How an obsession with scarcity & a misunderstanding of abundance is getting in the way of our own happiness
You are enough. You slept enough. You accomplished enough. You have enough…If only this were the loop that played in our head from morning till night.
Unfortunately, it sounds more like this: I didn’t get enough sleep. I didn’t get enough done, and the big one, I’m not good enough.
What we think is a healthy preoccupation with acquiring “enough” to be happy and responsible, is in reality something far more detrimental. We suffer from a scarcity illusion — the same illusion that leaves many forever ill-contented, hoarding and on the hunt.
Because our hunger for more is insatiable, the resources we have now will never suffice. Shining a light on our perceived scarcity, the fuel driving this desire for more, frees us from its clutches to reveal the abundance that was always present.
Scarcity Illusion #1: Not Enough Time
Today, thanks to technology, sending an email takes seconds. Yet we still struggle to find the time to reply to messages and reach out to friends. A few generations ago people mailed handwritten letters by post. In fact, everything took longer, but they found the time. Scarcity, therefore, is largely relative, making it more fiction than fact.
Have our workloads really increased? Probably not, but our values have changed, as reflected in our lifestyles. “Busy” is the new status symbol. Once acceptable staples of normal life, lazy afternoons and free time are almost frowned upon. Our technology-driven “insta-culture” has us duped.
Challenge yourself to find 15 minutes during your day to simply relax (the bigger challenge will be to not feel guilty about it).
Next time you go to bed feeling like you ran out of time to accomplish everything, pause for a second. List, as precisely as possible, what you did that day. Get granular. Did you really grocery shop from 6-7pm, or did you sit in your car for 10 minutes checking emails first?
If time were gold we would spend it much less frivolously. The irony of course is that time is far more precious. As the saying goes, “Show me your calendar, and I’ll tell you your values.” Take a look at yours and see what values it reveals.
Scarcity Illusion #2: Not Enough Money
Trade “calendar” for “checkbook” and that saying still works.
At what age do we start becoming aware of money? Three? Four? Society impresses upon us early on the importance of being “reasonable” and “responsible.” Oddly enough, socially acceptable spending often implies €25,000 in car payments (the US household average), spare bedrooms and multiple credit cards.
There’s nothing wrong with these luxuries, as long as their owner is not simultaneously lamenting a lack of resources.
Too often the cycle is this: overworking ourselves at jobs we don’t enjoy to buy things we don’t need to justify why our work is worth it. The icing on the cake is our constant stress about not having enough time or money.
Living within one’s means is eccentric. Maxed out credit cards are the norm. Someone who earns €3,000/month and lives within their means is far richer than someone who earns €10,000/month and lives a lifestyle that costs €12,000.
Financial wealth, therefore, is also relative. Similar to the previous time assignment, challenge yourself to take stock of where your money is going. What items do you pay for that don’t bring value to your daily life. Do you need a home office, a guest room and a new car? Are your 50 pairs of shoes making you happy or bringing low-level anxiety? Imagine a life with less debt — perhaps just a reasonable loan for a small home you love — and a closet with six pairs of your dream shoes.
Compulsive consumption drives capitalism and leaves us with hours spent in stores and overflowing shelves at home. Don’t get me wrong, some financial troubles are real, but reevaluating, budgeting and adapting are prerequisites to rightfully bemoaning not having enough.
Scarcity Illusion #3: Not Enough skills
The most ominous form of the scarcity illusion — “I’m not good enough” — holds us back throughout our lives.
At some point in childhood, or adulthood, we learn that we’re just not creative, or smart, or athletic, and that becomes the identity that we continue to propagate.
Everyone is different, but we grow up in a culture of comparing and competing. Some things will come easier to others. Instead of recognizing this fact we jump to overdramatic generalizations that get us nowhere: “She’s smarter than me.” “He’s better than me.”
Sometimes we choose to blame a perceived precondition because it’s easier than recognizing that we have the power to shape our skillsets. It is hard to admit to yourself, “Okay, I failed that test. To pass next time I need to study this entire textbook. I’ll have to wake up every morning at 6am and read one chapter before work. Is this worth it to me?”
So go learn Arabic, take a writing course, finish your marketing degree. Acquire the skills you want to have. It is your choice and your right.
Have you ever tried to teach an old dog new tricks? Spoiler alert: it works.
We are addicted to busyness and scarcity. Let’s change the tune, instead recognizing and building abundance based on our values.
For the majority of us above the poverty line, the I-don’t-have-enough falsehood is a way to avoid shouldering responsibility by passing blame off to external limitations. Empowering yourself is scary, as is becoming accountable for how you choose to spend your time and money.
Taking stock of where that time and money is going is another painful, tedious process, but one that takes you out of autopilot and puts you back in the driver’s seat.
These illusions create an excuse to worry, yet another distraction that drags us from the present. Once you lift the scarcity veil, you will find abundance everywhere you look.