Creating Abundance? Or Sufficience? How To Live Richly, Yet Simply and Successful!
Creating Non-Material Abundance and Sufficience In Life and Work Means Less Stress, Real Success and Authentic Happiness!
“We cannot solve a problem at the same level of thinking we created it.”— Albert Einstein
"We are rich in proportion to the number of things we can afford to let alone." — Henry David Thoreau
Creating Abundance? Or Sufficience? A Challenge for Our Times!
I recently received a glossy marketing flier through the mail. “Happiness! Abundance! Success!” shouted the lead on the flier. That teaser was quickly followed by the questions, “Would you like to have more money?” and “Would you like to achieve financial security?”
The marketing huckster promised other results, including, “Improved Relationships,” “Less Stress,” “Lost Weight,” and “Peace, Happiness, and Joy"– if only you were willing to part with half a month’s wages to purchase the “amazing” tape set it touted. Or plop down three months wages for a year long "abundance coaching" program.
So, why do this and similar marketing approaches upset me? Three reasons.
Too Good To Be True?
First, I think the offers sound too good to be true. And, usually when they sound too good to be true, they're not. Here's another pitch for an audio download, from New Age author Wayne Dwyer: "Attract Anything You Want in 30 Days!" It's about "secrets to manifesting your destiny."
What do you think? Will you be able to create a novel in 30 days? Or sustainable community? Will it work for creating a rich, full, and supportive marriage, and family environment? Will it work if you want to win the lottery? Will it help you generate authentic happiness? Or is it a marketer's snake oil?
I fear that people will be suckered into paying hucksters money for which they traded precious life energy for promises that will not be fulfilled. Twenty-five years ago, for example, author Shakti Gawain popularized the notion of "creative visualization". If you visualize it, she claimed, it'll happen.
"Every moment of your life," she said, "is infinitely creative and the universe is endlessly bountiful. Just put forth a clear enough request, and everything your heart desires must come to you."
It must? Is that true?
Creative visualization was an early version of what is now called "the law of attraction." As Australian infomercial producer (and author of "The Secret") Rhonda Byrne described it to Oprah, the secret to abundance is," Ask, believe, receive." But, be careful, not to ask more than once. Doing so indicates that you don't believe. So, it won't work.
Again, is this true? Does it really work? Or are psychologist's offices overflowing with poor, disappointed souls who believed this stuff and are now depressed because they fear there is something terribly wrong with them?
Creative visualization, when grounded in an accurate, objective description of current reality, and put into action, it can be a powerful technique. But, by itself, it is often just frustration-producing daydreaming.
To her credit, Ms Gawain, has recently updated her approach, acknowledging that as well as visualizing what you want, you must also take action.
"Of course," she writes in The Path of Transformation, "action is a vital part of bringing our consciousness into form and making real change. Direct, powerful, and committed action is vitally important on both a personal and social/political level."
Still, all of these "if you dream it, you can do it" approaches assume the Universe (including the Earth) is a boundless repository of material and financial abundance. But they are not! The laws of thermodynamics still trump the so-called law of attraction.
You Can't Get Enough of What You Don’t Need
My second concern is that, although they are pervasive, the claims for abundance are misleading. The New Age and Self-Help world is awash in "abundance."
The word is in almost every marketing approach to personal growth, coaching, and self-development that comes across my computer screen. And it is almost always linked to more “stuff” – money, houses, cars, expensive cruises to hot places, and second homes in over-priced mountain and beach towns.
These financial and material gains are then linked to higher order results such as happiness. But the link is spurious. The assumption that the key to achieving happiness and inner peace is amassing more money, more stuff—financial and material abundance—is unfounded. Sufficience trumps abundance! Sufficience is more likely to lead to authentic happiness.
Research by Tim Kasser, author of The High Price of Materialism, Richard Layard, author of Happiness: Lessons From A New Science, and others shows that, beyond a basic level of sufficiency (about $50,000 a family), more money and stuff does not bring peace, happiness, or security. Often, it gets in the way of it.
