Have you read Enough – Breaking free from the world of more by John Naish? I got it via an inter-library loan and couldn’t put it down. I feel I have much to learn from Naish, and so have gone through the book and written up notes about the gems he shared that felt most relevant to me. I thought I’d share them here. But there’s so much more in the book, so if this inspires you, get ahold of a copy and read it for yourself.
In his book, Naish says that ‘enoughness is the tipping point, beyond which getting more of anything makes life worse rather than better.’ The premise of the book is to help us identify our personal tipping points, and learn to say, ‘Enough’ at the right time.
It’s harder than it sounds, because our brains evolved in the Pleistone-era, and are ‘programmed to fear scarcity and to consume everything we can.’ In order to find a ‘life beyond shopping, work, acquisition and status,’ the key is to balance our own personal sustainability. That is, we need to ‘discriminate between new things that might enhance life, and those that – despite their glister – detract from the good stuff already in it.’
Enough Money and Enough Work
Getting richer no longer makes us happier. In fact, many say wealthy westerners are certifiably miserable. Saying ‘Enough’ doesn’t need to be about self-denial. ‘If you budget for enough, it will hopefully be easier to work to earn just enough, to liberate life for the nourishing stuff beyond the narrow sphere of getting and spending.’
We need to get out of the grip of the big corporations, who use their marketing power to trick our Pleistone-era brains into thinking we need what they’re selling. Naish makes the analogy: ‘if you were physically forced by powerful gangs to spend all your time and energy in the pursuit of things you didn’t need, didn’t want, and ultimately didn’t enjoy, you’d feel sorely misused.’
Although money can buy us convenience, in the form of machines that will do our work for us, rather than using that liberated time for the good stuff, we tend to react to convenience by working harder. Think of how vaccuum cleaners have led to wall-to-wall carpets, rather than women who are freed from housework.
Naish suggests that rather than pursuing ever-more success in our careers, we say ‘Enough,’ when our job consumes an appropriate portion of our time and energy, and provides us with enough money for our basic needs. For many of us, this means scaling back in the work department, looking for the ‘demotion’ rather than ‘promotion’.
In times past, religious rules have required us to take a day off from work every week. These days, our commitments increasingly infringe on our opportunity for personal time. Naish suggests taking a personal sabbath as part of the key to maintaining inner sustainability. I can vouch for this myself, having noticed the amazing rejuvenating effect of a weekly ‘pyjama day’.
In the Stone Age, we were motivated to get out of our caves to meet new people, try new things, and make new discoveries, by the thrill-seeking circuits that have evolved in our brains. Afterall, those who lacked the desire for new information and encounters probably stayed in their caves and died out. These days we have ‘the increasingly seductive lure of virtual reality, which provides short-cuts that enable our brains to experience exciting biological cues [via the internet], such as attractive and willing mates, that [we] have been built to go out to find in the real world. Our thrill-seeking circuits no longer have to leave the sofa to get their kicks.’ This explains why I find it so hard to get off the internet, even when I know I’ve had enough.
Although we tend to believe that more information is always a good thing, these days we are so innundated with choices and options that we tend to get overwhelmed and find it difficult to make decisions. We need to stop wasting our time pondering small options that hardly make a difference to the thing we are buying, place we are going, or service we are acquiring, and simply get on with it. In other words, we should go on a ‘data diet’.
We also need to break the tie that keeps us closely connected to our mobile phones, inboxes and newsfeeds. One study shows that ‘your concentration gets depleted by constantly feeling compelled to stop and check your inbox. This continual state of background distraction means we lose productivity.’ ‘It takes about four minutes to recover from an electronic interruption and regain your train of thought.’ The message for us: only check your email a few times a day. Turn off your phone unless you need to use it, or turn off the sound and simply check for messages at appropriate times during the day. Although it’s considered a mortal sin in our culture, we actually don’t need to be contactable and reachable by others all day every day. Make a habit of finding some unconnected time away from your devices.
We are programmed to eat as much as possible when we see appetising food, to prepare for times of scarcity. These days we are surronded by images of food, which switches on our appetite, but there is no longer a natural off-switch. The key, Naish believes, is to eat strictly at set meal times and avoid snacking. Try not to think unneccesarily about food, and don’t pay attention to the food images around you.
