Why is knowing when you have enough essential for mental wellbeing?

Not knowing when you have enough can be distressing in a few ways. You might keep comparing yourself with those who have more than you. You might work to the point of exhaustion or worry compulsively about how much you have versus what you think you should have. These comparisons can leave you feeling as if you’re trapped in a perpetual game of snakes and ladders. Clinical and forensic psychologist and author Ahona Guha looks at learning how to decide when enough is enough…

WORDS: Ahona Guha
ILLUSTRATION: Dilianny Espinoza

Why is it important to question capitalist ideas about the best way to live?

Of course, people need money, and they need enough money, but structures built around money and profit-making for some are doomed to fail the majority. This isn’t to advocate everyone moving off-grid and stopping work entirely. At this point in time, most people live in capitalist societies – and I, as much as anyone else, like to have nice things. I buy clothes (sometimes too many), I travel, I drive an unreasonably large car and I work to afford these things. Modern life necessitates some of these things, while others are choices I make for pleasure.

There is scope, however, to question carefully how much you buy into capitalism and the relentless push to do better, grow bigger and acquire more. A continued focus on always increasing the profit margin of a business, monetising each hobby, feeling like that corporate ladder must be climbed – these are symptoms of a drive for toxic growth. But an emphasis on more comes at huge planetary and personal cost, as people work so hard – often burning out in the process – to make money that may not be needed. It also comes at a cost to others, as the more that one person accumulates and hoards, the fewer resources (such as housing) there are for others.

Nothing can grow forever, however, and it’s better for humanity (and the planet) to learn when you’ve achieved the threshold you’re comfortable with and then work to consolidate that position. After all, at a certain point, wealth provides diminishing returns. Once you have enough to have the basics for a good life, collecting more will not make you much more content. It’s easy to forget this basic research-based psychological truth, however, especially if you live in a system that deifies having more, having bigger, having newer. Consumption is often a way of trying to fulfil psychological needs. If you want comfort but don’t have the words to know that, then maybe that expensive candle will bring some peace.

How can you decide when you have enough and refocus your priorities?

Learning to identify when you have enough is an essential part of good living. This allows you to make choices based on your values, rather than financial pressure, and frees up time to spend on hobbies and with the people you love, and to sleep and rest more. There’s no rule of thumb for identifying ‘enough’. Everyone has different needs and lifestyle preferences, but it’s important to ask yourself a few basic questions:

What does a reasonable lifestyle look like?

Have I experienced lifestyle creep, meaning that the more I’ve earned, the more my lifestyle has changed, requiring me to keep working harder to maintain it?

What is a need versus a want?

Could I be happier with a little less? An apartment instead of a house, a local holiday instead of an overseas trip? The Swedish concept of lagom, or ‘just enough’, is useful here (I, for example, will sometimes tell myself ‘that’s enough, stop now’ when I reach my satiety point, whether with food, purchases or experiences). There’s a tipping point at which too much becomes unpalatable, and learning this point is a skill.

There are factors that can make this difficult, including unconscious and unspoken pressure to keep up with a peer group, insecurities and worries about not having enough or being left to fend for oneself (money is often seen as a buffer against vulnerability) and deep-seated difficulties around money or entitlement to resources. But money won’t sustain you on a dead planet and you won’t take any money or belongings with you when you die.

It might help to think about the impact that consumerism, capitalism and the pressure to live, look and behave a certain way have on your mental wellbeing. At best, it might exert a slight tug and sway you away from your values. At worst, you might be completely burned out and exhausted by trying to maintain your lifestyle, trapped on a hedonic and consumerist treadmill as a way of soothing yourself, further perpetuating your need to keep working so hard.

What are some questions you should ask yourself when you want to change your lifestyle?

Everyone has different lifestyles and needs, so it’s hard to provide a one-size-fits-all perspective. Nevertheless, there are some questions that you could ask yourself to help you decide what is truly enough for you in all aspects of your life, including:

What are my core physical needs? What do I need to meet those needs?

What’s non-negotiable for me?

What does each new thing I have, buy or do cost? (In terms of time and planetary resources, as well as money. What trade-offs am I making between time, energy, and money?)

At which point will I feel like I have enough or have arrived at the lifestyle I want? How sustainable is this lifestyle – for the planet and for my own energy levels and capacities?

We all have choices. Use them wisely. What is one small change you could make today to help you get off the treadmill? You don’t have to rethink everything, protest capitalism, quit your job or move into a commune. Small, values-driven actions – saying ‘yes’ only to certain things, resting instead of side-hustling, stopping to think before hitting ‘buy’, not using shopping to self-soothe, not upgrading your car yet – can be enough to drive lasting and sustainable change, while still allowing you to live and partake fully in this wild and wonderful world.


Ahona Guha practises privately and works in the field of public mental health, providing specialised clinical services to forensic clients. For more information about her work, visit

Edited extract from Life Skills for a Broken World by Ahona Guha, published by Scribe (£12.99). Available now in bookshops and online.


You can read more articles about mental health and careers in the latest issue of Breathe magazine.