How much of anything is too little, how much is enough, and how much is too much? It sounds like a question out of the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” But I’m not talking about the temperature of bears’ oatmeal or the size of their chairs.
Two writers, one a research professor and one a global activist, argue that the perception of scarcity goes beyond environmental issues, such as lack of water to sustain crops, or life-and-death concerns such as the absence of adequate nourishment. They say that the perception of “scarcity” is a state of mind which affects every aspect of contemporary life in our culture.
Dr. Brené Brown, research professor, therapist, and author of “Daring Greatly,” has heard enough stories from students and clients to know that we often define ourselves in terms of what we lack. One way she asks clients to tell their stories is to fill in the blanks to complete this sentence: Never____________enough. Typical responses include: “Never good enough, never perfect enough, never thin enough, never powerful enough, never successful enough, never smart enough, never certain enough, never safe enough, never extraordinary enough.”
In fact, many of us let the “never enough” belief control our lives from dawn to dusk. Brown quotes global activist Lynne Twist, author of “The Soul of Money,” as saying that scarcity is “the great lie…” Many people wake up telling themselves “I didn’t get enough sleep,” followed by “I don’t have enough time… Before we even sit up in bed…we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something…This mind set of scarcity lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice…”
So how do we gauge when we have enough? Within most countries, it’s easy to realize, objectively, that some groups of people have too much and others too little. It’s more difficult for us to view our own situations without prejudice, and consider when we have enough and when enough is enough.
Dr. Brown reminds us that our culture of comparison drives our beliefs that we lack something — or many things — that we must have. Why? Because someone else has them. Advertisers, many television shows and movies encourage this culture by featuring beautiful people, who have too much and live thrilling and extraordinary lives. The effect of seeing them is to make us feel certain our lives are lacking in money, fame, excitement, fun, and attention.
Dr. Brown shares tips to combat fears that we are lacking something important, including: 1) “Pay attention to ordinary moments, because these are what cause us joy; and 2) Be grateful for what we have.”
She suggests that another way to avoid the psychological scarcity trap is to tell ourselves, “I am enough.” This only works if we believe it. These days, more often than not, I do. Yet another good thing that comes with age.
These topics will continue in the next few blogs.