Strangely… Enough Happiness
It may seem odd to say ‘enough happiness’, but in truth, we can’t be happy all the time. ‘Happiness is an evolutionary adaptation that exists to make us engage in certain behaviours at certain times when they might optimise our chances of surviving and reproducing.’ Likewise, our negative emotions have also evolved to helpfully propel us into action to improve our circumstances when needed. In fact, the quest for happiness may be doomed, since a ‘study in the Journal of Neuroscience says that mammal brains appear to be built with fewer mechanisms for feeling pleasure than for suffering pangs of desire.’ Studies show that from the age of twenty-five, our basic level of life-satisfaction is set, and tends to remain fixed, regardless of the good and bad things that happen to us.
‘Above a certain level of life-satisfaction, it gets much harder to push your morale any higher.’ Think of a pyramid, where the bottom, widest, layer represents our most basic needs: air, food, drink, shelter, sleep etc. Attaining these and moving to the next level, which represents safety and stability, will give us a pretty big burst of happiness. But for each level that we climb, through love and belonging, to achievement and mastery, and finally into the pointy topmost realm of personal growth, the increase in happiness gets smaller and smaller. Once we have it all, where do we go from there? Humans, rather than being satisfied when perched at the top of the pyramid, as many of us Westerners are these days, tend to find increasingly trivial things to hunger after, in the hope that they will give our happiness a boost. Chances are, though, that the boost will be small and fleeting.
Instead, Naish quotes Imlac, who declares that ‘people should spend their time modestly enjoying the day, rather than worrying if they’re on the path to perfection.’ We need to focus on contentment with our lot, and appreciation for the time of abundance in which we live.
Not Enough Gratitude
It seems that the true secret to learning to live with enough is to practise gratitude and thankfulness. In fact, ‘psychological research reveals that the practice of gratitude…[and] thankfulness can enhance our satisfaction with life in ways that the next consumer product never will.’ Other studies show ‘that the higher your levels of gratitude, the lower your levels of materialism.’ One large-scale study ‘divided hundreds of people into three groups and asked them to keep daily diaries. The first group noted only daily events, the second listed nasty experiences, and the third recorded things for which they were grateful. Over time, the third group showed higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism and energy. They even felt motivated to exercise more often… The benefits were social as well as personal, because… the fact that they were on alert for peoples’ good acts made them much more willing to reciprocate the small generosities they spotted.’
As well as keeping a daily diary, we can be reminded to live in the present and let our hurriedness wash away through doing a three minute meditation three times a day. Close your eyes, relax, and let your mind slow. Naish also suggests sometimes doing a five-sense meditation. Go for a walk and say to yourself, ‘I am seeing…’, ‘I am hearing…’ and work your way through all five senses.
Naish quotes Solzhemitsyn, who ‘suggests we cultivate a sense of unselfish spirituality, where we politely decline our unprecedented opportunity to use up all the plant’s resources at once.’
Because I really want to remember what I’ve read, and incorporate some of this into my own life, in the hope that I can truly learn to say ‘enough’ at the right time, I’m going to do the following things:
- Create some pages in my journal on the topics listed above. I find that putting my resolutions in my journal is often enough of a reminder to help me see them through.
- I’ve been thinking for a while about having a written journal as well as an art journal. On one hand it feels like overkill, but on the other I’m having trouble reconciling my rough scribblings with my desire to create beautiful pages in my art journal. Maybe a little black book of Enough and Gratitude that I scribble in each night? When I’ve had this in the past it’s become a very soothing part of my night routine.
- Try out the three minute meditation and 5 sense meditations. I haven’t meditated for years. I haven’t had time. Ha! Actually I’ve been doing pilates/yoga most mornings and that takes its place. Maybe I simply incorporate a meditation element into that?
- And I’m really going to think about the Enough Work bit. That’s the one I struggle with the most. I already have more than enough work but I still keep accepting more…
What about you? Are you inspired to say ‘enough’? Leave me a comment with your thoughts and resolutions!
PS If you liked this book review, you might also like to read my post about Affluenza.