This Thanksgiving season I have been reflecting on our constant quest for “more,” on what it means to have “enough,” and on gratitude. So this week I am going to depart from offering practical advice on money management and instead turn philosophical.
We Want More, We Want More!
Many of you have seen the popular AT&T commercials where an adult asks groups of children questions. The answers are often humorous, but can also teach us a lot about human nature. In one of them the adult asks which is better, less or more? When one enthusiastic little girl answers that more is better, the adult asks, “why?” The girl, whose mind cannot keep up with her mouth, tries to explain, but she is not making a lot of sense. Realizing this she finally just blurts out, “We want more, we want more!” AT&T We Want More Commercial
We laugh at the girl, but how many of our lifes reflect her words? We are constantly chasing the ever-elusive “more” without a clear understanding of why, or what it is costing us? Like the girl the only thing we know for sure is that “we want more!”
I am reminded of a story about Erin Callan, former Chief Financial Officer at Lehman Brothers, who has since left the corporate world and downsized her life. She says, “It may seem like a strange thing to say, but sometimes I look around and I’ll see a yacht or we’ll go by a beautiful house, and the first thing that comes into my head is not, like, ‘Oh, wow, wouldn’t that be great?’ The first thing that comes into my head is, ‘I wonder what they’re giving up to be able to have that?”
The desire for “more” is a double-edged sword. It can lead to progress and improvement for both society and individuals, but if we are not careful it can also lead to materialism, greed, selfishness, envy, and too much time away from those we love. There is nothing wrong with wanting “more” but we do need to consider the costs and determine what we will – and won’t – give up to obtain it.
The concept of “enough” stands in stark contrast to the ever-moving goalpost of “more”. Author Kurt Vonnegut wrote a poem describing how he was taught about “enough” by fellow author Joseph Heller:
True story, Word of Honor
Joseph Heller, an important and funny writer
And I were at a party given by a billionaire
on Shelter Island.
I said “Joe, how does it make you feel
To know that our host only yesterday
May have made more money
Than your novel ‘Catch-22’
has earned in its entire history?”
And Joe said, “I’ve got something he can never have.”
And I said, “What on earth could that be, Joe?”
And Joe said, “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”…
What does it mean to have “enough”? For me “enough” means being able to provide for the basic needs of my family (food, shelter, clothing, and transportation), and an occasional “want”, with some left over to help others and save for the future. This is the best I can come up with but it still leaves a lot of leeway. For example, what kind of food, shelter, clothing, and transportation is sufficient; how many (and which) wants should I try to satisfy; and how much do I need to save?
Can you have “enough” but still want “more”? I guess that would put you in the situation of striving for “more than enough” which is where many Americans are. In the end “enough” is almost as hard to pin down as “more”.
What does it mean to you to have “enough”? I would love to hear everyone’s thoughts on the topic.
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. – Melody Beattie, author of “Codependent No More”.
Gratitude bridges the gap between “enough” and “more” by turning what we currently have into “enough”. It doesn’t stop us from striving for “more” but it does make us more content in our current situation. In addition, gratitude offers protection against selfishness, greed and other character flaws that tempt us on our journey to “more”. Gratitude truly can “unlock the fullness of life.”
This Thanksgiving season I am grateful that I have “enough” financially, and more than enough of the things that really matter. I am grateful for my wonderful wife, Alice, my fantastic children, and great friends. I am also grateful that we live in a country that gives us the freedom to pursue happiness as we see fit whether that means striving for “more” or being content with “enough.”