Trying to fill existential emptiness with purchased objects and experiences can lead to deeper emptiness. Trying to dispel fears and insecurities by amassing more stuff can increase insecurity. We've got more to lose, more to protect, more to hang on to, and, thus, more to worry about.
Moreover, research shows that money and stuff is not what people seek. They seek more money and stuff compared to others. They don't just want to be rich; they want to be richer than others.
When surveyed by sociologists, people in each of the designated categories (lower, middle, upper, and lower, middle and upper subclasses of each) thought they would be happy with 25% more income. But, 25% more would put them into the next higher category. There, they would no longer be satisfied. Like others in that category, they would be happy if they just had 25% more.
So people find themselves on a hedonistic, work-and-spend treadmill, trundling along trying to catch up with ever-receding goals. As Eric Hoffer said, "You can never get enough of what you don't need to make you happy." Amassing financial and material abundance is not the best way to achieve inner peace, authentic happiness, and joy. We'd do better to seek sufficience.
Physical and Material Limits to Growth
Even if the abundance promised by marketers were possible for everyone, my third concern is how can we justify such grossly materialistic ends?
Most of us who can afford to buy expensive self-improvement tapes already have enough stuff. Most of us have more than enough. I mean, come on! I watched a guy on TV suck down a $2 bottle of water and gripe that a litre of gas for his tricked-out, monster-tired SUV cost him $1.40.
Approaches that equate "happiness, inner peace, and security" with material "abundance" are grossly out of step with today's reality. Our planet's physical and ecological resources are limited. If climate change and the financial meltdown of October, 2008 do not convince you, consider this from Charles Eisenstein, author of "Money and the Crisis of Civilization": "We cannot convert much more of the earth into money … before the basis of life itself is threatened."
More isn't the answer. More of just about anything material is not going to make us happier, content, or more fulfilled! Besides, if all of humanity were to achieve the money and material abundance promised by these spurious marketing approaches, we'd need six planet Earths to support us. Insane!
What Is Abundance?
According to my Concise Oxford Dictionary, “abundant” means, “existing or available in large quantities: plentiful.” It also means, “very great quantity, usually considered to be more than enough.”
An abundance of non-material things such as good work, great relationships, focused purpose, and positive feelings is possible. And these things can lead to peace, happiness, love, and joy. But abundance in such things is dependent on our abilities to recognize, exercise, and develop them.
Surprising, though, even an abundance—more than enough—of some positive things leads to difficulties. Researchers John Gottman and Barbara Fredrickson have found, for example, that the optimal ratio of positive to negative feelings (and actions) is about 5 to 1.
Lower than that, marriages begin to fail, workplaces become toxic, and individuals suffer from depression. But if the ratio gets too high (more than 13 to 1), says Fredrickson, it indicates that the person is "ignoring negativity and weakness." To be beneficial, "Positivity", she says, "must be grounded in reality."
So, even too much of a good thing can be too much. Moreover, thinking that non-material forms of abundance are dependent on money and material abundance is self-defeating. At a time when individuals, communities, nations, and even communities of nations are awakening our impact of on global climate change, and millions are suffering and dying from catastrophic weather events, why are so many marketers trying to encourage us to go for “MORE than enough?”
More important, "Why are so many progressive folks suckered by this huckster's pitch? Even many so-called "Cultural Creatives" are enamored of the various "secrets" of abundance the hucksters promise to reveal. I am all for change. I am for self improvement. I am for creating what matters most. But why focus on abundance—more than enough—when we would be more authentically happier and content if we focused on sufficience?
What Is Sufficience?
Instead of grasping at the huckster's version of abundance, why not create sufficience?
"Sufficience" isn’t a word, yet, but I think it should be. It is a noun form of “suffice,” which means, “be enough; meet the needs of, or satisfy.” It comes from the Latin “facere,” meaning, “to make, to do.”
Recognizing that “just enough” material and money is all we need to create a wealth of non-material results is much more likely to bring us inner peace, authentic happiness and satisfaction than an ever increasing “abundance” of material stuff.
Even back in the Middle Ages, theologian and philosopher Thomas Aquinas argued that the accumulation of material wealth was not enough to create a happy, satisfying life.
