Thanksgiving and Enoughness

Jay Michaelson
November 17, 2022

As we approach the holiday of Thanksgiving, I’m thinking of the word “Enoughness.”

‘Enoughness’ is an awkward term, but it’s used a lot in meditation circles, because it refers to a sense that frequently comes about through meditation: that this moment, this body, even this life can feel like “enough,” even if it might be less than perfect.  Dan Harris uses it in his new TED talk, meditation teacher Narayan Liebenson used it in a Teacher Talk she recorded with us last year, and I’ve been personally working with it a lot.

By some combination of nature and nurture, I’m what Buddhists call a “Greed Type,” or what the Enneagram calls a 7.   I want everything: love, enlightenment, pleasure, achievement. I want to help people, to change the world, to leave a legacy behind me.  

This drive can be helpful, at times, but also challenging. As when I'm comparing myself to others, and coming up short.  Or when I'm criticizing myself for not doing enough, not being enough.

The concept of ‘enoughness’ has been a huge ally in this process.

When mindfulness is present, I can notice when I’m getting carried away by the desire to do, feel, accomplish, experience more. I can feel myself leaning forward, yearning, wanting. And when that happens, I can exhale a bit, settle into my present-moment experience just as it is, and feel the sense of ‘enoughness’ in my body.  It’s a settling-back, a dropping of the shoulders, a relaxing.  There’s a stillness that arises, thanks, I think, to years of meditation practice.  This moment becomes radiant, beautiful… enough.

That’s true even in this particular moment, even though as I write these words, there’s a loud vacuum cleaner running in the next room and in ten minutes I’ve got a meeting with Ten Percent Happier’s marketing team.  It’s as if there’s a silence that contains this sound, a stillness that surrounds this busy-ness.  I can oscillate back and forth between leaning into the near future (wow, I should really plan for this meeting…) and settling back into the present.  This moment, this life can feel like enough, even if there is loss or pain within it.

I realize some of this may sound vague if you haven’t experienced it yourself.  But chances are, you’ve had similar moments, if not in meditation then just in regular life: moments where the striving ceases and you’re a human being rather than a human doing. 

These moments can arise when the conditions are right: when the work is done (for now), when you have a moment to reflect.  But maybe the core insight of mindfulness is that you can feel ‘enoughness’ under just about any conditions.  You don’t have to be on a beach vacation; once you cultivate enoughness in meditation, you can experience it in regular life.

(Obviously, there are some conditions that do need to be met: physical safety, a degree of health, the ability to have a moment to pause. It’s absurd to talk about ‘enoughness’ if you’re being threatened with violence, for example.  But these conditions are fundamental ones – not, like, the new car or the birth of a child.)

Gratitude, which is cultivated on Thanksgiving, is another excellent entry-point to the sense of enoughness. 

As we’ve discussed many times in the Ten Percent app, podcast, and newsletter, human beings are evolutionarily wired with a ‘negativity bias’ that accentuates threats, lacks, and perceived insufficiencies – in other words, not-enoughness.  This is very helpful if you’re a primate in the wild: by exaggerating perceived dangers, you avoid more of them.  But it’s not very helpful if you’re ruminating for the twentieth time over that email, that failure, or that loss.

Gratitude is the antidote to negativity bias.  It takes conscious effort, but by taking stock of what is right you can counterbalance the inborn tendency to accentuate what’s wrong.  And then, I find, the sense of enoughness naturally arises.  Life could be better, I could have more… but this is enough. I am enough.

So, it’s Thanksgiving 2022. For all of the challenges we’ve endured collectively over the last few years, we have mostly survived.  For all the challenges you have personally experienced, or which may be looming over you at this moment, you are here as well, right now.  And not only that: you’ve experienced blessings too.  Maybe in love, or in work, or in health, or in helping others… or honestly, simply in having survived.  Let’s reflect on them for a bit.

Gratitude – consciously recognizing the good that is present in your life – does not mean that everything is okay, with you or with the world.  It just means that, alongside all that is broken, there can also be enoughness, a core groundedness that cannot be taken away from you, a happiness that does not depend on conditions.

That, to me, is a Happy Thanksgiving.

Dr. Jay Michaelson has been teaching meditation for fifteen years in secular, Buddhist, and Jewish communities. Jay is a journalist on CNN Tonight and at Rolling Stone, having been a weekly columnist for the Daily Beast for eight years. Jay was also an editor and podcast host for Ten Percent Happier for four years. He's an affiliated professor at Chicago Theological Seminary. Jay’s eight books include "The Gate of Tears: Sadness and the Spiritual Path" and "Enlightenment by Trial and Error".

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