If I could teach one thing and one thing only would be about having ENOUGH. This may come as a surprise to some people who think that I would rather make people HAPPY, but to me having enough is a necessary condition to be happy.
Happiness is an Enemy of Desire
One definition of happiness is that it is difference between what we have and what we want to have. In this case, if we have equal or more than we want to have we are happy:
Have ≥ Want to Have = Happiness
Oppositely, if we have less than we want to have we are unhappy:
Have < Want to Have = Unhappiness
This is easy to see, as if we want to have a new car we are in scarcity and we suffer.
Scarcity = Suffering
Oppositely, if we have that car (and we don’t want anything else) we are happy. The problem begins when people start to have infinite desires.
Infinite Desires = Suffering
As such, if before we did not want a new car, and now we want it, we suffer. And with every new desire we suffer more and more, with marketing informing us about million different things that should have in our lives.
In all this, the craziest thing is, of course, that most of us have everything that we will ever need, but we are not focused on abundance and instead on the scarcity. Consequently, we are always unhappy and suffering.
This is just to say that we can have very little and can be happy, or we can have a lot and be very unhappy. Indeed, some of the poorest people are the happiest people, while some of the reaches are unhappiest.
What Do We Really Need & How Much Is Enough?
“How much is enough?” is a question that I hear asked again and again. The answer to this question is quite simplistic, but people often disregard it for this simplicity, as often they learn that to be happy they need to have a lot, but this is just not the case. Indeed, if we listen to different school of thought, including minimalist school, Maslow’s pyramid of Needs, and virtually every major religion, they all tell us that we only need few essentials and ask us to disregard the rest. I am of course refereeing to:
1) Housing – We need a secure place where we can pursuit a basic needs, such as sleeping, resting, protection from the elements, and which provides security to keep our belonging if necessary.
2) Cloth – Similarly to housing, we need cloth to protect us against elements, as well as some culturally accepted style, so we can fit in with other human beings.
3) Food – Necessary to maintain our body healthy and active to pursuit whatever activities we need.
4) Medicine – Beyond the pills and bandages that we may need when we are sick or hurt, the definition of medicine can also cover things like insurance for things that we need to insure that tomorrow the life will go predictably similar as today.
Everything beyond these things, including these things beyond the level of enough is called excess.
Danger of Excess
Eating too much will make us fat. Spending to much will make us broke, and same is true for everything else. In case of money, for example, more money does not necessarily make us happier, with some of the richest people alive being very unhappy.
We see it with Robin Williams (actor), Kurt Cobain (singer), and Roy Raymond (founder of Victoria’s Secret) who despite their successful careers have committed suicide. Most of us dream to have the success these people achieved and we can’t imagine to even think of taking our lives. Yet, they show us that perhaps that is not enough to be happy.
Most people already have everything they need. However, most people don’t remember this simply truth, probably because they are so focused on everything marketing tells them they need.
As such, in some Christian families it is almost a rule to remind themselves of everything they have, starting from the food they eat, the house where they sleep, and the simple fact that they are alive and well.
This is, indeed, the base for a gratefulness exercise which we should do daily, as by reminding ourselves of how lucky we are, we remind ourselves to smile about out the great life that we are living.
Logic Behind The Infinite List of Desires
Having and fulfilling an infinite list of desires may sound great, but it brings about a practical problem of having not having enough resources such as time, money, or energy to pursuit these goals. Thus, we need to be smart about what things we want to pursuit and which we want to give up.
Indeed, there are things like diving, bungee jumping, and parachute jumping that sound like nice experiences in life but I don’t want to pursuit. Indeed, I see is a lot of people who do a lot of wrong things just because they are recent, convenient, and easy, meaning that often they end up doing completely the wrong things.
What We Should Do When We Have Enough.
To this point, Buddhists say that when we achieve enough we should stop desiring more and instead, for example, help other people achieve enough themselves, which is a great road to happiness in its own respect, or to pursuit other activities that will contribute to happiness.
Here I refer to our ultimate goal in life, life mission, purpose for which we were put on the earth. Pursuing this goal with a singly-minded focus will make us happier that by mindlessly accumulating material junk.
We can achieve this, as mentioned, by constantly prioritizing our goal list and always doing the thing that we want most. Eventually, even if it is not clear today what our priorities should be, we will find one thing doing which will make us the happiest we can be.