The Toxic Culture Of More


Why do we constantly look to what we don’t have ‘enough’ of, instead of nourishing what we’ve already got; that which is right in front of us?

I woke up at 3am last night (or this morning, I guess) and couldn’t fall back to sleep.

I must have been having an anxiety dream about money, because as soon as I was awake, my brain was already busily running a tally of every bill that’s due, or overdue, or might be due in the future. I kept adding it up, over and over, my foggy brain in a panic, calculating not only how much money I need to make, but how much sleep I could still get if I managed to fall back to sleep in five minutes, ten minutes, half an hour.

It’s not a big mystery why this middle-of-the-night math would wake me up: it was on my mind while I was awake yesterday. I kept adding up the expense of various things my children and I need and fretting over the cost of living in New York City and the difficulty of being a single mother with a freelance career and a lot of big ambitions, both for my kids and for myself.

It’s easy for me to think that having more money would solve all my problems. And maybe it actually would solve a lot of them. Studies have found that, although being rich isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, having enough money to cover your basic needs actually does increase happiness. There’s a certain point, however, at which having more money doesn’t make you happier (though I’m pretty sure most people would be willing to try it and see whether they could be the exception).

Lynne Twist, author of the bestselling book The Soul of Money, compares money to water: we need it to live, and it can carry us forward. But it can also drown us. Money, like water, says Twist, is not good or bad. It simply is. What we do with it, and how we allow it to shape us, is the important thing. “Money itself isn’t the problem. Money itself doesn’t have power or not have power.” It’s the way we interact with money, says Twist, that gives us an opportunity to transform ourselves and discover who we are.

Do you have enough?

Of course, money isn’t the only thing most of us want more of. “We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of,” says Twist.

We wake up in the morning wishing we’d gotten more sleep and go to bed at night wishing we’d gotten more done. And it’s this attitude, this scarcity mindset, always thinking we don’t have enough, that lies behind most of the misery in the world. Explains Twist, “This internal condition…lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, and our arguments with life.”

So, what do you think you need more of? More money? Probably – the cost of living just keeps rising. A bigger house? The tiny-house craze might be alive and well on the Internet, but the size of the average American house has doubled since the 1950s and just keeps getting bigger, according to NPR. How about more time? Most of us are constantly looking for the next time-saving hack, whether it’s keeping track of everything in a bullet journal or decluttering and organizing our stuff so as to streamline our routines. Or maybe you think you need more attention and affection from your partner, possibly causing you to seek it out elsewhere and risk destroying your relationship.

The three toxic myths of “more”

Twist explains that we all live according to a set of assumptions, or unconscious beliefs – our own particular paradigm that influences the way we see the world. What we have in common is that most of us are buying into three toxic myths that shape that paradigm.

The first one is that there’s not enough. Not enough money, not enough resources, not enough opportunities, not enough love – you name it, there’s not enough to go around. When someone gets something you want, do you feel frantic and upset because you’re afraid that means there’s less available for you? That’s this toxic belief in action. In fact, there’s plenty for everyone. And someone else getting what you want actually means the odds are better that you’ll get some, too.

The second myth is that more is better. But think back to that study about money and happiness: it’s not more than makes people happy. It’s enough that brings happiness. Once you have enough, more can only make you more unhappy.

The third myth is that this – this mindset, this wanting more, this unhappiness – is “just the way it is” and that we can’t do anything about it. We’re wired this way, to always want more. What’s more, society is set up to foster inequality, with the gap between the one percent and the rest of us, and the shrinking middle class. But, says Twist, what if it isn’t just the way it is? “We have to be willing to let go of ‘that’s just the way it is,’ even if just for a moment, to consider the possibility that there isn’t a way it is or way it isn’t. There is the way we choose to act and what we choose to make of circumstances.”

Fostering an abundance mindset

So, okay. All of our chasing after more isn’t making us any happier. In fact, it’s doing the opposite. We’re limited by our assumptions and trapped in our paradigms. And it doesn’t just make us unhappy, it makes us mean. Says Twist: “When we believe there is not enough, that resources are scarce, then we accept that some will have what they need and some will not. We rationalize that someone is destined to end up with the short end of the stick.”

How do we turn our thinking around, so we can be happier, kinder, and more generous people? How do we turn our scarcity mindset into an abundance mindset?

The key, says Twist, is to focus on what you already have. “If you let go of trying to get more of what you don’t really need…it frees up oceans of energy…to turn and pay attention to what you already have,” says Twist. And when you do that – when you focus on what you have, “when you nourish it, when you’re grateful for it, and when you share it, it expands.”

“True abundance,” says Twist, “flows from enough; never from more.” So think about what “enough” looks like for you. What in your life is already enough?

Maybe I don’t have enough money to pay the bills that will be due next month, but I do have enough to get me through today. I have enough to buy food for this week. Did I get as much sleep as I would have liked last night? Maybe not, but I got enough. And enough, it turns out, is even better than more.

Images via shutterstock, a24films, netflix, giphy.

Comment: Do you find yourself always wanting more, or are you satisfied with enough?