According to ecological economist Mark Anielski in The Economics of Happiness, "Aquinas said that genuine happiness required only two things: virtuous action and sufficiency of material goods." He also said that it is necessary to use the latter in service of the former. A sufficience of material wealth serves a virtuous and sufficient life.
“Sufficiency” means “an adequate amount, or adequate resources.”
So “sufficience,” I propose, would mean, “the ability to make and do what it takes to create what matters most—using just enough resources, and no more.” With sufficience, seeking more than enough money and stuff gives way to developing “mastery, “meaning,” and “the capacity to create what truly matters—with whatever you have to work with!”
Sufficience and Simplicity
Sufficience can take numerous forms, starting with self-sufficience, an individual's capacity to create what matters, with just enough resources. This is a form of simple living, or voluntary simplicity in which a person accumulates just enough wealth and material goods to support her or him in doing the non-material things they love, and that bring joy, fulfilment, and happiness.
It's important that we don't over do it. LIfe should not so simple or austere that it becomes focused on competing to see who can live on the least. As Einstein said, "a thing should be simple enough, and no more."
Many times, over the last 30 years, I've seen the "I'm simpler than you" tactic backfire. The dam of pent-up demands bursts, and simple livers flip into upscale consumers.
Simplicity is a means to an end. Aquinas called that end "a virtuous life." Aristotle called it "a flourishing life."
Simplifying your life works best if it supports a big, meaningufl purpose and vision. It needs to serve a purpose such as living well in harmony with the ecological principles on which all health, wealth, and well being depends.
Simple, sufficient living would enable one to comfortably meet shelter, food, and other basic survival needs. It would leave time and energy to make and do—to create meaningful results, alone and with others.
Imagine the joys and rewards we could reap from creating art, music, literature, green buildings, and community gardens. Imagine the satisfaction created by restoring fish-filled streams, building, local walkways, implementing green technology, and dancing and singing together in celebration! Imagine sufficience in service of a simple, yet richly successful, and sustainable life.
Family, neighborhood, and community sufficience would arise as groups of various sizes co-create rich, satisfying living, working, and leisure environments -- with just enough resources, and no more. As with individual sufficience, increased efficiency and effectiveness (doing more with less) can be achieved by using a design-driven, vision-focused creating approach, rather than wasting energy and resources in ineffective problem solving.*
Regional sufficience would include sufficience in food, water, energy, and the other necessities of life. As well as encouraging the growth of individual and local capacity, sufficience on this level would involve policies to encourage and support small green businesses, organic farms, market gardens, value-added industries, local farmer's and craft markets, recycling and re-using efforts, and more -- all using just enough energy and resources, and no more.
Finally, global sufficience will help humankind develop the capacity to live rich, meaningful, and satisfying lives in harmony our ecology, and each other.
Sufficience is a more appropriate goal for our times than "abundance." It is a goal that is more likely to lead to rich, meaningful, and happy lives than is the never-ending accumulation of more stuff.
By working within the structure of creating -- driven by vision, grounded in reality, and focused on actions that honour reality and support deeply desired results -- we can empower ourselves to create simple, successful, and sustainable lives, with the tools, resources, and energy we have at hand.
Sufficience in material things applied to an abundance of non-material joys is a surer way to create happiness, joy, and genuine, lasting satisfaction, and a life, well lived, in harmony with this beautiful, generous, but limited Earth we live on.
I urge everyone to ignore the abundance hucksters. Drop your dreams of never-ending material abundance. Be grateful for what you already have. Focus your precious energy and resources on what you truly want to make and do. Then create it, using just enough, and no more. Creating non-material abundance and sufficience is a better route to authentic happiness.
Bruce Elkin is a writer and personal life coach. He helps individuals and groups create what matters most—in spite of problems, circumstances and adversity. He wrote Simplicity and Success: Creating A Life You Long For. It and his ebook Emotional Mastery: Manage Your Moods and Create What Matters Most—With Whatever Life Gives You! are available on his website at BruceElkin.com.
For more of his writing, pop over to his HubPages Profile.
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