How Much Is Enough?

by Martha Hicks, EUU member at large



No. It will never be enough. Never
enough wind clamoring in the trees,
sun and shadow handling each leaf, never enough clang
of my neighbor hammering,
the iron nails, relenting wood, sound waves
lapping over roofs, never enough
bees purposeful at the throats
of lilies. How could we be replete
with the flesh of ripe tomatoes, the unique
scent of their crushed leaves. It would take many
births to be done with the thatness of that.

Oh blame life. That we just want more.
Summer rain. Mud. A cup of tea.
Our teeth, our eyes. A baby in a stroller.
Another spoonful of crème brûlée, sweet burnt crust crackling.
And hot showers, oh lovely, lovely hot showers.

This, the first stanza of a poem titled “Enough” by Ellen Bass, (which becomes quite dark in the end), expresses some of the things we can never get enough of. But for the purposes this article, I needed to narrow my scope from dozens of possibilities. First I mused on all subjects where the comparison word “enough” could be used and divided them into three categories:

–Subjects that tend to be thought of with a positive connotation, such as equality, peace, freedom, love, fairness, care, kindness, patience, and compassion, where we rarely have the feeling that there is “enough.”

–Subjects that need to find a good balance, such as food, comfort, honor, security, loyalty, and trust.

–Subjects that threaten to be seriously out of balance, such as money, power, and control over other’s land, lives and beliefs. This is where greed is rampant and historically humans seem unbridled.

Though discussing any of the afore mentioned subjects could prove to be interesting in a workshop, I chose the third category dealing with wealth, land and material goods and perhaps how they relate to power over the lives of others to learn more about and write this article. My main concern for the world today is the obscene imbalance of wealth, which is the most serious threat to governments in the world today. This, I think, is what the current Russian/Ukrainian war is mostly about. Putin’s thinking is “More is better”. His political future depends on if he is able to successfully pull this land grab off.

In their struggle to survive, humankind found at some stage that “enough” was good, but “more” was better. “Enough” in the sense of food to eat, enough warmth and shelter to remain healthy. More was better because, if they had more than they needed, it could help them survive when conditions were not favorable for survival, and they could use the surplus to survive. “More than enough” was also a way to sustain their offspring and the offspring of their offspring. My husband, who would rather be over-prepared than under-prepared, follows more closely this way of thinking

Ever fewer of us have to worry about having enough to survive, and happiness is often described as having more than those around you. If you are poor, but all others around you have less, you consider yourself lucky and perhaps even wealthy. If you have much more than you need, but others around you are even richer, this may cause you to have lower status and feel disadvantaged by comparison, thus being dissatisfied with your lot in life.

So how much is enough? How much is too much?

The Indonesian poet Toba Beta writes, “Greed is a little bit more than enough.”

I think it was on Facebook that I first saw the question, “How much money do you need to be happy?” I saw all sorts of answers in the replies. From my life’s experience in living among the ultra rich for a short period and experiencing abject poverty for a year or two, I have found that that am happiest when I have “enough.”

I have noticed that it makes me particularly happy when things come out “just right”. That includes being neither too early, nor too late for an appointment. I am thrilled when the food I have prepared for guests is exactly the “right amount,” with few or no left-overs and everyone pleasantly satisfied. I am embarrassed when there is not enough and irritated when I have to throw food out because it can’t be saved. I will not throw out a house plant, if there is even the tiniest chance I can bring it back to life. Recycling has always come naturally to me and my husband, John, and we spent a glorious first three years of our marriage furnishing our Australian flat with the cast off furniture from the rich Neutral Bay mansions that surrounded our modest apartment building. I made my own wedding dress from an over-sized linen table cloth on sale for $6.00.

Then, as well as now, my husband often poses questions like, “If you had infinite money, where would you choose to live.” Or if you had infinite money, where would you go on vacation?” or “If you had infinite money what would you most like to buy?” Just the words “infinite money” frighten me. It would be easier for my husband if I would play the game and just fantasize a little, but my answer is usually, “I would choose to live here in our small apartment,” or “How are we going to travel until Covid19 is behind us,” or “I don’t really need anything more than I have now.”

Robert Skidelsky, in his book How Much Is Enough?, argues that the modern world is characterized by insatiability, an inability to say enough is enough, and the desire for more and more money. There is no distinction between wants and needs. Advertisements bombard us from every media outlet and entice us to “need” the things they want to sell. It is often hard to decipher what we want and what we really need to be happy. With infinite money, one can theoretically buy enough of whatever one needs to be satisfied. But though money can extend your life, it can’t offer ever-lasting life or even guarantee a happy life. Robert Skidelsky tells us in his book that “Health; security; respect; personality; harmony with nature; friendship; and leisure” are the main elements for a good life.

I will close with two quotes from Henry David Thoreau from his book Walden.

“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”

“The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”

What experiences with wealth or poverty have you had, and how have these experiences affected or changed your understanding of “Enough?” I think when the dust settles from this virus that has chained us to our homes for the past 2 and a half years, we will realize how little we need, how much we actually have and the true value of human connection.

Martha Hicks