One of the foundational works in the development of my financial philosophy is the classic book Your Money Or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez. The authors spend a good portion of the book discussing the idea of enough in terms of material possessions.
That's because there is a phenomenon economists refer to as hedonic adaptation: basically, the sheen comes off of any new experience or material item, which means we easily adapt to any betterment in our circumstances (or worsening, for that matter). This is why it feels awesome to drive your new car off the lot, but your delight in your car generally fades sooner than the new car scent.
Robin and Dominguez suggest that every reader of their book figure out their enough point. They ask readers to figure out how they will know when they’ve reached enough so they don’t overshoot it. They suggest that identifying your enough point will not only save you money (since you don’t have to keep buying once you’ve hit enough), but it will also help you feel more contented and satisfied with your life and possessions.
I love the idea of determining my enough point. I want to have enough to be comfortable and contented—and I want to leave anything more than that unbought/uncollected/unexperienced/uncluttering-up-my-house. The idea of enough satisfies my natural frugality, my dislike of waste, and my enjoyment of the things that make me happy, from books to good headphones to stationery supplies. Identifying my enough point is an excellent way to live without waste or guilt while maximizing my contentment.
But one of the reasons why I love the book is how it taught me to think about enough in another context, as well.
Living Your Enough When my dad passed away in April of 2013, I spent a great deal of time thinking about what happens after we die. I'm a pretty stubborn and hard-headed rationalist, and I simply cannot make myself believe that there is any kind of survival after death. It does not fit with my worldview to believe that a sense of self can survive the death of our bodies. In normal life, this is not anything I spend any amount of time thinking about. It just is, there in the back of my head. I agree with Roger Ebert (who died less than 12 hours before Dad): "I do not fear [death], because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state." Several times after I have lost someone I loved, I actually thought of death as a kind of gift—a kind of contented oblivion that ended my loved one's pain. But Dad is different. I miss him. I miss him like hell. I wish I could believe that I will see him again someday—but I just can't believe it.
So I was turning this over in my head, along with Your Money or Your Life's idea of enough when the answer hit me: if you live so that your life is enough, it doesn't matter what comes after. You have enjoyed enough. That realization was incredibly comforting. I can certainly live so that I enjoy every drop of the life I'm granted. Squeeze out the joy and the wonderment, take the time to snuggle with my kids and draw my cartoons and laugh with my husband and pursue my passions and love whole-heartedly and completely. Enough is within my grasp, no matter how many or how few years I get to spend on this earth. But even though I draw comfort from the idea of getting enough in my own life, it still seems like my dad got cheated out of his enough. He didn't get to meet my youngest child, his namesake. My niece, his only granddaughter, will not remember him. My eldest son, Dad’s first grandchild, will only have hazy memories of his Grandpa.
When Dad was diagnosed with the glioma that took him from us, he told me that he just wanted to live long enough so that my son would remember him. His life wasn't enough. And when I think about the long, wonderful lives in front of my kids, I want more than enough for them. I want abundance and overwhelming joy. I want their cups to spill over.
Every Enough is Different Sometimes, I find myself on a thought merry-go-round, where my worries spin round and round, with no relief in sight. Why did I have this epiphany about living your life as if it's enough if I am still hurting over what's not enough for those I love?
An important realization crept up on me during all of this wheel spinning. It wasn't like my sudden enough epiphany. It came slowly, as I thought about the people I've lost and the people we've all lost, and the ongoing tragic losses from Covid:
I don't get to decide what is enough for anyone but myself.
And with that understanding, I was relieved of the worry. I don't know if Dad got enough. Only he knew. I don't know if my boys and my husband and my family will have enough. That is up to them. All I can do is worry about my own enough and hope that it will help to show them the way.
What is your enough? How can you make sure that you get it?