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When Is Enough Enough?

The personalized nature of getting what we want.

Key points

  • Everyone has different wants and needs.
  • People are compelled to get what their wants and needs tell them they must have.
  • Helping others to get what they want and need will help us to get what we want and need as well.

I love the fact that learning can occur at any time and any place. Just the other day, my wife and son and I were enjoying another episode of Bones. It was Episode 12 in Season 9 and, around the 20-minute mark, Jack Hodgins said, “As long as a person has enough, they don’t need more.” I thought that was a really wonderful sentiment and something I mulled over for quite a while.

There’s a lot packed into those 11 words. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all agree to work on building a world where everyone has enough? Instead, we currently have the situation where most of the world’s population lives in poverty while a small number of people have more money than could possibly be spent in several lifetimes. It’s also the case that, globally, we produce enough food each year so that no-one needs to be hungry yet in some parts of the world large quantities of food are wasted while in other parts of the world large numbers of people are chronically hungry.

So, is Hodgins correct? If people have enough do they not need more? As intriguing as that question is, it wasn’t really the thing I spent time wondering about. For me, the bigger issue is, who decides when enough is enough?

It will always be the case that what is enough to one person could be an excess to another person and a shortage to someone else. Life is like a Goldilocks game in which we each have our own preferences for how warm or cool our porridge should be. Goldilocks knew what was “just right” for her and, in that respect, we have much in common with Goldilocks. We all have “just right” states for everything in our life that is important to us.

Ironically, it seems easiest to learn about our personal "just right" states when things are not right. Michael might take a sip of the Americano he just ordered and instantly screw his face up and exclaim “Errr! Who put sugar in that?” Ornella might take her first bite of the medium-rare striploin she’s been thinking about all day and then quickly reach for the saltshaker.

And so life goes: too hard, too soft, just right; too rich, too poor, just right; too fast, too slow, just right; too black, too white, just right; too fat, too skinny, just right; too active, too lazy, just right; too busy, too bored, just right; and on and on and on.

 43082453, @123RF
Source: andreypopov, Image ID: 43082453, @123RF

Life is the business of creating and maintaining the world we know in the "just right" states we want it to be in.

So enough is just right. But enough can’t be stipulated or mandated from outside, for the most part. There are many situations in which one person specifies what is enough for another person. One person might decide he has had enough of being married to his partner. A parent might decide how much is enough television for her child. A teacher might decide how much homework is enough for his class. A coach might decide how much training is enough for her athletes. A nurse might decide how much sleep is enough for his patients.

Yet even if someone decides how much is enough for someone else, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be enough for that person. Enough is always a personal experience. Enough is just right.

The other part of Hodgin’s statement that caught my attention were the words, “they don’t need more”. Is this true? Is not needing more the same as not wanting more? Again, the person making the judgment is critical. Someone might want more years of marriage or more television time or less homework or less training or more sleep or less overtime. Again, what people want and need is individually determined.

We all have wants and needs and we all have just rights. Organizing environments so that people get enough of what they need and have enough of what they want is the way to a more peaceful, productive, contented, constructive, and creative social group. Helping others get enough of what they want and need requires listening and learning far more than deciding and demanding.

Funnily enough, I am not attempting to get the ball rolling on a campaign of unadulterated altruism. It’s actually quite the opposite. Genuinely helping others to get enough will also help you to get your enough. So, if you like having your world the way you want it, the most hassle-free way of making and keeping that is by doing what you can to help others get their worlds the way they want them.

Isn’t that the neatest thing of all? By helping others, we help ourselves. If you want to give yourself a break, a great place to start is to help someone else get enough of what they want and need.

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