Can you remember hearing the phrase "enough is enough" in your life? Maybe we don't use it as much as we once did, but I can remember hearing it quite a lot when I was younger. It usually meant, "Stop it! Quit it!" We'd be quarreling or screaming or throwing silverware or whatever, and Mom would say, "Enough is enough!" What might that little phrase mean in terms of "stuff and things"? To have enough is to be satisfied. It's a point at which you consciously realize you have what you need, and you stop wanting, working, and whining for more.
Remember the way it's expressed in the Lord's prayer? "Give us this day our daily bread." Enough. Sufficient. And if there is an extra loaf, we will share. To never get enough of what you don't need brings a desire to keep acquiring and accumulating. In such a state, you never feel you have sufficient (probably because what you do have is not bringing satisfaction and contentment). You can never get enough of what you don't need because what you don't need never satisfies.
1. Identify what is luxury and what is necessity.
If you're like me, you can rationalize why you have so many or so much of something (shoes, fabric, tools, coats, or whatever). "I save these boxes because I've lived in places where I didn't have any." Ha. That's an excellent reason to keep so many things around. Sometimes I say to myself, "Self, having this many things is not helping one single other person on the planet! Get a life!"
Dissatisfaction—not feeling you have enough—is a very troubling feeling. It's the feeling that you need "just one more." "Just one more pair of shoes and then I'll have enough." Just one more CD, one more book, one more tool, piece of luggage, one more car . . . any minute now I'm going to have enough.
Let me tell you of an experience I had many years ago. I was thinking about luxury. What is luxury? I asked myself. I decided I'd make a list. As I look back, I think I was feeling that one of something was a necessity, but two or more would be a luxury. One was enough! So I started listing things that it would be a luxury to have two of. I started by writing down "two homes." That was a good place to start. Two cars. Same thing. Luxury. I was getting it now! Two TVs. I was on my way to a deeper understanding of luxury! I couldn't wait to tell everyone else what I had discovered and learned! Two this, two that. The list got longer and longer. And then it happened. A whispering—no, it was louder than a whisper—from inside. "When did you stop saying 'luxury'?" I had stopped saying "luxury" when I started having two of something! I could easily explain to someone why I needed more than one phone. More than two. More than three, even.
As President Ezra Taft Benson used to quote, "There, there, little luxury, don't you cry—you'll be a necessity by and by."
2. Use the ABC method of identifying blessings.
Maybe you'd have an interesting time trying the ABC method of counting blessings. If you think it would be valuable to try this (including with your family), don't try to get things in some order of importance or it might spoil the fun. Just talk together about all the things you can think of for which you're thankful that begin with the letter "A": apples, animals, Africa, aunts, ants, acrobats, artists, anesthesia, Altoids, answers, air . . . (I know you're adding to the list).
This may not be an idea that has any appeal for you, but then, on the other hand, maybe it would be fun as an activity in a family home evening or in the car on a long trip. "How many things can we think of beginning with the letter 'X' for which we're thankful?" Okay, don't start with "X." After x-rays, Xeorox machines, and xenophobia, it gets hard. But if you skip around the alphabet, there will be less chance for someone to move ahead to the next letter instead of focusing on the one at hand.
3. Decide to see things as half full instead of half empty.
I've asked myself a question many times: "When does it happen?" When and why do we stop being grateful for what we have and begin to be dissatisfied and want more than we need? How can we consciously become more thankful for what we do have rather than being so often dissatisfied because of what we don't have? Do you ever remember a Christmas when you opened a bunch of presents and then looked around for more rather than enjoying what you had received?
I think there are several ways we can reduce the tendency to think of what we don't have. One is to consciously stop the thought as soon as we recognize it, and replace it with gratitude. I'm going to offer some statements illustrating this, and you can kind of skim over them until you land on one that has relevance for you: "It's true that I don't look like someone from a magazine cover, but I feel good about myself, and I love what I'm doing."
"No, my husband isn't perfect—oh how I wish he'd be the one to initiate family prayer and family home evening, but he's such a great friend and wonderful provider."
"Yes, our community really got hit by the hurricanes, but we're talking to neighbors we've hardly known until now; we're all in the same (damaged) boat."
"It's so hard being homebound, but thank goodness for a telephone, the Internet, the postal system, a doorbell, sun coming through the windows, and some great friends."
"It is a fact that I don't have a college degree, but I've got the equivalent plus some post-graduate work from the learning that comes to me from my life's experiences."
Are you getting the idea? We really can look at a glass as being half-full instead of half-empty, and we truly can change our thoughts from negative to positive much of the time. And for those times when it's just not possible, please hang in and hang on. I've had some of those too.
4. Focus on present blessings.
One day I was thinking about being grateful for present blessings, and I felt that there are times when I don't give thanks for my pennies because I'm sad that I don't have dimes. I find when I'm thinking about what I don't have, I tend to get grumpy and crabby. I'm not very pleasant, optimistic, or positive, and I'm no fun to be around. It reminds me that I can never get enough of what I don't need, actually, because I'm surrounded with wonderful things. This includes all that is connected to the gospel. When we focus on blessings, expressing gratitude along the way, we will become increasingly aware of all that has been so generously shared with us. We notice what we're thinking about, don't we?
My friend Sharon told about a friend who did this exercise with her school class: "She would tell them, 'Look around the room and find all the things you can that are purple.' After they had a few minutes to do so, she had them close their eyes. Then she said, 'Okay, now tell me all the things you saw that were yellow.' And they couldn't do it. That's because they had focused so intently on the purple that they didn't even notice the yellow things." Sharon concluded, "You can see the application of contentment and gratitude. When we focus on what we don't have, pretty soon that's all we see, so we become discontented, and whiny, and unsatisfied. But when we focus on our many amazing blessings, we become more and more aware of them, and thus more and more content and humble and grateful. And I might add, happier and more peaceful."
Wanting less is probably a better blessing than having more. With increased awareness and perspective, we can teach our hearts to be satisfied sooner, content with less.
Why does it seem we are always looking for more? In her wonderfully unique style, author Mary Ellen Edmunds suggests that You Can Never Get Enough of What You Don't Need because what you don't need never satisfies. "I can have a house filled with stuff and things, but if it's not what I need, it will never satisfy me, no matter how much I have," she observes. Have you noticed that the happiness we equate with abundance often eludes both those who get what they want in life and those who don't? This eye-opening treasure hunt of a book will help you find the secret to living with contentment.
Also includes activity suggestions to help families distinguish between needs and wants, be more aware of the influences around us that encourage materialism, and be more grateful and content with what we have.
Mary Ellen Edmunds was born in Los Angeles, California, and now lives in American Fork, Utah. She happily qualifies for all senior citizen discounts. She received a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Brigham Young University and taught nursing there for several years. She has served as a missionary in Taiwan, Hong Kong, twice in the Philippines, and in Indonesia, and she directed a child health project in Nigeria, West Africa. She was a director of training at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, and served as a member of the Relief Society general board for eleven years. Mary Ellen is the author of several books and talks, including Peculiar—in a Good Way, You Can Never Get Enough of What You Don’t Need, and MEE Speaks. She enjoys her family, teaching, writing, people, music, thinking, serving, and being a happifier. For more of her insights, check out The Mary Ellen Edmunds Collection (talks on CD), available at Deseret Book.