The classical text on הסתפקות/Histapkut -a sense of having enough, is found in the Mishnah. Ben Zoma asked rhetorically, “Who is wealthy – the one who is happy with what he has” (Avot 4:1).
A few years ago, in a column entitled ‘The Next Culture War’, David Brooks summed up a popular theory of the rise and fall of civilizations. He wrote, “The theory was that great nations start out tough-minded and energetic. Toughness and energy lead to wealth and power. Wealth and power lead to affluence and luxury. Affluence and luxury lead to decadence, corruption and decline.” Is this true? The Torah warns the people before they enter into the land, saying, “But Israel soon became over stuffed and unruly so that they forsook God and turned away from the Rock of their salvation” (Deut. 32:15).
Taking more than what is needed, to over indulge, as a nation or as an individual, is often described as a corrupting force. The prophet Isaiah put it this way to King Hezekiah who showed off his vast wealth to the King of Babylonia, “Behold, a time is coming when everything in your palace and what your forefathers have accumulated to this day will be carried off to Babylonia, nothing shall remain” (Is. 39:6).
By contrast, הסתפקות/Histapkut, being ‘content with enough’, has been lauded as virtue. Temperance, or moderation, not going to excess has been studied by Positive Psychology and seems to be associated with a healthy sense of self and life satisfaction. Still, in a culture that constantly markets to us ‘the next great thing’ a sense of ‘having enough’ is constantly challenged. When the iPhone 6 came out, suddenly having an iPhone 5, even an iPhone 5S did not seem like enough. We do the same thing with money, with food, with fashion, with friends, with ‘likes’ on Facebook, and, seemingly, with most facets of our life. Against our better judgement, we often buy into the mentality of more, more, more. Rabbi Mick Jagger taught that ‘you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need.” Indeed, our lives change for the better, joy is more readily at hand, when we challenge the popular drive for greater consumption.
Think about it/מחשבה- Consider a time this past week when you took more than you needed. Perhaps it was down time on the internet or TV, perhaps is was a favorite junk food. Did you spend that time mindlessly indulging? If you could have said ‘enough’ earlier, what would have changed?
Try it/מעשה- Each day this week challenge yourself through the middah of הסתפקות/Histapkut, being ‘content with enough’. Just to see what it feels like, try putting off buying something that isn’t absolutely necessary, or simply wait on having a meal at the very first sign of hunger. We might find that satisfying our genuine needs is necessary, but being able to delay the gratification of gaining things we merely want is satisfying in a happily unexpected way.