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On the path to health, ask: how much is enough?

Updated: Dec 2, 2023

We Have Sufficient for Everybody's Needs, Not For Greed

-Mahatma Gandhi

The issue of how much is enough has been debated since the time of Aristotle and no doubt since man has been able to accumulate wealth.

Over our lives, we accumulate wealth in monetary terms: how much is in our bank account, portfolio or personal balance sheet. It is the modern-day version of past kings and kingdoms who measured their wealth in terms of how much land they owned, or subjects bowed in servitude to their throne.

It is an issue I see in my patients who have worked hard throughout their lives building businesses and raising families, as well as myself as I look at the next 30 years of life, God willing, and ponder how that time should be spent.

I begin a talk I give to business leaders across the country by asking them to think of their current lives and cast forward 30 years. What does your life look like? What are you able to do physically? How do you want to spend that time if it is granted to you? What should you be doing today to ensure that outcome occurs?

In their 2012 book, How Much is Enough, Robert and Edward Skidelsky list the following components of a good life:

  • Health

  • Security

  • Respect

  • Personality

  • Harmony with Nature

  • Friendship

  • Leisure

It is interesting to note the first is health, since without good health it is hard, at least in our traditional way of looking at the world, to have that desired "good life."

If that is the case, then how much priority should we place on ensuring our health since without it we cannot in a sense move forward. This is a conversation I have weekly with patients and audiences. How much should I be investing in this area when I have so many other priorities—deadlines, reports, presentations, articles to write, carpool obligations, dinners to prepare, and social engagements to meet? Most likely more than you are currently investing.

Each day you awaken and are faced with a series of choices. Do I check my email (or IG) first or meditate for five minutes? Should I check the news or take ten minutes to read something inspirational? These decision points happen throughout our day from whether we get up from our chair and walk for five minutes to what we choose to eat for breakfast or lunch. When we drop our kids off at soccer practice do we take the time to walk for 15 minutes, or do we sit in our car scrolling through social media?

Over decades, the millions of tiny choices we make add up to our life. But, but, but I must get that report done, make sure my child (speaking personally here) gets to his second practice of the day and pick up that fast food since I don’t have time to make something healthy. Fair enough, just realize that your life is a series of choices which leads to where you are today. One day, many of us will turn around and realize we are at a point in our life that may result in monetary wealth at the cost of some of the other components listed above.

About four years ago I faced a decision point in my life—my personal wake-up call. As I wrote about last year, a trip to the ER after prolonged vomiting and mild dizziness, followed by an extensive workup including a CAT scan, MRI, and lab work, revealed that I had had a small stroke, likely caused by a small blood clot from frequent air travel (full story is here).

So, I had a choice. I could continue doing the job I was doing as a regional president of a national medical practice, or I could stop. It was a job I loved and enjoyed. But I traveled often away from my family and it was high stress being responsible for supporting some great leaders as well as delivering "the numbers" for our company. With the job also came status, respect, and a good salary.

But the health event was a time for me to think about those next 30 years, and what I wanted them to look like in my own life. It was also just "time" to allow the next generation of leaders (and myself) to move forward.

Which brings me back to the above quote from Gandhi. Many of us have enough to take care of ourselves and our family. As the saying goes our spending habits rise to the level of our affluence which results in us chasing after the next thing: a bigger house (or second one), nicer clothes, better vacation, or better car. The list goes on and on, reinforced by the consumerism focused society we inhabit, especially in the west. At what point do we consciously decide we have enough?

Some of us who are more enlightened recognize this early in our life. I was not in that camp. The movement among younger generations for more free time and balance is often criticized. But perhaps it should be applauded, since based on current health statistics and trends each of us needs to seriously look for a different path forward.

When I sit with my patients, we talk a lot about their lives. Not only the physical and medical aspects, but their entire life. I ask what are your goals over the next year? How can we structure a program focused on health to help you achieve it? What changes can we make in the next 30 days and the next 90 days to help you achieve it? The intent is to structure a process through habits to achieve your best physical and emotional health for the long term.

It is not unusual for the conversations to veer into purpose. I ask every patient: do you take the time to think about meaning and purpose in your life? This may be in the form of prayer or simple contemplation of how you fit into the order of the universe. It is not unusual at this point when the conversation gets emotional as I unearth long-buried feelings of doubt. When this occurs, I sit quietly as the person talks about those feelings and the lack of exploring them. It is one of the moments when I feel the greatest privilege as a healer.

These are feelings I have experienced many times over the years. I suspect most of us have. If we do not allow the space to think about the larger issues in our lives, we end up waking up and doing the same thing we did the day before often without regard for what the next 30 years (let alone the next year) will bring.

Personally, I think about these topics regularly. I frame it through two simple questions I have asked myself for decades:

  1. Why here?

  2. Why now?

Why here refers to the fact that I was born in a country which is the most prosperous on the face of the earth. I was born into a loving, imperfect family that supported me and my endeavors. We were not rich, and we had more than enough. Why was I not born to a family of nomads in Africa? Or to a poor family in a project on the south side of Chicago? Or if you so believe on another planet?

Why now refers to being born in 1964 not 1064 nor 2264. Even being born a generation earlier or later would have had a huge impact on my life. Think about being born when your great grandparents lived or better yet your great-grandchildren.

I contemplate these two specific questions because I believe each person has a purpose—and it relates to those two questions. As Aristotle is said to have uttered: “At the intersection where your gifts, talents, and abilities meet a human need; therein you will discover your purpose.”

For me, that is the search worth taking. It leads to the good life and ensures that you will always have enough.

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