Driving home the other night, I was flipping through the channels on my radio when suddenly the words that emerged from the speaker system made me almost stop the car.
A male lecturer was telling the story of King Solomon, regarded by some as the wealthiest and wisest monarch of all time.
In Solomon’s own words, as documented in Ecclesiastes:
“I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens… I have increased in wisdom more than anyone…I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them… I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself…I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.”
I think most people at some time have dreamed of attaining great wisdom, enjoying all the good things that life has to offer, participating in fulfilling projects and living life in a beautiful natural setting. I know I have, and often still do. So what was the result of all these peak experiences?
“I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”
So it turned out that all that pleasure-seeking and achieving turned out to be of no substance? That the only true delight was to be found in doing the labour that he enjoyed for the sake of it? It appears so, from this later conclusion:
“What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labour under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless. A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil.”
Excuse me? One of the richest most powerful men in history says to stop pushing yourself and striving, that the most satisfying things in life are to eat and drink and simply enjoy the work of your life?
Can you relate at all to the description of workaholism as grief and pain, and a mind that can’t rest at night?
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work hard at fulfilling work that has meaningful results that benefit others, but it’s the question and meaning at the root of these statements that’s worth analyzing.
Ask any working Mexican who earns an astoundingly small fraction of your income. I would wager that he or she would say absolutely yes to Solomon’s description of what truly satisfies – and that’s part of why statistics indicate that Mexico, which has a far lower standard of living than the US and Canada, has much happier people. Family/social values factor into that, too, but that’s not what we’re talking about today.
Today’s topic is more about purpose, vocation and balance – how and why we choose the work we do and what we aim to do with the precious and limited hours of our lives. After discussing Solomon’s life and lessons, the radio lecturer (who turned out to be Pastor Chuck Swindoll) went on to talk about the word “enough”.
What if, right now, you decided that you have enough?
What if you decided that whatever you or your family earn right now is enough?
What if the home you live in, whether you rent or own, is enough? (I’m living in a little rented cottage, so don’t think I’m having these thoughts while living in my own mansion, e.g. “easy for her to say so”)
What if all the stuff you have right now, was simply enough? Even if your sofa is outdated and a little worn around the edges, your clothes are several seasons “out” or your car has more miles on it than you’d care to admit.
How would you live your days, if you were to decide that everything you have right now is enough? Would you make different choices? Would you stop pushing yourself so hard to achieve? Would you enjoy life more? Might some of your stress-related health challenges disappear? Would you sleep better at night?
I know, some of you might be in debt and need to pay it off (I have some to pay off, too). Some of you might be living in a home that’s far from ideal. I dream of owning a beautiful house someday, too. But what if I accepted the fact – and it is a fact – that renting for the rest of my life would be “enough”? That I could be happy anyway? Radical.
I found that when I asked myself this “enough” question, a big part of me went “HUH?” It’s so contrary to what we’re conditioned to believe. What’s your reaction?
We’re so focused in our society on bigger, better, more. Get the job, work at getting promoted, aim for the top. Start with a small rented condo, move into a bigger one, save up and buy a house. Start writing articles for a local paper, work your way up to writing for a national newspaper, publish a bestselling book.
Obviously, since I specialize in helping people live up to their potential and create happier more fulfilling lives, I’m an advocate of becoming and experiencing all that you can. But where does one draw the line? When does it stop being living and become “striving” or toil?
When I look over my own career path (not including medicine) moving to Mexico and creating my dance, coaching and speaking businesses were all labours of love, there was some hard work involved but very little of I would call "toil". Now, as I feel intense peer and personal pressure to put in 15 hour days as most experts/authors/bloggers do “to take it to the next level”, I’m thinking “no thanks”.
Could I be content living with my income exactly as it is right now, for the rest of my career, even when colleagues are earning five or ten times as much? I sure hope so. If I couldn’t, I think there would be something seriously wrong with me. Is there something seriously wrong with our society? I suspect there might be.
What would it mean to you if you decided that your life, right now, is enough? What would that give you permission to stop striving or toiling for? What would it mean to just enjoy life, eating and drinking and enjoying the work you’re blessed with or choose to do? I’d love to hear your thoughts and would also be happy to answer any questions you have for me about this – please let me know by commenting below!
Thanks so much for stopping by, and I hope I’ve helped you move closer to living a life you truly love!
nice to have come across your blog. and i love your optimism and inspiring way of life.
but i do have a doubt. when there is stiff competition and nothing but office dynamics rule the place – how do you beat it?
how do u say this is ‘enough’ for me when struggling is the name of the game – if you don’t toil you don’t get seen or survive the job cos there are others trying to pull you down in spirits and stand in your way to be able to just peacefully do the high-stress job, forget getting promoted.
i have been a journalist for 12 years now. since i have moved to dubai, i have been doing the same job/same post – due to various reasons. people with lesser experience or exposure than me are promoted because they belong to the ‘clout’ that has its way around the top management. i am sidelined cos i do not support corrupt activities. how do you think i can maintain my sanity, work my way up and change the way it is disintegrating at the moment?
