How Much Is Enough?

Does envy have you trying to “keep up with the Joneses?” Do you have a closet or segment of your home dedicated to barely-used items that now just take up space? Many Americans do a pretty good job at thinking of wants as needs. For instance, many sources note that while the United States holds less than 5% of the world’s population, we consume around a quarter of energy and other resources.

Related: Listen to an episode of the Intellectual Roundtable Podcast, where Lee and Michael discuss this question: ‘How much is enough?’ We also discuss another question as well, ‘How much of our thoughts are our own?’

You’d think that with all the extra stuff and the money we use to buy it we must be happier, right? Not according to the World Economic Forum. According to a measure known as the Happiness Index (six significant factors which contribute to happiness), “although the US ranks highly for per capita income, it is only ranked 18th out of 156 countries, substantially below most comparably wealthy nations.”

Of course, per capita income stats are deceiving. Disparity runs deep in America. Millions of people live in deep poverty, not only lacking in material needs, but also the basics of adequate shelter and healthy food. While necessary, charitable responses can only go so far. Some would argue that structural changes are needed to reduce the suffering of the have-nots (e.g. changes to economic assistance, housing, and tax policy).  In other words, more must be asked of the rest of us.

So, how much is enough? This is not simply an economic question. It’s environmental as well.

Humanity is currently consuming resources at a pace faster than the Earth’s ecological systems can renew them. Collectively, we have significantly passed the planet’s regeneration line.

That brings up a couple of important questions for America and Americans: Should there be limits to how much a person, a community, or our country can have or consume? And, if so, should it be up to the individual, our government, or some independent standard to measure if we’ve reached the point of adequate consumption and/or possession?

How much is enough?

Related questions:  How Can We Appreciate Life More?What Material Possession Means The Most To You?What Makes You The Happiest?What Are Our Responsibilities To Others?

2 thoughts on “How Much Is Enough?”

  1. The scariest part of this week’s question is the fact that we are currently using more of the Earth’s resources than it can replace. As the source for the link “Collectively, we have significantly passed the planet’s regeneration line,” notes, “Today humanity uses the equivalent of 1.7 Earths to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste.”

    This fact alone tells me that many humans (specifically, many Americans) have more than enough. And as the world’s population grows, more stringent measures will need to be taken to achieve balance.

    So this brings me to the questions: (1) Do we care about the world that current children will inherit? (2) Do we care about future generations? Lip-service, no doubt, says “yes.” But reality demonstrates that we just don’t care enough yet. Practically addressing, “How much is enough?” will/would face considerable roadblocks. Many Americans enjoy their freedom to consume.

    In this country, because of current politics, I’m afraid a cultural shift, rather than a political one, is the answer; politics will trail what enough voters have already shown a willingness to put up with. (This is not to say we should abandon attempts at political answers; at a minimum that would force tough solutions into public debate.) But I believe a cultural shift is the answer. This will unfortunately come because of real life consequences of climate change … a world becoming increasingly unfit for humans as well as much wildlife and food sources.

    How much is enough? At a minimum it is when the Earth can replenish the supplies we consume.

    This says nothing about how we achieve a balance while allowing the poor — in this country and others — to have and consume more than they currently do. And this one will require (in America, at least) politically unpopular solutions, because too many middle- and upper income people: (1) do their best not to have to see/confront poverty; and (2) still hang on to the belief that charitable responses are the most fitting ways to address the needs of the have-nots.

  2. Society will never have “enough” as long as wealth is glorified and the wealthy are seen as better than those without. And as long mainstream media keeps up the ideas of “You need a new ___”, “You deserve to treat yourself to ___”, “You have to get ___ before it’s gone!”, satisfaction in what we have will always be out of reach.
    The end of Matthew 5:12 says, “the plenty belonging to the rich man does not permit him to sleep.”

    It’s up to us as individuals to curb our desire to have more. Ask yourself “Does it fulfill a need, or want?”, “Can I get by without it?”, “Does it have “real” value?”.
    I’m reminded of 1 Timothy 6:8 which encourages us to be “content with food and clothing”; basic needs.
    If we strive for simplicity in our lives, then we would find that we have more time and resources to help others. That is what brings true satisfaction.

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