Tuesday, March 07, 2006

When More is Never Enough (Newspaper Column)

We live in a world of contradiction. On the one hand, we have more than any other generation. On the other, we have convinced ourselves that we need just that little bit more to be happy, to have “enough”.

Really, it’s true. Between 1951 and 1996 the average income of the Canadian family (in constant 1996 dollars) grew from $22 743 to $56 600 – an increase of almost 250%. What we now consider a small house for a couple would once have been home to a family of four or five. Most families had one vehicle, now most have at least two. TV’s, once a luxury item, are now standard parts of life – with many families having two or three sets. The list goes on. And yet, in the midst of all this abundance, people are desperately unhappy. The number of prescriptions written for depression and anxiety continues to grow. People complain of having no time, of feeling run off their feet. People wonder about a sense of meaning and purpose.

In reality this is not new. Rabbi Harold Kushner suggests that the writer of Ecclesiastes suffered this same disconnect. He had everything but he had nothing, and so he says: “vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” Eventually the writer turns to God. There he finds a sense of purpose and meaning that had been missing. It is telling that Kushner discusses this in his book titled When All You Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough.

The problem in our society is that often we fail to see the abundance around us. Instead we believe the myth of scarcity, the myth that we need more. This is probably news to nobody, but happiness doesn’t come from a store. The scarcity myth, brought to us largely by the advertising industry and our own fear of inadequacy, drives us to keep buying until we are either happy or broke. But there is another way.

The other way to happiness involves first stepping off the treadmill to look at what we have. Then we can ask why we think we need more, or what it is we truly need. People who are happy are people who feel that their lives have purpose. People who are happy are people who are connected to something beyond themselves. For some that something bigger is found in the community. For many that something bigger is found in faith, in spirituality, in religion. Coincidentally, Christian faith leads us directly to becoming involved in improving the life of our community which can reinforce that sense of purpose and contentment we are looking for.

We can continue to live with the contradiction of having lots but wanting more and still not being content. Or we can choose to look to faith for the true source of contentment. We can choose to be settled in our abundance, an abundance both of things from the marketplace and of those things you can never buy – family, friends, community. God is calling us to the second choice, which will we make?


  1. Well said.

    And the church, also, must beware of being caught up in the culture of abundance, holed up in splendor away from self-sacrifice.

  2. Two books that speak to this phenomenon are Unfettered Hope by Marva Dawn (an excellent theologian and writer)and The Paradox of Choice by sociologist Barry Schwartz.

  3. Another interesting take on this is Rabbi Nilton Bonder's, in The Kabbalah of Money, where he speaks about creating wealth in one realm, without creating scarcity in another.

    I would agree that in areas we though there was scarcity, there is wealth; but we need to remember areas of real scarcity in our lives, like our impoverished environment.