Thanks so much for your comment and my heart goes out to you. I know there are many other people out there who can relate to what you’ve written. It is very hard and incredibly stressful to be a person choosing the honest way in a corrupt, high-pressure environment.
If I were in your situation I would look for a way out, another way you might earn your living doing what you love in a better environment. As a journalist/writer I have sometimes said no to working in a difficult situation, and when I do so something better has come along. But only you can know what’s right for you and what kind of job/financial risks you can take.
If for now you need to stay, I would recommend focusing on what you love about the work, and enjoying it as much as you can despite the difficult environment. Focus on what’s good. Try to minimize unnecessary toil and stress, and enjoy your time outside of work too, leave it behind you.
Pray for help and for a better situation – that always works for me too.
Best of luck to you, listen to your heart and honour who you are…be very glad that you are one of the honest ones, that counts for so much in this life even if it doesn’t seem to in your environment.
All my best,
I agree, that being obsessed with accumulating money and possessions does not really bring genuine satisfaction. However, I couldn’t say, that my income is enough right now, because I just lost part of my job and don’t have enough money to pay the rent. I think enough is when you can comfortably cover your living expenses. But also dreaming of more and wanting to experience more is what makes us feel alive. And expressing our creativity can be a very satisfying experience. I think it’s more about: keep what you really really like and use and get rid of the rest.
And I think true meaning in the end is only found in loving relationships with our friends and family. That’s probably why the Mexicans are such happy people because they have a rich social life. However, they also need to feed their children and put a roof over their heads.
Thank you so much for your thoughts Luzia and I’m so sorry to hear about your job, I hope you find a solution very soon. And of course you’re right, “enough” obviously means being able to survive. Studies show that more money doesn’t bring more happiness, but that’s only if you already have enough to pay for the basics and a little extra.
And I agree that it’s wonderful to look with anticipation towards the future, and to have goals. I think it’s a fine line between embracing life/living it fully, and pushing oneself too hard to be more/do more and get more money/stuff. There’s a really different kind of energy behind each of those. And as they say, the best things in life aren’t things.
I really wish you well and will pray that you solve your employment situation soon. Please keep me posted, let me know when things turn around for you…they will!
I believe that feeling content and grateful for what we already have is truly the first step to feel happiness. Yet, I also believe that wanting to be better is the force that pushes human evolution in all senses. As human beings we cannot live one without the other. The question is more about what do we say “enough” to. But I find it more helpful to ask why “not enough”. Why do I feel having x is not enough? Is my “why” out of fear? Fear that I would be looked down? Fear that I would not be good enough? Fear that I would not be accepted by my “social tribes”? Or is my “why” out of inspiration? An inspiration to help others? An inspiration to benefit others? This “why” helps me choose what I say “enough” to.
Susan, thank you for your openness about your personal situations with us. It is far more encouraging and comforting to know that even “experts” are human beings too 🙂
I think what you’ve pointed out is fantastic, it really addresses the tension between “when is enough enough” and when it’s not enough (e.g. wanting to be better for all the right reasons, in a way that doesn’t compromise what counts most in life). I wholeheartedly agree that it’s so important to examine the why’s behind that constant push for more. Thank you for taking this conversation to the next level!
All my best,
I keep forgetting to take a look at how far I’ve come. I keep forgetting that although there have been struggles along the way, I have gotten to where I am My way. I have chosen a different path than the mainstream, and at 57 I have been a house insulator, a private investigator, a parking patrol officer, a flag girl, a property manager, a casting director -(to name only a few!) and now I am making my living as an animal photographer. I am hopelessly menopausal. I share rent of a nice home with a man I am Still not sure about 15 years in!
I struggle at times with the idea that I always thought I would have “arrived” by now. That I’d have my own home and be financially stable. That I’d be slender! lol
Today was one of those days that I felt like throwing in the towel. I do get tired of striving to get clients, to work out, to rise to the occasion, to be all that I can be. Sometimes I think I’d like to move somewhere where it didn’t require so much of me “just to get by”.
But always – a little bit of wisdom comes drifting in to me from somewhere unexpected, and in a way that I am open to.
I really needed this reminder today. Generally speaking, I am a walking “Joy Bomb”! My life is much more than just ok! I have only to look at the world around me to see it. Yes I have too much debt, no I don’t make enough money yet for my photography to pay all my bills, yes I have some extra bodily poundage, and no my man doesn’t make me drop to my knees weak for more!
However! the truth is, every single day of my life, I have had Enough! And usually much much More than enough.
To remember that, lightens the load.
And I’m smiling now. 🙂
Thank you Susan, you are a bit of a Joy Bomb yourself!
