’s all just obvious. Why would people want more than enough? Do we really need to tell people to stop overdoing things? Isn’t that a bit condescending?
It’s been plaguing me a bit. I was thinking about it just last night. Yeah, maybe it is a bit condescending. Maybe people are actually completely able to identify when they’ve done something enough, and stop before it tips into excess.
And then it hit me. If that were the case, the world would be a seriously different place.
Everywhere you look you can find examples of people not identifying ‘enough’ – and, as a result, not stopping when they reach it. We find it in people who damage their health through food, through drink, through too much sitting, or too much exercise. People who damage their mental health through too much social media, too much work, too much time in a bad marriage, or too much isolation. People who have so much stuff that they can no longer feel ‘at peace’ at home and need someone to come help them chuck it all out. And pretty much all of us are living in ways where we are consuming more stuff than our home – Earth – can sustain. I mean seriously, if everyone were able to live to ‘enough’ instead of being driven by a desire for more, we wouldn’t see war, greed or poverty. And if people were happy with having enough, we wouldn’t see such warped attempts to dominate and overpower, like we’ve seen these last few days.
The message is relevant.
So what is driving us to lose sight of enough?
Well, for starters, a nagging little voice in our head, whispering to us that we haven’t got enough as we browse Amazon, decide to watch just one more episode on Netflix, or look in the fridge for another snack. And it can be tricksy.
I think it’s driven by two things – fear of running out of something we need, and the pleasure we feel from obtaining what we’ve been craving. This isn’t a new idea, it’s Freud’s Pleasure Principle – that we are all driven by the instinct to pursue pleasure and avoid pain.
But how does this apply when we’re pursuing things that actually aren’t good for us or the world around us? Or, as tends to be the case, when we are pursuing things that give us some pleasure but also have negative impacts that need to be factored in?
Well, in the case of studied addictions – such as alcohol – it’s thought that we have conditioned our brains to find pleasure in something (in this case drinking), and then that conditioned response becomes so strong that it is able to override other, rational desires to stop doing that thing that is harming us.
This is a pretty simple example – after all, it’s pretty widely accepted that people with alcoholism aren’t in a great place. But when it comes to things that are less black and white, we simply aren’t good at stepping back and seeing our own behaviour for what it often is: learned behaviour, following patterns to which we’ve been conditioned, and often on autopilot. The pleasure that made us feel good when we first started to buy clothes we liked, for example, is still there even when we’ve already got more than enough clothes and it’s ruining our bank balance and our planet.
These are instinctive drives. They developed when humans lived in an age of scarcity, not an age of abundance. Where it was necessary to keep eating as much as possible because you didn’t know when more food would appear. But now humans – at least the privileged amongst us – aren’t living in an age of scarcity anymore. Many of us in the developed world are living in an age of abundance and convenience, but with that primitive human mindset deep down. It’s like our whole operating system has been updated, but we’ve only got apps that worked on the old one.
Because I’m working on this blog, I’m starting to catch myself more and more as I tend towards these ‘more than enough’ instincts. And it’s crazy how often it comes up. When I’m shopping for groceries. When I’m thinking about the clothes I want. When I think about posting on social media. It’s basically… all the time.
When I first started thinking about this, I thought – OK, so it seems right to start living with less, but that sounds kind of joyless – like a constant sense of deprivation. It’s only been recently that I’ve come to see what living towards ‘enough’ actually is – and it’s simply living with greater intention. Instead of feeling deprived, I feel more fulfilled because I’m increasingly less likely to look for something external to fill an emotional void. In identifying enough, I’m actually finding more joy. And yet, still, I need to keep reminding myself of that consciously in order to fight my tricksy subconscious.
So is it obvious that we should be stopping when we’ve got enough? Yeah, maybe.
But could we do with a reminder? Well, I certainly could, for one.
So, for now, I’ll keep on exploring.