What Is ‘Enough’?

What you don’t miss tells you as much about yourself as what you do

Photo: Pitinan Piyavatin/EyeEm/Getty Images

For years I’ve been obsessed with the concept of “enough,” and figuring out what that meant for me. How much do my wife and I need to spend at restaurants each month? How many biscuit joiners are too many biscuit joiners? Should we put on a deck? Would a second banjo be “indulgent”?

Right now, these questions feel particularly urgent: What is the bare minimum that we need to be happy? What can I throw out?

Until the pandemic, paring down felt more like a privileged exercise than a necessity. Sure, my wife and I could have quit our habit of going to see live music three or four times a month, at almost $400 each time ($50 ticket in tickets, $100 in babysitting, $125 in food and drink, $100 Uber). Despite the significant costs, I didn’t want to give that up. It was too important to us.

As isolation and crisis have reordered the priorities of people around the world, my colleague Amy Shearn recently came up with a useful thought experiment: Take stock of what you miss as a way of understanding what you actually value. It’s a great diagnostic, and I found myself asking the opposite too: What do I NOT miss that much?

Live music, it turns out. Two months after seeing Calexico (great show!), I know that I could’ve skipped it. I love seeing shows. I LOVE that band. But I can have “enough” without live music. What you don’t miss tells you as much about yourself as what you do.

It reminds me of an old story-editing trick: Make a bunch of cuts to a story, and when you read the new version to yourself, only restore the stuff you truly miss. As my wife and I have cut out the extravagances of The Before — concerts, brunches, after-work drinks, soccer leagues for our kids — we have saved literally thousands of dollars. And there’s a lot that we don’t really miss that much.

It begs the question: How entertaining was the entertainment if we don’t remember what was so entertaining about it? It’s hard to see what we’ll want to restore.

This is a matter of cost savings, sure. And “lifestyle preferences” changing as our lives change. It’s also a matter of identity, of what makes you you and what doesn’t. Quarantine has shown us what we are. But it’s also shown us what we aren’t.

So here’s another thought experiment: What are you surprised to find you don’t miss? And what has quarantine made you realize you don’t need?

If I had to pick three things, they’d be:

1. Live music. I’m sure I’ll be going to shows less often when venues open up again.

2. Booze. Quarantine wasn’t my only reason for cutting back on drinking, but after the last couple months, my daily habit might very well have ended for good. I thought I needed it, but it seems like I don’t.

3. The city. New York was my home before I moved to the suburbs, and my workplace before the pandemic — and incidentally, the place where until recently I saw a lot of live music and drank. I thought I needed to be in New York on a regular basis — to feel like I belonged there even after I left. But now I realize I’m only a day-tripper. I will always be in love with the city, but it’s not mine anymore. Strangely, I feel even more connected to it now that the relationship is more honest.

Quarantine has shown me how little I need to be happy and fulfilled. It has shown me that revolving around my identity there is a tight orbit of only a few things that make me deeply happy. Among them: my family, my home, and a vinyl copy of Calexico’s Carried to Dust.

Author, Works Well With Others: Crucial Skills in Business No One Ever Teaches You // writing weekly about creativity, work, and human behavior, in a useful way

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