This was fabulous, you put a huge smile on my face when I read it. Joy Bombs unite! Isn’t having Enough just the best? Though it often feels like we don’t, the truth is we have so much more than the majority of the world, life is so good…even when it’s “bad” or not quite what we thought it’d be.
You are probably too young to remember, Dear “Ann Landers & Abbey” Columns. Your column works just the same…calming the insobriety to the ‘have’ junkies to say, “enough” is enough. How to recognize “enough” ? Not easy for the affluence who wanting more. This is why your experience living in Mexico makes you special. You know the dichotomy to the reality to life and death…to the ‘have’ and ‘have not’ Now, can “enough” is enough be applied here. Sure, until the affluent of America experience the hunger of the poor in Mexico and the poor in Mexico experience the affluent of America. Really, what is enough, until we are told we have 6 weeks to live because we the affluence eat too much and the poor died from little to eat…this has to stop…Isn’t enough is enough when a happy change is resuscitated by the mother of invention to balancing and sharing blessing?
Thanks so much for your comment, Bebes!
I do indeed remember Ann Landers, in fact when I was young her column appeared in our city newspaper every day and I read it every single day. I had forgotten about that, no doubt she probably did influence me, what a lovely thought…
Luzia is right. The desire to experience (and maybe have) more is part of what makes us feel alive. I like the idea of having enough for the basics and a little bit extra. Lately I’ve been thinking about not having children. I think in a few years I might have enough money to help my nieces and nephews out with college. How wonderful would it be if everybody used their little bit “extra” to help people who are struggling with the basics?
I am loving this conversation – and thank you for contributing, Anna. I absolutely agree that a certain kind of more or extra is a beautiful thing. Wanting to have extra to be able to bless others is a very different feeling than wanting or needing more stuff, for example. The typical stuff most people want more of, anyway. The motivations behind more are I think what’s key.
I am with you re. not having children – there’s a chance still that I may choose to adopt a child who needs a home, but otherwise have fully thrown myself into the delicious goal of being the best auntie of all time. Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book “Committed”, wrote about the importance of aunties in the world – because we don’t have our own children to support, we can be those fairy aunt-mothers who do things like pay for college etc. We’re more available in times of crisis because we have less of our own commitments, too.
Thanks again for contributing to the conversation!
Just thought i could add that for me personally when i have the enough thought/judgement show up in my psyche, i am usually thinking too far out. I remind myself that just being part of the human game is in itself a miracle and enough. Everything else is gravy. I work at having compassion for myself when it comes to “enough” or discontentment question and it dissolves the feeling rather than having to skirt around it. great posting – got me thinking! thanks for that. rc
I truly enjoy your articles and insights. Your work and effort on various subjects is truly inspirational. However, I have studied scripture for about 30 years or so. I am not an expert by any means, in fact I am still learning, and will continue learning for as long as I can. But, I wanted to somewhat give you a modified interpretation of what wise King Solomon penned. In chapters 2 & 3 of Eccl, it would appear that Solomon is distinguishing between calamitous occupations and worthwhile works. I feel that he was indicating that while it is quite ok to enjoy the fruits of your hard work, enjoying such work may only be truly satisfying when recognizing that such enjoyment is a gift from God. A calamitous occupation may be one that ignores God completely. For ex. , a father may lay up wealth for his son, but a disaster can destroy it all and leave nothing. It is truly unsatisfying and calamitous to live life and build riches without spirituality, no matter what the occupation.Whereas spiritual riches provide an enduring inheritance.
Thanks so much for your very insightful comment, I appreciate so much how kindly you put what you wrote.
I am by no means a Biblical scholar (as you can tell), and I agree with your take on what Solomon was saying. A wise mentor who I have known for years emailed me as well after having read this, pointing out the same thing you did.
I have re-read this book again with that in mind and saw this point more clearly. I also absolutely agree with the concept, God is what ultimately gives my life and work meaning just as Solomon describes.
The point of the post was still to provoke thought on the concept of “enough” in a material, worldly sense, as even those who do enjoy the presence of God in their lives still often get stuck on material stuff…I know I do!
It’s great to meet you and I’m honored that you enjoy the things I write!
All my best,
Susan — For a refreshing discussion of “enough,” you need to read my new book GETTING A SUCCESS CHANGE: http://www.amazon.com/Getting-Success-Change-Happy-ebook/dp/B006T2XJ9C/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1326261948&sr=1-1
Hello Susan, I just discovered your blog after hearing your interview with Beth Beulow – The Introvert Entrepreneur. I am a fellow introvert and HSP and love that this is being discussed and legitimized more and more in the mainstream. This writing about \\\\\\\”enough\\\\\\\” is very good food for thought when we start to feel like we\\\\\\\’re living to work rather than working to live. For some reason its usually in the month of February when I ask myself if this crazy rat race is worth the joys I have to give up to keep it up. The theme reminds me of the teachings of Joseph Campbell. So happy I found you and I look forward to following your blog. 🙂