It has been said that life is short. As we only have limited time on this earth, we should experience as many things as possible. No one knows when their last day will be. Maybe today, perhaps tomorrow, or many years into the future. So we try to live in the fast track, determined to experience life through the windows of a speeding train. Having enough is something we don’t consider.

We love to dine at an eat-all-you-can buffet. Ordering a dessert sampler instead of individual pieces. Traveling with a jam-packed itinerary. These are the things we do in order to take that “shortcut” of experiences. Instead of having to experience them one at a time, we now have the option of trying everything at once.

Seneca (4 BC – AD 65), one of the great Stoic philosophers, warns us about this option. In the book, Letters from a Stoic, he writes:

When a person spends all his time in foreign travel, he ends by having many acquaintances, but no friends.

The problem isn’t the act of experiencing things itself; rather, it’s the shallow understanding we often gain from these experiences, especially if they’re ultimately pointless.

The Joy of Missing Out

As social creatures who survived through cooperation and conforming to the larger group, there is a natural tendency to want what others have. Companies take advantage of this fear of missing out (FOMO) to influence us for more consumption. Seneca warned us regarding FOMO:

Food does no good and is not assimilated into the body if it leaves the stomach as soon as it is eaten;

The meaning of this quote goes beyond just food. Consider anything that goes through ourselves: are they contributing to our betterment, or are they just junk that passes through? When we watch a popular show only so we don’t feel left out, is it really a good way to spend our time?

A plant which is often moved can never be strong.

A good lesson to learn is the ability to stay still. We tend to think that the other side is greener. Other people have it better than us. This work is difficult, so I’ll resign and find another (easier) job. How will we grow if we uproot ourselves all the time?

It is helpful for us to have a place to call our home. As a parent, it can be difficult for the family if you keep moving to different places because of work. Your children will not be able to maximize their learning if who is teaching them and where they learn changes all the time. Your social circle will not be as robust as compared to staying in one area.

We should not fear that we are missing out. Rather, we should be grateful that we get to enjoy fully what we have at the present.

The Quest for More

We are beings fueled by our own drive. Dopamine, our “feel-good” hormone, is actually not triggered when we receive a reward, but when we anticipate getting it. We feel better while we are striving for something than when we reach the conclusion of our goal. This inherent drive makes us constantly earn more, experience more, and achieve more, even after surpassing our previous goals.

This is not a good way to live, Seneca wrote. In his letters, he set some guidelines on how to properly manage our possessions and our wealth.

Accordingly, since you cannot read all the books which you may possess, it is enough to possess only as many books as you can read.

I am absolutely guilty of not following this. Years ago I went to a book fair and bought as many books as I could on topics that interest me. After a long time, those books still languish in my storage box. Today though, when I am tempted to buy a new book, I think first if I will be able to read it within the month. If the answer is no, then it is not worth buying it. This is also the same as my game library and consoles, my online courses, and tools and trinkets that just take up space in the house. If I cannot use them soon, they are better off unbought.

The Elusive Enough

It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.

Hedonic adaptation. Our wants and cravings are not satisfied when we get the object that we desire; it just becomes our new baseline. The satisfaction is short-lived, and soon we want and crave the bigger thing. It is a never-ending cycle.

What then can be done?

Do you ask what is the proper limit to wealth? It is, first, to have what is necessary, and, second, to have what is enough.

We can think of life experiences as boxes. You can open any box you want, but you cannot open them all. We will not be satisfied if all we think of are the boxes that we are not able to open. A full and rich life does not mean accumulating many things and experiences, but by enjoying and savoring what we already have and what we have done.

Happy is the person who knows they have enough.

Photo by Pablo García Saldaña on Unsplash

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